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The Hard Lessons of Iraq
Making Sense
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Nearly 5,000 of our fine men and women died in Iraq.
Who’s going to explain Iraq to their loved ones now?
Who’s going to explain why, if it was so important that we had to go to Iraq in 2003, we just walked away?
Iraq is back in our living rooms every night. Only this time, it’s not a prime-time miniseries about how American military superiority topples the bad guy and democratizes a brutal dictatorship.
This time it’s about a war with another bad ending for the United States - another Vietnam.
We’re watching the Iraqi government we created and propped up with billions being humiliated by a bunch of Muslim extremists in pickup trucks.
A third of Iraq is in the hands of ISIS. The Iraqi army, like the South Vietnamese army we trained before we bailed out of Vietnam, dropped their weapons, stripped off their uniforms and pretended to be plumbers.
How can the families of our dead and wounded soldiers stand watching Iraq split into three parts and descend into a bloody sectarian Hell again?
I feel so sorry for the military families. What do you say now to a Gold Star Mother who lost her child fighting in Iraq?
Can you explain to her what her son died for? Or explain why we wasted 5,000 American lives and spent a trillion dollars there - and then left?
What was it that was so vital to our national interest that we went there in the first place?
If the whole idea of going to Iraq simply was to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his invisible weapons of mass destruction, we should have just sent some Special Forces guys in to do the job in the middle of the night.
Or we could have dropped a few smart bombs on Saddam’s favorite palace, the way my father did with Gaddafi in Libya in 1986. We didn’t kill Moammar, but after that he didn’t misbehave.
I had serious doubts about the United States going to war in Iraq in 2003. But I joined the bipartisan parade and supported the commander in chief.
I figured George W. Bush knew more than I did about the situation in the Middle East. I also figured he had lots of good reasons to go to war and assumed his administration knew what it was going to do after our easy military victory.
The Bush II administration thought it was going to reengineer Iraq into a democracy where Sunni, Shia and Kurd would live in peace and harmony like Germans, Italians and French do in Switzerland.
My friend David Hackworth, who died in 2005, knew better. He was the most decorated solider in the history of the United States, a critic of the military and a great military journalist.
“David,” I once asked him, “when will there be peace in the Middle East?” His answer was blunt -- “When they’re all dead.”
I’m afraid “Hack” was right. The most powerful country on Earth hasn’t been able to force peace to break out in the Middle East -- or even just Iraq.
What’s happening before our eyes in Iraq can be blamed on lots of people. Obama’s Number One on my Top 10 list.
But we conservatives have to take a lot of the blame too. It was us who supported going to war in Iraq in the first place, even though Bush 43 didn’t have an entrance strategy or an exit strategy.
Back in 2003 I believe I really knew in my heart that Iraq was a bad idea. But I took the conservative position of supporting the president on military and defense matters. I thought it was a good idea for us to go over there and kick Saddam’s butt.
As a conservative who supported the war in Iraq and my president, I apologize to all of the families of those killed or wounded in Iraq.
Going to war in Iraq seemed so right at the time. But I didn’t think it through and neither did Washington. Next time, I promise I’ll know better. Can Washington make that same promise?
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). He is the founder of the email service and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at and Send comments to Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.