Trying to Close the Curtain on Iraq

When two planes crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, America was forever changed. America invaded Iraq and the president soon declared “Mission Accomplished.” But over five years later our troops are still there and the mission remains unfinished. No weapons of mass destruction were found, but many lives have been lost. What progress has been made is being debated, the objectives of the invasion are being contemplated and how and when the country will withdraw is still being argued.

“In that time in history I really did support Bush,” said Devin Kaminski, a SUNY New Paltz student who joined the Army Reserves just around the time of the initial Iraq invasion. “I thought there were weapons of mass destruction. I thought we needed to go to Iraq.”

Kaminski, 21, and now an Information/Ramp Controller for the Air Force Reserve at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Mass., said that he and some of his peers thought they were doing the right thing. He needed a way to pay for college and the army reserves grabbed his attention. And perhaps most importantly, he felt a duty towards his country.

“I thought it would be cool to be a solider,” said Kaminski.

Kaminski has never been deployed to Iraq, but he also isn’t supportive of the war anymore. Now, he feels the Bush administration used Sept. 11 as an excuse. The Iraqi people aren’t used to democracy, Kaminski said, and that’s why progress in Iraq isn’t being made.

Staff Sgt. Robert Black served 12 months in Iraq, now a recruitment officer, feels progress has been made. Black said, “There’s a lot of great things that’s being done over [in Iraq] that’s not really being reported on and I think at the same time there are some things that could be improved upon also.”

Some people are questioning what the reasons for going into Iraq were.

“It is not just oil that we’re after, there is also the big government contracts that were available and were utilized for Iraq,” said Kaminski. “A lot of people made money off of that realm.”

Not only could it have been for oil and money, but Matt Funicello, Green Party region representative for the Capital District & Adirondacks, said there was an interest to build military bases in Iraq. Funicello, 41, believes this would make it easier for the U.S. to launch strikes. He believes the goals were not clearly stated.

“If you look at the fake objectives, bringing democracy or ending terrorism, we’ve done a miserable job,” said Funicello. “I am aware those were never the reasons we went in the first place.”

Ilgu Ozler, SUNY New Paltz political science professor who has taught Middle East Politics and Institutions, isn’t sure what the goals were either. “If the goal was stability in the war against terror, well the war in Iraq we made the region less stable,” said Ozler. “Iraq today is a less stable country than it was under an authoritarian regime under Sadam Hussein.”

But Lewis Brownstein, also a SUNY New Paltz political science professor and expert on the Middle East, thinks a sense of normalcy is returning to major cities in Iraq. He says that the level of violence has dropped significantly and American causalities are reducing.

As of Feb. 17 2009, 4,245 US troops have died. 2008 had the least amount of U.S. military deaths at 314. But 2007 had 904 U.S. military deaths – the highest of any year. The amount of wounded U.S. troops has also been gradually declining. The cost for the Iraq war has reached over $650 billion.

“Using whatever metrics you want to describe success we have clearly had success,” said Brownstein. “Another side of the success is tenuous I believe.”

Iraq’s cabinet on Nov. 16, 2008, called for a total withdrawal of American troops by 2011. If passed by the parliament, it will become the official policy towards withdrawal. This will go against President Barack Obama’s plan to fully withdraw troops in 16 months.

“Given the blood and treasure we have spent thus far, what you don’t want to do is adopt a policy which produces failure and I think we know what failure looks like,” said Brownstein.

One thing Brownstein is confident in is that there should be no projected date for withdrawal. Sarah Worob, president of New Paltz College Republicans, agreed. She feels that a projected date could bring “false hope” if troops are not withdrawn.

“You destroy, do what you want to do, then get out,” said Worob, 21, a political science major at SUNY New Paltz.

The Iraq war has already stretched on for too long in Worob’s opinion. While she feels the withdrawal is going to be slow, she doesn’t think troops should stay to rebuild the country.

Richard Genest, 62, owner of Moon and River Café in Schenectady’s Stockade District, feels American troops should withdraw quickly and safely, but that we owe Iraq support in rebuilding their country.

“The first thing we have to do is meet with their country and the second thing we have to do is pay them reparations,” said Genest.

Funicello, the Green Party representative, also feels that the withdrawal from Iraq should be immediate too, on a moral level. The country has been able to run itself in the past without intervention and Funicello feels America should allow them to return to self-governing.

“If we’re not removing our 14 military bases then we are not really withdrawing from Iraq,” said Funicello.

Kaminski also feels military presence can be reduced. “All the speculation that if we withdraw from the region it is going to go insane and civil war is going to break out,” he said. “That may happen and it could happen while we’re there.”

“I feel like even if it did we really don’t care,” Kaminski continued. “I feel we are pretending to be concerned, because of our vested interests.”

Kaminski also found it interesting that 2011 was the proposed withdrawal date, because that is when the contracts end.

Ozler thinks if Iraqis want American troops to leave then it is time to go. She does feel however, that we don’t have enough information to decide whether a withdrawal will make Iraq more or less stable. She is unsure if the coalition forces can bring stability to Iraq by themselves. If they can’t, she feels some sort of alternative presence is needed. Investment in Iraq is an important element to her, but she unsure how easily this will be achieved.

“A lot of people with social capital are not going to go back there, they are going to go somewhere else where they can be game-fully employed and have a stable life,” said Ozler. “They are not going to go back to a non-stable situation.”

Whether or not economic investment returns to Iraq, it will be Obama that has to deal with and implement an effective withdrawal strategy.

“[Obama’s] heart might be in the right place, but he hasn’t really made a break from U.S. policy and the military establishment,” said Genest. “He is bringing in Bush’s war criminals into his transition team.”

Funicello echoed the concern Genest felt about Obama.

“Obama is just a man and he is somebody who is a very clever politician, but I don’t think he has a death wish and I don’t think he is going to go against those who put him in office,” said Funicello. “That is not what politicians do.”

Kaminski, though, has a more positive outlook towards Obama dealing with Iraq.

“I have confidence that he will surround himself with the right people that will make effective decisions,” said Kaminski. “I don’t necessarily know if he himself can deal with it, but I feel he is smart enough to contact the people who can.”

Staff Sgt. Black agrees, “I definitely think he is smart enough for the job.”

While monetary losses from the War in Iraq are leaving many Americans dismayed, one of the largest issues of the war is the loss of life. American military casualties in 2007 reached 904, the highest of any year of involvement.

John Purcell

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