America - Flag and Yellow Ribbonby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 8/2005 and the Boston City Paper 7/2008

My support for our soldiers is unwavering. I have never served in uniform but I have many friends who do, and I respect and admire these true heroes. They go where they are told, follow orders, fight the battles and keep the country safe, and they are the reason we are free.

Our own Foxboro common bears silent witness to the hundreds who have served from our town alone — some who made the ultimate sacrifice. We can never thank them enough.

Recently I met a Foxboro resident who’d served in Operation Desert Storm (thank you) and he mentioned to me that he felt this new war was another Viet Nam. That same day I happened to talk to a local woman who runs a business in town — I found out she was in the Air Force for over a decade (thank you). Sue and I attended a concert in Boston recently and at one point the announcer asked the Veterans to stand up — about a quarter of the crowd did so and we applauded wildly. We love our soldiers. I love our soldiers. I’m not brave enough to do what they do, but I will support them always.

We pray daily for the soldiers who are in harm’s way, fighting for our freedom. We honor all those, living and dead, who have served over the last 250 years. Heroes, all.

But as I talk to more and more of these great citizens, the conversation always comes back to this one question: Why are we STILL in Iraq?

A few weeks before the war in Iraq began, I wrote in this space that I advocated the need for war to take Saddam Hussein down. His crimes against humanity had been well documented. He had ignored 16 United Nations Security Council Resolutions and over 30 other UN warnings. He had killed millions. He had WMDs. He was a tyrant.

It was time for action.

Today, Saddam Hussein is in American custody somewhere in Iraq and will face many charges. We ponder the paradox that this frail old man with the affection for Cheetos is Hitler and Satan incarnate, a demon who tortured and killed millions.

The clear and present danger to the United States — the madman — is in custody.

Even though no WMDs were found, the world believed Hussein had them. As early as 1991, one of the 16 United Nations resolutions demanded that, “Iraq must “unconditionally accept” the destruction, removal or rendering harmless “under international supervision” of all “chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities.” Other resolutions also mentioned WMDs.

These warnings and resolutions went on for ten years and cited the utter defiance of Hussein and Iraq to comply with the UN and the acknowledgment that Iraq was stockpiling WMDs.

I honestly believe our president had the best available Intel on Iraq WMDs. Yes, we know now that Intel was flawed. But I don’t think the president lied to us, I believe he acted in good faith about the WMDs and the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. And Iraq certainly had plenty of warning and time to get rid of / hide / remove their WMDs.

But once the WMDs were not found, once Hussein was captured, on May 1, 2003, President Bush made a speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and saluted the troops on the flight deck while above him a massive banner proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.”

The clear and present danger apparently neutralized, the mission accomplished, you would think that a small contingent of US soldiers, advisors and task forces would stay in Iraqi to help the citizens, while the remainder of the troops returned home, right?

You’d think wrong. The accomplished mission was replaced by “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and the new goal was to try to bring democracy to Iraq.  Huh?

Over 1000 U.S. soldiers have died since then. More than 7,000 more have been maimed and crippled, and an estimated 15,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. Insurgencies are rampant throughout Iraq. Newly elected Iraqi officials and Iraqi constitution authors are being murdered, along with our soldiers.

As the number of American dead soldiers is over 1700 and rising at this writing, I have to wonder what the hell our brave soldiers are still doing there in what many (including active service people) are now calling a desert Viet Nam.

Democracy is a marvelous thing but it is really the goal of the US to start toppling dictators and installing Democracy? If yes, then why aren’t we in North Korea?  How about Cuba?

My concern with the war I initially supported is that somewhere along the line the clear and present danger to the United States was replaced with “Let’s give the Iraqis democracy.” The cost? American lives. Thousands of them. Kids, 18-25. Shipped home in flagged draped caskets the media is forbidden to photograph. Soldiers maimed and crippled.

Once Hussein was captured, once we gave up looking for WMDs, we should have left. Now we’re stuck in a quagmire of politics and vague mission statements, while every day someone in Iraq is being killed. The earliest departure estimate is 2011? It’s time to leave. Now.

I love our soldiers. I respect them. I shake hands and thank every one I meet. But as once of my soldier friends once said, “If I am going to die, I hope my death has a purpose.” Dying while protecting your nation against a mortal threat is noble. But this vague fantasy about establishing Democracy,  well, that’s just a horrible waste of life. American life. Young life.

I’m not a pacifist or a liberal. War is very necessary sometimes. I support the war in Afghanistan to try to wipe out Al Qaeda and find Bin Laden. Rooting out terror cells across the globe will go on for years — maybe decades. These are defined missions. These wars and battles will save American lives. They are necessary for our continued protection and freedom.

But our modern-day Viet Nam? There are many countries on Earth that pose a far greater threat to the US, but we remain in Iraq, setting up democracy. Isn’t it time to give Iraq back to its people and bring our brave soldiers home? Isn’t it time to stop letting these brave kids die for no good reason?

Bring the soldiers back home and let them help preserve security in THIS country, protecting US from terrorists.

Police departments are already stretched so thin — wouldn’t it be helpful and reassuring to have our soldiers working with them, keeping the terrorist watch and keeping us safe at home? I’d feel much more secure if US soldiers were assisting with security at Logan and TF Greene. Let’s have US soldiers — our best and brightest — work with local and state agencies to coordinate defense and action against terrorist attacks.

We’re at Code orange, waiting for a follow-up to the London attacks. Our soldiers should be here, protecting us and our democracy. If the Iraqis really want democracy let them create it. We did.

If the Mission is indeed “Accomplished” then bring our brave men and women in uniform home. Now.

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