History will not judge the architects of this war kindly.
Lessons of War
But the books have yet to be written on our efforts to right the wrongs we see in Iraq. The story has yet to be told about how we turned from this moment, found our way out of the desert, and took to heart the lessons of war that too many refused to heed back then.
For it is of little use or comfort to recall past advice and warnings if we do not allow them to guide us in the challenges that lie ahead. Threats loom large in an age where terrorist networks thrive, and there will certainly be times when we have to call on our brave servicemen and women to risk their lives again.
But before we make that most profound of all decisions – before we send our best off to battle, we must remember what led us to this day and learn from the principles that follow.
Ideology is Not a Foreign Policy
We must remember that ideology is not a foreign policy. We must not embark on war based on untested theories, political agendas or wishful thinking that has little basis in fact or reality.
We must focus our efforts on the threats we know exist, and we must evaluate those threats with sound intelligence that is never manipulated for political reasons again.
The Cost of Going It Alone is Immense
We must remember that the cost of going it alone is immense.
It is a choice we sometimes have to make, but one that must be made rarely and always reluctantly. That is because America’s standing in the world is a precious resource not easily rebuilt.
We value the cooperation and goodwill of other nations not because it makes us feel good, but because it makes all the world safer – because the only way to battle 21st century threats that race across borders – threats like terror, and disease, and nuclear proliferation – is to enlist the resources and support of all nations.
To win our wider struggle, we must let people across this planet know that there is another, more hopeful alternative to the hateful ideologies the terrorists espouse – and a renewed America will reflect and champion that vision.
Planning for Peace: As Critical as Planning for War
We must remember that planning for peace is just as critical as planning for war.
Iraq was not just a failure of conception, but a failure of execution, and so when a conflict does arise that requires our involvement, we must do our best to understand that country’s history, its politics, its ethnic and religious divisions before our troops ever set foot on its soil.
Ballot Boxes Alone Don't Make a Democracy
We must understand that setting up ballot boxes does not a democracy make – that real freedom and real stability come from doing the hard work of helping to build a strong police force, and a legitimate government, and ensuring that people have food, and water, and electricity, and basic services.
And we must be honest about how much of that we can do ourselves and how much must come from the people themselves.
We Must Train and Equip Our Soldiers
Finally, we must remember that when we send our servicemen and women to war, we make sure we’ve given them the training they need, and the equipment that will keep them safe, and a mission they can accomplish.
We Must Respect Advice from Military Leaders
We must respect our commanders’ advice not just when it’s politically convenient, but even when it’s not what we want to hear. And when our troops come home, it is our most solemn responsibility to make sure they come home to the services, and the benefits, and the care they deserve.
As we stand at the beginning of the fifth year of this war, let us remember that young man from Illinois, and his wife, and his daughters, and the thousands upon thousands of families who are living the very real consequences and immeasurable sacrifices that have come from our decision to invade Iraq.
We are so blessed in this country to have so many men and women like this – Americans willing to put on that uniform, and say the hard goodbyes, and risk their lives in a far off land because they know that such consequences and sacrifices are sometimes necessary to defend our country and achieve a lasting peace.
That is why we have no greater responsibility than to ensure that the decision to place them in harm’s way is the right one. And that is why we must learn the lessons of Iraq. It is what we owe our soldiers. It is what we owe their families. And it is what we owe our country – now, and in all the days and months to come.