This is the way the war ends: not with a bang, but a whimper

The war in Iraq is officially over. But did anyone notice, really? The last troops [except for the ones that are staying and the 5,000 mercenaries—oops, I mean contractors] are on their way home. President Obama welcomed them and thanked them. And that’s it?

Of course, there was no dancing in the streets, no victory parades, no flashy photos of sailors kissing nurses in Times Square. Why would there be? No one is proud of what the U.S. did in—or should we say “to”—Iraq. No valid mission has been accomplished. There’s no victory and nothing to celebrate. It’s just, sort of, over. Poof.

At least when the last U.S. combat troops finally left Viet Nam in 1975, the long overdue, ignominious ending was a media event: For those of us old enough to remember, it’s hard to forget the images of desperate Vietnamese citizens rushing the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and clinging to the skids of helicopters airlifting out the last few Americans. Those scenes were ugly and uncomfortable—a fitting visual punctuation to the ugly war they symbolized.

What a contrast with our last days in Iraq. Surely, given the absence of coverage and analysis of the U.S. exit from Iraq and the deafening silence in Congress, Dick Cheney and the neo-cons who ginned up this so-called war must be chortling and high-fiving, realizing that they got away with one of the biggest military con games in American history.

In the run-up to this bogus “war,” there was at least some debate and analysis. [An outspoken, courageous Illinois State Senator Barack Obama—remember that guy?—was an early critic, and his skepticism launched his ascent toward the Presidency.] But most of what opposition there was [to their credit, 23 U.S. Senators voted against the invasion] became overwhelmed by a sustained propaganda campaign to whip up support for a war that had been looking for an excuse since neo-conservatives hatched “The Project for A New American Century” plan in 1998. Those of us who protested [as I did, on a bridge in central Florida, where I was one of about 20 peace activists in a crowd of at least 400 war supporters] were told that we were unpatriotic. It wasn’t a very productive debate, but at least we were confronting the issue.

Now, at the other end of this thing, media coverage and meaningful analysis are hard to find.

When the invasion of Iraq began, CNN and every other American media outlet couldn’t wait to get on board a troop transport, ride along in a tank and breathlessly document the operation. Admittedly, there wasn’t much critical thinking going on then, either—just a mostly blind acceptance of the Bush Administration’s [false] assertion that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” and that Iraq was a player in the September 11 attacks.

In the intervening years, as 4,483 Americans were killed and thousands more wounded and disabled, fighting for…what, again?…the facts emerged and public opinion—and attention—turned away from the invasion/occupation. Maybe it was just too painful to watch. Or, perhaps voters, politicians and policymakers just lost the energy to keep debating the demerits of a military action that was so clearly wrong from the start, yet so difficult to disengage from.

Sure, now that it’s “over” [and even that is debatable], we’d all rather close our eyes, walk away, focus on something easier—like the latest celebrity wedding—and dismiss what happened in Iraq as a thing of the past.

But it’s not. The war-mongering, xenophobia, American exceptionalism and profiteering that led us into an unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation that posed no direct threat to the U.S. lives on. Just listen to the Republican candidates for president. Incredibly, just as the U.S. is getting out of Iraq, they seem to be shifting their attention to Iran, duking it out in the “debates” to see who can rattle the sabers loudest. [Ron Paul stands alone as the one candidate with a sane view of war in general, and U.S. policy in the Middle East in specific.] Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been spouting increasingly warlike rhetoric, and their contention that Iran poses a threat because it might be developing a nuclear weapon sounds alarmingly similar to what we heard about Iraq 10 years ago. And, of course, there’s the issue of Abu Ghraib and torture, elements of our sojourn in Iraq that have fallen off the media radar screen–except for some frightening pronouncements by Republican candidates who assert that “waterboarding isn’t torture,” and that they’d use “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the future.

If there was ever a time to pause and reflect on the meaning of Iraq, this is it.