Iraq war anniversary misses 9/11 focus


Medina-Gazette - Mar 20 12:04 AM

Iraq war anniversary misses 9/11 focus

It's the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. It also feels like the anniversary of the end of our national focus on bringing the architect of 9/11 to justice.

Just a quick tour of the numbers, to help us get our bearings.

According to the Pentagon, there are about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan — the highest number since the October 2001 invasion. They are part of a NATO-led force of around 50,000. According to the Department of Defense, there have been 369 American service personnel killed in Afghanistan, as well as 676 who were wounded and unable to return to action.

In Iraq, there are upwards of 142,000 U.S. troops. The Associated Press puts the current number killed at 3,217. Those wounded and unable to go back: 10,685, according to the DOD.

Troop numbers are on the rise in Afghanistan because military leaders predict a spring offensive by the Taliban. This weekend, we were reminded of its brutality when guerrillas chopped off the noses and ears of at least five truck drivers who were transporting supplies to U.S.-led forces.

Meanwhile, in Washington, most Democrats seem focused on getting troops out of Iraq, and most Republicans seem focused on avoiding timelines for withdrawal. The president speaks of the war on terror, rarely mentioning the terrorist who started it all, Osama bin Laden.

It seems unfathomable that the U.S. government, armed with the greatest military in the world and an international mandate for justice, has not established the location of a single high-profile person, beyond the same vague statement we have heard for more than five years — that he is hiding "somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border."

Would it help if there were 150,000 U.S. troops there instead of in Iraq? If the war in Iraq had not opened a new front line on terrorism, re-energized al-Qaida and diminished America's credibility in some parts of the world? Possibly.

Medina County history buffs know about the Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818. Weary of marauding bears and other wild animals killing their livestock, farmers recruited an army of hunters to ring the township and march to the center, flushing out the predators. If the president had called for volunteers to walk shoulder to shoulder across Afghanistan, peer into every cave and flush out the predators, he would have had them.

The United States had long sought regime change in Iraq, as it does in any one of a handful of other countries ruled by despots. However, there is irrefutable evidence that well before the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration was planning a military campaign, instead of a foreign policy campaign, to carry this out.

Our national sense of horror, sadness and hope for justice following the attacks helped fuel support for a military approach to a political problem — Saddam Hussein. This, despite the pleas of Colin Powell, weapons inspectors and others, who called the war unnecessary and predicted exactly the dilemma we see today.

The violence in Iraq is testament to just how brutal Saddam was to have kept a lid on this boiling sectarian stew for so long. The world does not miss him. Whether U.S. troops leave Iraq sooner or later, it appears it could be a long, long time before anything like the peace and democracy we enjoy becomes a reality for the people of Iraq.

On this fourth anniversary, there are many ways to mark progress or failure in Iraq, depending on your point of view.

One way to measure it is by the 2,973 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, the 369 Americans who have died in Afghanistan, and the 27,000 who are still there, seeking justice in a mission that seems to have become a footnote.

Will no one put the politics of Iraq aside long enough to speak a word for them?

Gladden may be contacted at 330-721-4052 or