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Friday, March 21, 2008

Warnings dismissed, lessons unheeded and the war goes on and on


The following is a column by Randall Beach

WE ARE FIVE YEARS into this awful war and there is no end in sight.
“We’re running in place,” John Kelley, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, told me Thursday. “And Iraqis and Americans are paying with their lives and their economies and family stability.”
I think back to my last conversation with Kelley, a New Haven-based attorney, in June 2005. He told me then the Bush administration needed to announce a timetable for troop withdrawal.
Kelley’s words at that time: “We should say to the Iraqis: ‘If you want to be a democracy, we’ll help you, but only to a point.’ Otherwise, they might keep letting us do the fighting for them.”
Three years later, we can easily see Kelley was right. But that’s not surprising, given he has two history degrees and has extensively studied the Middle East. He knows a lot more about that region than the guy steering our ship, who jokes he coasted through Yale Univercity with a “C” average. Also on board this ship of fools is our “independent” U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
Kelley was opposed to the U.S. going into Iraq from the beginning because he knew about the ethnic and religious divisions in that country. “Any time you get rid of a dictator in an area with those tensions, you’re opening a Pandora’s box. And that’s what happened. I’m amazed they (Bush and his staff) couldn’t see it.”
Kelley recognized how horrible Saddam Hussein was. After all, Kelley served in Baghdad for six months as Army liaison to the Iraqi Special Tribunal, created to prosecute Iraqis accused of crimes against humanity.
But he noted, “We didn’t have a plan (for waging this war) and we still don’t have a plan. This has to be solved politically, not militarily.”
Kelley added, “The military has done a good job; but how many more deployments will these soldiers have to go through? Reservists and National Guardsmen as well as soldiers on active duty are being ripped from their jobs and families.”
If they make it back home alive, he noted, many are traumatized. “Americans need to address this. These people come home profoundly changed.”
He saw some of them two years ago when he was stationed at the Pentagon for a six-month tour as officer in charge of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. The severely wounded veterans were transported from their hospital beds to tour the Pentagon.
Kelley ticked off the toll of the dead: almost 4,000 Americans, countless Iraqis. More than 30,000 wounded American soldiers.
Yes, and at what financial cost? “Over half a trillion dollars spent already,” he said. “We were told going into this that it would cost us no more than $60 billion to $80 billion.”
And how does losing that half a trillion bucks, with much more to be lost, affect our economy? “It’s unfortunate, but the connection isn’t being made,” Kelley said.
Americans are so distracted and worried about paying their bills that they aren’t thinking so much about the war anymore. But Kelley said, “These enormous economic problems are arguably tied to the war.”
No, there is no end in sight to this war. Over the past week, I have been leafing through my bulging “Iraq War” folder, seeing clippings of the soldiers I’ve interviewed and their families, the obituaries for other Connecticut soldiers, the anti war protests I’ve covered, the columns written (my column headline from March 12, 2003: “There’s still time before a new roll call of the dead begins.”)
One of the oldest clippings is dated Feb. 19, 2003, the day after I covered a massive protest in New York. More than 100,000 people came together there, as did many others elsewhere, to say to Bush: Don’t do this!
One of the people I met on the train that day, the Rev. Edward Dobihal of Hamden, told me that day, “To begin a war will not solve anything. It will cause more problems, increase terrorism and tie up our military for years.”
It’s too bad the people calling the shots in the White House couldn’t see this.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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