Coming home — disillusioned
By Christopher H. Sheppard
-- -- Three years ago, I was a Marine
Corps captain on the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border, participating in the
invasion of Iraq. Awestruck, I heard our howitzers thunder and
watched artillery rockets rise into the night sky and streak
toward Iraq — their light bathing the desert moonscape like
giant arc welders.
As I watched the Iraq war begin, I completely trusted the Bush
administration. I thought we were going to prove all of the
left-wing antiwar protesters and dissenters wrong. I thought we
were going to make America safer. Regrettably, I acknowledge
that it was I who was wrong.
I believed the Bush administration when it said Iraq had weapons
of mass destruction. I believed its assertion that Iraq was
trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa and refine it into
weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. I believed its claim
Iraq had vast quantities of biological and chemical agents.
After years of thorough inspections, all of these claims have
I believed the administration when it claimed there was
overwhelming evidence Iraq was in cahoots with al-Qaida. In
January 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that
there was no concrete evidence linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.
I believed the administration when it grandly proclaimed we were
going to bring a stable, Western-style liberal democracy to
Iraq, complete with religious tolerance and the rule of law. We
never had enough troops in Iraq to restore civil order and the
rule of law. The Iraqi elections have produced a ruling majority
of Shiite fundamentalists and marginalized the seething Sunni
minority. Iraq dangerously teeters on the brink of civil war. We
have emboldened Iran and destabilized the entire Middle East.
I believed the administration when it claimed the war could be
done quickly and cheaply. It said the war would cost only
between $50 billion and $60 billion. It said that Iraqi oil
revenue would fund the country's reconstruction. I believed
President Bush when he landed on the USS Lincoln and said "major
combat operations have ended."
The war has cost the American taxpayers $250 billion and
counting. The vast majority — 94 percent — of the more than
2,300 United States service members killed in Iraq have occurred
since Bush's "Top Gun" proclamation. The cost in men and
materiel has been far beyond what we were led to believe.
I volunteered to go back to Iraq for the fall and winter of
2004-2005. I went back out of frustration and guilt; frustration
from watching Iraq unravel on the news and guilt that I wasn't
there trying to stop it. Many fine Marines from my reserve
battalion felt the same and volunteered to go back. I buried my
mounting suspicions and mustered enough trust and faith in my
civilian leadership to go back.
I returned disillusioned by what I saw. I participated in the
second battle of Fallujah in November 2004. We crushed the
insurgents in the city, but we only ended up scattering them
throughout the province. The dumb ones stayed and died. The
smart ones left town before the battle, to garner more recruits
and fight another day. We were simply the little Dutch boy with
our finger in the dike. In retrospect, we never had enough
troops to firmly control the region; we had just enough to
maintain a tenuous equilibrium.
I now know I wrongfully placed my faith and trust in a
presidential administration hopelessly mired in incompetence,
hubris and a lack of accountability. It planned a war based on
false intelligence and unrealistic assumptions. It has
strategically surrendered the condition of victory in Iraq to
people who do not share our vision, values or interests. The
Bush administration has proven successful at only one thing in
Iraq — painting us into a corner with no feasible exit.
I will never trust any of them again.
Christopher H. Sheppard is a former Marine captain who served
two tours of duty in Iraq as a combat engineer. He currently is
finishing his master's degree in mass communication and lives in
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
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