"Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes." Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.
One of the gravest responsibilities of any President of the United States is his responsibility to act as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. No decision of policy, no attempt to set the course of the nation's domestic affairs can compare in sheer gravity to the duty of the President to preserve and protect the nation; no decision he can make in these realms shares the import of that which places the men and women in our military in harm's way.
It is clear that this is a decision that should never be made without the most serious of purposes, to avert the gravest of harms, and in the face of the most terrible of necessities. The writings of past wartime Presidents shows us how weighty the decision to go to war always was, how much they struggled with it, how sincerely they prayed and wept over it, how they were either vindicated or indited by history because of it.
At present, America continues to fight a war in Iraq. This war has already lasted slightly longer than the American Civil War; and though we may in some sense be thankful that the casualties of this war are much less than they were of that former one, it is small comfort. In the Civil War, it may be argued that President Lincoln had little choice but to engage the South in battle to preserve the Union; at the very least, it must be recognized that the war began on our own soil and clearly involved American interests. The same cannot be said of the Iraq war; Iraq was not directly responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack on America, and if it was truly justified for us to go to war with any nation that might have been giving aid and comfort to terrorist organizations, then why did we not expand our efforts, and go to war with other putative terror-sponsoring states, such as Saudi Arabia and Syria?
Even if America was justified in seeking to remove Saddam Hussein from power, it seems clear that little planning was made for the chaos that would result from the power vacuum we were about to create. As the Lincoln quote above says, we didn't expect that the cause of the conflict would cease before the conflict itself would cease--but Saddam Hussein is dead, and we are still in Baghdad. Moreover, it looks increasingly as though we will either remain there for the foreseeable future, or leave, and let the fledgling democracy we've tried to create falter and drown in the bloody waters of internecine conflict that are pretty much the status quo of that region of the world.
It would seem that unlike other (though not necessarily all) wartime Presidents, our current President allowed himself to be persuaded to a course of action by people who would directly benefit from that action. Wars may be fought for many good or noble reasons, but the protection of mere economic interests doesn't make the list. I would rather see an America forced to cut its dependence on foreign oil with whatever sacrifices that would require, right down to the personal level, than an America willing to shed a single drop of a soldier's blood in exchange for an ocean of that oil.
As U.S. military deaths in Iraq approach 3,500, it is time to reflect. Is the war in Iraq worth the cost it is exacting? Will the grieving family of a single one of those departed soldiers whom we remember today in company with the heroes of the past truly be able to whisper to themselves, for comfort, "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country,"?