It’s a real stretch, I know. It doesn’t even really make sense.
But the other day when I saw the photos of that strangely forlorn final convoy of U.S. troops pulling out of Iraq, the first thing that popped into my head was the three wise men riding through the desert on the way to Bethlehem, following that star.
I was probably suffering from a surplus of Christmas cheer. But the two images do have a certain similarity, and perhaps not just in terms of climate and geography.
It’s fitting that the nearly nine–year war in Iraq would end just before Christmas — a “gift” of sorts to a weary nation, as well as a nod to the need for redemption in the war’s miserable wake.
Fitting as well that it would end not as a chest–pounding “Mission Accomplished” display, but as an underreported whimper, a third tier story somewhere behind the overhyped antics of Tim Tebow — a man whose simplistic, non-reflective brand of muscular Christianity would have been right at home in the run–up to the Iraq War itself (“they will greet us as liberators”).
Looking back, it seems as if the Iraq misadventure was that bridge too far. Or to keep our desert analogy intact, the straw that broke the camel’s back.
We were at a crossroads after 9/11. Would we respond to the threats against us with precision, strategy, and realism? Or would we just reboot the open–ended, mission–creeping military commitments that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the latter half of the 20th Century?
For the most part we took the latter course, and in so doing cost thousands of Americans their lives and limbs in pursuit of questionable goals. We helped along the nation’s economic collapse by cutting taxes in the middle of a very costly war — possibly the first time in history that any country has done that, with predictable results.
Plenty of us predicted the results of the Iraq War even before it began, but that and two bucks will get us a cup of coffee at the nearest Starbucks. We were called un–American, unpatriotic, possibly even pro–terrorist. For the most part the same names are still used to attack the same people.
The Iraq War ends just in time for an election year to begin. A war with Iraq’s neighbor seems in the offing. It remains to be seen if we as a nation — and as individuals — will learn anything at all from the eight years, trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives spent in Iraq.
So this is Christmas. And what have you done?