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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mission Creep

“Mission Accomplished” Turns 5

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On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush staged a photo-op on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to declare “the end of major combat operations in Iraq” while a giant banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” waved behind him. When Bush declared “mission accomplished,” 139 American soldiers had been killed in combat.

Since that photo-op, 3,917 more U.S. soldiers died—88 of whom were from Wisconsin. The total number of U.S. military deaths now stands at 4,056. An estimated 10%-15% of soldiers have experienced traumatic brain injuries. Documented deaths of Iraqi civilians is estimated to be 90,782, according to Iraq Body Count (www.iraqbodycount.org), which bases its estimate on media reports.

But a study by the medical journal The Lancet estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed as of July 2006; that number most likely stands at 1.2 million now. The United Nations estimates that close to 5 million Iraqis have been displaced because of the violence.

Like many Americans, 22-year Army veteran Shane Sanderson of Ladysmith, Wis., says he still has questions about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. “What mission?” Sanderson said of Bush’s May 1, 2003 declaration. “I know that we had reasons for going into Iraq, all of which have been disproved. But I just don’t see us having a mission. And what exactly was accomplished?” Sanderson, the head of the Wisconsin chapter of the pro-military organization VoteVets.org, served in Ramadi in 2005, where he worked with the Iraqi Special Police Forces to accomplish yet another of Bush’s goals in Iraq: training Iraqi security forces (otherwise known as the “as they stand up, we’ll stand down” promise).

But Sanderson said that goal and the other aims of the occupation—finding WMDs, removing Saddam Hussein from power and paving the way for free elections and a democratically elected parliament—were just “dynamic goals” set up as conditions changed on the ground.

Sanderson said that after much deliberation, he could only conclude that the Bush administration wasn’t being straight about its reasons for invading Iraq. “I honestly believe that the mission was to get us into a turmoil that could control oil prices worldwide,” Sanderson said.

Now, Sanderson said, the situation is so unstable that he doesn’t believe there is a military solution to such a tangled political problem. “I don’t even know what victory looks like,” he said. “Without a goal, there is no victory.”

Sanderson urged voters to support the troops by holding legislators accountable for their votes on the war and veterans’ issues. “[Rep. David] Obey and [Sen. Russ] Feingold have been good,” Sanderson said. “But the other fat cats have to listen to their constituents.”

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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