On Dec. 18, 2011, the last United States troops withdrew from Iraq. Operations began in 2003, and after almost nine years at war, the question everyone is asking is, “What’s next?” Where does the U.S. – and more importantly, where does Iraq – go from here?
The last combat troops left on Aug. 18, 2011, with 50,000 military personnel remaining to help with the transition process. By mid-December, they had withdrawn as well, marking the official end of American military involvement in Iraq.
This news certainly feels like a long time coming, especially to those of us who recall May 1, 2003, when former President George W. Bush announced the U.S.’s victory over Iraq’s military forces, even using the phrase “mission accomplished.” Saddam Hussein was captured at the end of 2003, tried and eventually executed in 2006. And still the fighting dragged continued.
The casualties from the war in Iraq cost the lives of almost 4,500 American soldiers from various branches of the military, with over 32,000 additional men and women wounded in action. Over the nine years combat operations were taking place, there were anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 troops in Iraq.
The Iraq War was not only costly in terms of human lives. Organizations estimate the total U.S. expense for the war will come in at over $800 billion dollars. Economists Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, and Linda Blimes of Harvard claim the true cost—after taking into account other impacts on the U.S. economy—will be closer to $3 trillion.
The length and complexity of the war in Iraq inevitably drew comparisons with the Vietnam War. Although that conflict ended in 1975, the similarities between it and the recent Middle Eastern one cannot be denied. Both were long, protracted conflicts that severely divided popular opinion on the home front.
The Vietnam War also saw numerous student demonstrations across the United States as young people protested against a conflict they neither understood nor desired to be involved in. Popular support for the Iraq war was definitely greater than it had been for the Vietnam War, but both involved a similar issue: young men and women were going to put their lives on the line in a far-away land.
Here at Cedarville, the men and women in the ROTC are preparing for careers in the military. For many of them, the decision to join the ROTC combined a certain measure of uncertainty about the future with a desire to serve their country. Most of the students in ROTC here on campus have at least one other family member, usually a parent, who also served in the military.
The life of a ROTC cadet involves not only physical training, but also focuses on leadership, military customs and courtesy, and history and protocol. Some are preparing to become intelligence officers, communications specialists or computer analysts. Basically, the cadets have to be ready to serve in whatever capacity the service calls them to. Now that the main combat operations in Iraq are over, however, things will be changing for some of the students.
Air Force Cadet Third Class Kevin Kee said cadets will have to “prepare to operate in a new role.” The future of American military involvement will likely involve more support and less direct intervention in the region. Even if combat operations have ended, the cadets’ commitment to the service hasn’t changed.
The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will have consequences in the days to come. Although the political situation in Iraq is more or less stable, there is still a great deal of violence in some parts of the country. On top of that, Iran has taken advantage of the U.S.’s departure and become more aggressive in the region. In response, a new naval strike force was dispatched to the Persian Gulf.
The situation with Iran has only become more concerning following a rash of assassinations of some of Iran’s top nuclear scientists. The U.S. and Israel have postponed military exercises in the region until more information comes to light. Now that the bulk of U.S. commitment to Iraq has ended, Iran will very likely become the new focus for our nation’s military.
The war on terror has so far been the defining issue for U.S. foreign policy in the twenty-first century. The 9/11 attacks triggered a clear turning point in how the U.S. approached the issue of national security. It is an issue that has divided citizens of this nation and students of the university for the last decade. I’m sure we can all agree on one thing, however: we should all be glad that at least the Iraq chapter is complete.
Major Dates of the Iraq War
March 19-20, 2003: The invasion begins.
April 3-12, 2003: Baghdad falls.
Dec. 13, 2003: Saddam is captured.
April 2004 and November 2004: The first and second battles of Fallujah take place, and insurgency begins.
May 2006: The new government takes power.
August 2011: U.S. combat troops begin withdrawing.
Dec. 18, 2011: The last brigade crosses the Kuwait border. American involvement in Iraqi conflict ends.