Iraq, 10 years later

The 10th anniversary of historic events generally carries some kind of celebratory or solemn overtone. There is an odd ambivalence to the passing of March 20, 2013, the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the invasion of Iraq that led the U.S. response to the ongoing war on terror, a war that drags on as the nation’s longest overseas armed conflict still, with troops fighting in and protecting Afghanistan from a resurrection of the Taliban.

A look back at the beginning of the war puts a different light on the idea that George W. Bush was a presidential warmonger. Indeed, his delay in launching a first strike against Saddam Hussein allowed the brutal dictator to get out of his Dora Farms palace at Baghdad.

A retired CIA officer detailed on the 10th anniversary in news reports how Bush was ready to strike with cruise missiles that night when intelligence (which later proved faulty) indicated there was a bunker Saddam would hide in at the palace grounds. The alternative method of attack, F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters loaded with bunker-buster bombs, was sent instead.

But it wasn’t just the delay in sending the fighters that let Hussein get away. Bush delayed launching that now famous first strike to allow a 48-hour ultimatum to expire. That decision, a civilized attempt at conducting warfare echoing his father’s refusal to wipe Saddam Hussein out via unilateral U.S. action at the end of Operation Desert Storm outside the U.N. mandate, let Hussein get away, for awhile.

And that meant a full-scale invasion with the decade of nation building and instability that has followed in Iraq. It is possible, however, to argue that the people of that nation are now fighting their own battles with religious zealotry instead of having it all held in check by the brutality of a strongman’s power.

A more telling way of considering the 10th anniversary of the armed response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is to look back at how the U.S,. felt about Pearl Harbor 10 years after the Japanese sneak attack on the Navy in Hawaii brought the U.S. directly into World War II.

The country did not do much by way of commemoration or news coverage. Leading papers had a few small articles. The year 1951 was marked by the Korean conflict and the potential economic uncertainty of the war, of Truman removing General MacArthur from office, a political sacking of a World War II hero for making statements contradictory to administration policy.

There wasn’t yet the huge weight of history being realized by the nation that rid the world of Hitler and cut the power of Japan militarily.

The nation was still involved in rebuilding Germany and Japan, which eventually reached economic and political stability and became not just trading partners but trade leaders with the United States. It is hard to even think of those nations as enemies now.

Were not even close to seeing what the future is for the Middle East, but one thing is clear: When revolutions are conducted against brutal leaders, it is still the United States that gets called upon — look to Syria or Libya for proof.

Ten years is not enough distance to know what a still unfolding story really means.