I was sitting in the mess hall at Al-Assad Air Base in Iraq near Mosul with my team from the Inspector General’s office when I saw the election results come in.
The mess hall, called a DFAC for “Dining Facility,” was basically a tent built to serve as a small building. It is fortified to be able to take an incoming rocket, but the largest tent I had ever seen. On this day the DFAC was half full of Marines thankful to be out of the heat for a while. Everything was clean inside but it’s hard to get the feel of sand off of you.
Folding metal chairs lined rows of long tables with white plastic tablecloths. Small vases were scattered with red white and blue decorations on them. I thought to myself “It’s not a holiday is it?”
Mounted to the far wall I was facing was a large television, tuned to CNN. That is when I first saw Senator Barrack Obama win the 2008 presidential election.
I became very upset. Maybe upset isn’t the right word. We had flown in by Blackhawk helicopter the day before and it was my first long trip over the beautiful Iraq landscape. I was a little distracted. With the time zone difference I had lost track of Election Day. Seeing the results on the screen caught me off guard.
My boss sitting across the table from me asked what was wrong. I had let out an audible “Oh my God they didn’t!” that caught his attention. I really didn’t mean to say that out loud, but I was stunned.
Barack Obama was smiling and waving as the banner across the bottom of the screen displayed the election results.
The team, especially my boss, could not understand why I was upset by the outcome. “We are here working, we have too much to do, it will not affect us,” a co-worker smiled and chimed.
I looked around as Marines were shaking their heads. They knew.
I thought “Is all the great work being done here going to last, or will it be destroyed?” I knew the Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi and now Mr. Obama wanted, needed, Iraq to be a failure. They had built entire political campaigns since 2006 around blasting President Bush and efforts to have democracy in Iraq. To them, it was never about the good being done, the lives transformed, a stabilized region without threat of Hussein’s insanity, the free elections for the first time in a generation. They didn’t see what the Iraqi people saw; the hope of a democracy for stability and prosperity of the nation. Most importantly they didn’t acknowledge the needed prevention of Iran’s desire to take over Iraq. To the Democrats, it was all about the politics. Making Iraq look like a lie and a disaster, rather than the success it was becoming, was the best political hand they had. It won them elections.
As my friends put on hazmat suits and cleaned up the WMD manufacturing sites outside of Baghdad, I had to listen to politicians in DC shout the lie that there were no WMD in Iraq. “Yea, tell that to the entire villages, hundred thousand lives, that Saddam wiped out a few miles from here with chemical weapons,” I would yell at the television.
Here I was in northern Iraq, in the middle of Saddam Hussein’s Air Force base, watching Barack Obama being elected President.
The Marines around me saw what I saw. The sadness in their eyes said it all. They knew once we pulled out of Iraq, which Obama promised he would do quickly, Iran would be back in town and the Iraq that we had such hope for could likely be lost.
The politicians in Washington ignored the fact that once our soldiers had Al-Qaida dismantled, which they did early on, our soldiers were not fighting Iraqis; they were fighting Iranian forces. Well, Americans back home didn’t know what an “insurgent” was, so saying US troops were just killing Iraqis was an easy lie to tell.
I looked at my boss who was smiling, not caring who was elected that day, and said “You think it won’t affect us, you, or our work? Did you read Obama’s book?”
A Marine down the table caught my eye as he looked up and nodded at me. He knew.
The Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda, had been dismantled in the surge because the Sunni tribal leaders had turned against them and joined the US forces. We knew they would try to regroup if the US troops pulled out, but no one knew they would turn into ISIS. We did not see that coming. But we couldn’t have imagined there would be no intervention in Syria either.
That was the key to where we are today that could have been prevented. The consequences of an election. The political lies about Iraq kept President Obama from taking action in Syria, The U.S. stood by and watched as Iran, then joined by Russia, assisted in a genocide of over 200,000 Sunni Muslims. President Obama couldn’t even bring himself to act when Assad and Iran crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons, WMD, just like Saddam had.
Iran skipped right over Iraq and took control of Syria. Iran knew America, under Obama’s leadership, was about to hand Iraq right to them, they didn’t need to fight for it. They decided to partner with Assad and take Syria first. Of course they would have to kill and drive out the Sunni population to do it.
The few Sunni extremists, ex-Al Qaeda, scattered around Iraq did regroup as predicted when the US troops pulled out, but they went directly into Syria to stop Iran and Assad. No one else was going help against the genocide of Sunni in Syria. Where was the world? The US would do nothing, not even if a ‘red line’ of WMD was crossed.
The money poured in from many Sunni nations to these left over Al-Qaeda Iraqi militants. They grew into an organized army and called themselves ISIS. They took power over Sunni villages in Syria with extreme terrorism, then moved back into Iraq, claiming a large territory. Now not only is the Middle East destabilized, but all of Europe as well, with millions of Syrians, refugees, fleeing to avoid Iranian forces and Russian bombs.
Reflecting on that day in Iraq, seeing the 2008 results come in, seems surreal as tonight July 14, 2016, France is under another massive terror attack and the US prepares for a new election. How does one measure the consequences of an election? Europe is under siege by this new terror group that did not exist when I was in Baghdad a few short years ago. We don’t know when the next attack in the US will happen; we expect it any day. Our world has gotten smaller. Our world has changed.
I grieve for the future of the free Iraq that I had seen the glimmer of hope for, the people there that I love, the Christians that once were, the history that has now been erased. I grieve for the great sacrifice our soldiers and civilians made, a sacrifice now for nothing but a political spur to use. I grieve the loss of the incredible work done by our military and yes, even the State Department in Iraq, despite their many flaws.
I grieve for France tonight,
I grieve for the millions of innocent Syrians in the refugee camps,
for the hundreds of thousands slaughtered that could have been saved if we had just done something…
I grieve for all of Europe and for America as the terrorism is now on our front door.
It feels like yesterday, in Iraq meeting these wonderful people planning for their future. A future of freedom and prosperity. There is a unique shining in a person eyes that is seeing a glimmer of hope for the first time, the anticipation of a future full of promise.
But a new American President took office and everything changed.
Elections have consequences.