War not over until troops can come home

Freedom New Mexico

President Barack Obama announced in a national address last week that America had “turned the page” on combat operations in the Iraq war. From a peak of 170,000 troops in October 2007, the level now has dropped to 49,700.

Combat deaths also have dropped sharply, from more than 100 a month during early 2007, to a handful each month at present. U.S. war deaths in Iraq stand at 4,417.

It’s worth reviewing why this war was a mistake, even as most Americans believe, according to a new poll last week, that Iraqis now are better off.

In a 2002 editorial, more than six months before the Iraq invasion, Freedom Communications cautioned the Bush administration to follow the Powell Doctrine, named after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. It cautioned against the too-easy commitment of U.S. troops to foreign wars. And it insisted on good reasons for going to war, and on the support of the American people and Congress.

Indeed, we insisted at the time, if war was necessary, Congress should formally declare it, as required by the Constitution.

Back in 2002-03, the two main reasons President George W. Bush used to justify a war with Iraq were that dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he had ties to the al-Qaida terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

But, as we noted, “despite a year of the government looking for proof, it has not shown any indisputable connection between Saddam and the 9/11 terrorists.” And we noted there also was no indisputable proof that Saddam had such terrible weapons, though we acknowledged in 2002 that the possibility existed.

When Powell testified to the United Nations several months later regarding the evidence he had been advised about, it seemed that maybe those possibilities could be true.

But, in the end, the assertion unraveled. After the war started, and Iraq was searched for proof, even President Bush finally came to admit that Saddam had neither WMD nor firm ties to al-Qaida.

Despite the official end of combat, the engagement is far from over, according to Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

U.S. troops will continue their mission of training Iraqi troops and preparing the country for self-government. He said Americans should care about Iraqis “having control over their system of government,” instead of devolving into some form of tyranny. “But there are limits to what the U.S. government can do to make that happen.”

“The war won’t be won until all U.S. troops are home,” Preble cautioned. “It’s supposed to happen by the end of next year. I hope we stick to that plan.”

We hope so, too.