WASHINGTON — It’s the question asked by Gold Star families — the
loved ones of our fallen — when I meet them at funerals or public events.
It is spoken quietly by the spouses of grievously wounded soldiers,
sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines when I visit military and veterans
hospitals. And it’s in the correspondence I receive from parents and
friends of those who have left something on the battlefield: “Was it worth
it?”

A decade ago this week, when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, this
wasn’t a question posed to our Fox News team. While cameras in Baghdad
captured the “shock and awe” of precision-guided missiles and bombs
hitting Saddam Hussein’s capital, Griff Jenkins and I were embedded with
U.S. Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 and a battalion of Royal Marine
commandos en route to the Faw Peninsula on the largest night helo-borne
assault in history.

More than 50 U.S. and British helos took off from the tactical
assembly area in Gibraltar and raced for the border at more than 100
knots, just 120 feet above the ground to avoid enemy radar. My night lens,
pointed out over the .50-caliber machine gun, caught the blinding flash as
the helicopter on our left side went down on the desert floor. There were
no survivors. The seven British commandos and four U.S. Marines aboard
were the first 11 of 4,804 coalition personnel — 4,486 of them Americans
— killed during nine years of combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

By April 9, when we went with Marine Regimental Combat Team 5 into
Baghdad, more than 350 Americans had been killed or wounded. Yet there was
still an international and domestic consensus that coalition forces would
capture Saddam Hussein — and his brutal sons, Uday and Qusay — and find
the weapons of mass destruction that had been the casus belli.

Today critics denigrate the sacrifice of blood and treasure in
Mesopotamia by describing OIF as “Bush’s war” and claim it was “illegal”
or, at best, “a mistake.” The revisionists overlook Saddam’s brutal
record: millions dead in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the 1990 invasion of
Kuwait, his well-known use of chemical weapons against Iranian civilians
and genocidal attacks against his own people.

From the mid-1990s, the regime in Baghdad provided refuge to
vicious terrorists who killed Americans. Abu Nidal, who dispatched
assassins to kill my wife and children, was sequestered in Baghdad. Abu
Abbas, mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking and financier for
families of suicide bombers who blew up “Americans and Jews,” was captured
trying to flee Iraq by U.S. troops.

Well before the inauguration of George W. Bush and al-Qaida’s 9/11
attack on our homeland, the Iraqi military was firing on U.S. and British
aircraft enforcing United Nations-imposed no-fly zones. Reports of
widespread corruption in the U.N.’s oil-for-food program were commonplace,
as was Saddam’s refusal to permit international inspections of suspect
nuclear, biological and chemical WMD sites. Allied intelligence services,
U.N. inspectors and a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Congress believed
that Iraq’s deadly weapons programs were still viable in 2003. Saddam
wanted the Iranians to believe it. They did, as did many of his generals.

The failure to find these weapons after the liberation of Baghdad
points to our defunct human intelligence capability — not U.S. military
inadequacy. The decision not to recall defeated Iraqi military personnel
to their barracks and enlist their help in rebuilding their country
exacerbated a growing insurgency. The current administration’s inability
to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement for U.S. military access in Iraq
has emboldened Iran.

But none of this means the war in Iraq wasn’t “worth it.” After
Saddam was captured in December 2003, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi
abandoned his nuclear weapons program. We were there in 2005 for the first
free and fair elections ever held in the “land between the rivers.” The
credibility of the global jihad fomented by al-Qaida was destroyed in
Iraq.

Dealing with today’s government in Baghdad, headed by Nouri
al-Maliki, is hardly easy — but it’s no longer a genocidal threat to its
own countrymen, its neighbors or us. Despite security challenges and the
chaos in neighboring Syria, the Iraqi economy, educational system and
standard of living gradually are improving.

The outcome of OIF isn’t perfect. The Obama administration still
could lose the peace that our warriors won. But a decade after we
accompanied our troops across “the berm” into Iraq, we still can look Gold
Star mothers and the spouses of our wounded in the eye and tell them: “By
volunteering to go into harm’s way, your American heroes made us all
safer. Their selfless sacrifice was worth it.”





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