In December 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously took to the streets—or, as famous people do, had others take to the streets in their place—and erected billboards that read, “War Is Over!” The war in Vietnam was in fact far from over; the Beatles did nothing to speed its conclusion. But when, a few weeks ago, I saw a televised image of the old sign, it expressed something essentially, or at least prematurely, correct: the war in Iraq is over.
Not for the Iraqis, of course, whom bombs routinely shred, maim, and otherwise disfigure even today. But for the Americans, and the U.S. Army in particular (“the Americans” were never fighting this war; a tiny percentage of Americans were), the war really is over. Brigade combat teams fritter away their time at once-bustling forward operating bases; months go by without an American soldier killed in action; the press corps has packed up and gone home; the Marine Corps will soon follow.
But Iraq is everything to me. I began the decade agitating for the war, spent the midpoint of the decade in the empty heart of the war, and have been writing a book ever since about the war. Whither Uzbekistan? Truly, I don’t care. It is always 2005 or 2006, and it is always Iraq. The adrenaline of history? No. Trauma? No. A love affair with Iraq? Impossible. Still, I stand by the obsession and, if anything, think it should be more widespread.
American combat troops have been on the ground in Iraq for nearly (or, depending on how one dates the Vietnam War, exactly) as many years as their predecessors were in Southeast Asia. And yet we are told, implicitly by the media, and explicitly by administration officials, that America’s history in Iraq need not detain us. The war, after all, fits nowhere in the Obama team’s twin narratives of material progress and moral improvement.
It has been argued that the legacy of this war will shackle the next administration and the one after that. Or at least it ought to. Instead, troops and matériel ship directly from one war zone to the next. The Vietnam Syndrome had a perduring effect on U.S. foreign policy for twenty years. But maybe we need an Iraq Syndrome. If even for a month or two.
—Lawrence F. Kaplan