Two days before Barack Obama’s historic inauguration, a small newspaper in Palm Springs, Calif., interviewed kids about their expectations, and two respondents – an 8-year-old girl named Jenna Jensen, and a 14-year-old named Summer Salinas – said Obama would “bring the troops home.” Jensen and Salinas were an accurate barometer of public sentiment: A CBS News/New York Times poll found that 46 percent of Americans think it’s “very important” for U.S. troops to return from Iraq by the summer of 2010. So, how would Americans feel if they were told the truth – that U.S. military personnel will likely be in Iraq for many years, possibly decades, and possibly through the year 2050?
Thomas Ricks’ new book, “The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008,” makes clear that a longer timeline is required. Yes, as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised a withdrawal of combat troops within 16 months, and yes as Commander-in-Chief, he now says 19 months, but as Ricks said at an event for which I shared the stage, “Obama’s war in Iraq may be longer that Bush’s war. (In fact) this is going to be the longest war in American history.” The previous longest war was Vietnam, where U.S. combat troops became involved in 1965 (and stayed eight years). George W. Bush’s tenure in Iraq was five years; Obama’s tenure will be eight if he gets two terms in the White House. And even with the return of combat troops, tens of thousands of U.S. troops will stay in Iraq to prevent the kind of Rwanda-style bloodshed that goes by one name: Genocide.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, who directs U.S. troops in Iraq, told Ricks that he wants 35,000 soldiers there in the year 2015. Ricks quotes Marine Sgt. Alexander Lemons as saying, “Change of the sort envisioned by most Americans . . . requires a long-term commitment, for as long as five decades, with enough American forces to assist the unprepared and sometimes lawless security forces while protecting the country’s open borders.”
Do Americans want to prevent a bloodbath in Iraq with a limited number of troops, or do they prefer the sort of all-or-nothing absolute (all troops home = good) that Bush clung to? Admirable groups such as LaborNet and Military Families Speak Out are selling bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons that say, “Support the troops – Bring them home now!” But with the Iraq War now at six years and counting, it seems more realistic to buy a sticker that says, “Bring ‘em All Home as Soon as We Can.”