I remember when George H. W. Bush took us to war!
by Charlie Leck
“The future of the Arab world, perched between revolt and the contempt of a crumbling order, was fought for in the streets of downtown Cairo on Wednesday.” (In the NY Times this morning)
The violence in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world is frightening and it makes us sit up and hope for the best for our own nation. As I write this, Egypt is in great disarray; however, it appears the military has stepped in to protect and defend the peaceful demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The situation there is still in chaos and no one can yet predict the nation’s destination.
All of this compels me also to raise questions:
Will this turmoil produce more dangers at our national doorstep?
Will militant Muslims gain more control?
Need we fear arrogant, fundamentalist Muslims?
Why is the opposition party at home so seemingly unsupportive of President Barack Obama?
These are questions we all should keep in mind as we read the news in the coming days. Here I am going to address – though not answer – the last of those questions in a remembrance of my own.
Let me go back, first, to President George Herbert Bush. On the night of 17 January 1991, I was in New York City, to attend a meeting when our President unleashed the military power of our nation against Iraq. I can remember standing before a mirror, trying to examine my formal clothing and my general grooming, when all hell broke loose and the Gulf War began. I turned back to the television. Operation Desert Storm was underway. Most of the air attacks were launched from Saudi Arabia, but others originated off aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The initial goal was to destroy Iraq’s air force and to disable all of its command and communication facilities. The U.S. and allied military forces sought also to destroy all of Iraq’s scud missile launchers, its military research facilities and its naval forces.
I remember my feelings that night. I am adamantly opposed to war and violence. I opposed this attack and preferred more negotiations and the application of more economic pressures on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait. Yet, as I stood in my Plaza Hotel guest room that night, I remember the visceral commitment I made to what was happening. My loyalty was with my country and I pledged my support to this President and never raised my voice in criticism of him. If there is no obvious criminal or unethical intent, Americans will rally around an opposition President under such conditions.
I was actually proud of President George Bush, the elder, when he clearly explained the mission and promised all that it would end when the mission was accomplished. The defeat of Iraq was sound, but not complete. The President pulled the troops up, short of an invasion of Bagdad itself. There have been arguments about the strategy ever since; however, Bush accomplished what he set out to achieve and went no further.
It is this sense of national loyalty and pride that I wonder about here and now, twenty years later. What has happened to it?
Under the next President George Bush (the younger), this sense of loyalty ended when he went beyond the accomplishment of his mission. Remember the banner on the aircraft carrier? It was hanging behind and above him as he spoke. The banner proclaimed so clearly: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
On 20 March 2003 the invasion of Iraq took place under the name of Shock and Awe. It was on 1 May 2003, less than two months after the war had begun, that the President stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
In fact, we are there yet today and thinking people, during this long, long period, began to realize that we had found ourselves another Vietnam (in spite of the lessons of history).
The war in Afghanistan began after 11 September 2001 (9/11) – nearly ten years ago – and we are still there as well.
From the beginning of all of this and trillions of dollars later – from January of 1991 – Arab resentment of the U.S. presence in its lands has grown and grown and grown.
It is difficult, after all this, to remain positive and supportive of any Commander-in-Chief. Yet, for the sake of the nation, we must try. We must try!
Where will we be led now? How thin can we spread our forces? How will we be able to respond to future, serious international threats?
Questions! Questions! A worried nation watches and hopes for the best out of its President. All of us should stand as solidly behind him as we can. Politics can wait its turn. We can only hope now that the enemies of our nation are not taking control of all the Arab lands.
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