It’s possible to talk about the end of the Iraq War without talking about its beginning. That’s what President Barack Obama did Dec. 14 at Fort Bragg. But complaints require us to recall the way this war began.

It’s possible to talk about the end of the Iraq War without talking about its beginning. That’s what President Barack Obama did Dec. 14 at Fort Bragg.


Obama welcomed the troops home. He thanked them for their service. He hailed their achievements: the race across the desert to Baghdad; the quelling of sectarian fighting; the creation of a stable state in the most difficult circumstances, requiring skills never before mobilized on this scale by the American military.


“A combination of fighting and training, politics and partnership brought the promise of peace,” Obama said, with careful wording. Not peace, but the promise of peace.


It’s past time America learned it cannot bend other peoples to its will or commit them to our vision for them. What happens next is up to the Iraqis, as it always has been.


The orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces, promised by candidate Obama in 2008 and negotiated with the sovereign government of Iraq, still grates on some of Obama’s Republican critics. It appears the dreams of the neo-cons –– permanent bases from which to project American power, a new jewel in America’s imperial crown –– die hard.


Their complaints –– and the honesty which is a matter as serious as war demands –– require us to recall the way this war began. President George W. Bush and his supporters told us Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, was building a nuclear weapon and was in league with al-Qaida. They predicted the Iraqis would greet us as liberators, the war would be over quickly –– “Mission Accomplished” was declared just six weeks after “Shock and Awe” –– and that Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for the war.


None of that turned out to be true. Instead, we witnessed mendacity give way to incompetence. America’s war planners, it turned out, had no plan for what to do with Baghdad once it was captured. They disbanded the Iraqi army and the Ba’ath Party with disastrous consequences. They turned a rescue into an occupation, with the horrors of Abu Ghraib undermining what little good will Americans earned by toppling Saddam Hussein.


Looting grew into an insurgency, which then gave way to civil war, as competing sects and militias waged brutal campaigns. With the addition of more U.S. troops –– and American money that helped convert insurgents into temporary allies –– the bloodletting was quelled. The official estimate of 100,000 Iraqis killed –– most by their fellow countrymen –– is likely low.


Obama’s description of Iraq as an “imperfect” democracy is an understatement. Iraqis now have more freedom and more elections than before the war, but corruption is rampant, the infrastructure is still a mess, ethnic and sectarian tensions persist and the government is shaky at best.


There’s no way to know whether the Iraqis are better off today than if the U.S. had never launched the first preemptive war in our history. With the waves of change washing away dictators across the Arab world, it’s easy to imagine the Iraqi people taking down Saddam Hussein on their own, or at least trying.


Americans remain evenly divided over whether the U.S. was right to use military force in Iraq, a new Pew Research poll found, but fully 75 percent support the decision to remove troops by the end of the year.


The price America has paid for this war has been too high: nearly 4,500 U.S. troops killed, more than 30,000 wounded. U.S. taxpayers have spent $800 billion, all of it borrowed, and that bill will keep rising even with the combat troops withdrawn.


After nearly nine years of an optional war in a faraway place, Americans are united in just one thing: appreciation for the sacrifices of the 1.5 million troops who served in Iraq, and relief that they are finally coming home.


-- MetroWest Daily News (Mass.)