Today marks four years since the United States invaded Iraq.
I remember my internship in 2001, where it seemed like every right-winger I met was obsessed with what they considered unfinished business in Iraq. I remember thinking about how influential some of them were by the time 9/11 rolled around. I remember the professor for whom I TA-ed telling the class that the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves that fall meant that the Bush administration would invade Iraq.
I remember, a year later, being a first-year PhD student, overwhelmed with reading and writing and trying to understand complex theories about alliances and competition and democratization. I remember the discussions in my first International Relations course that spring, which moved from hypothetical war to real war in a manner of weeks. I remember wondering how the process of building a democracy from scratch would really work, whether Iraq would do any better at it than most African countries I had studied had done.
I remember sitting in the DFW airport, waiting for a flight to Berlin and watching Colin Powell present the case for invasion to the Security Council. I remember Berlin that week before the invasion, staying with my friend Margaret who, just weeks before, had been out on the streets in protest with millions of others in Europe. I remember Margaret's questions about the morality of pre-emptive war, about how such actions could be condoned by a Christian president. I remember visiting M and J's church plant in East Berlin and wondering the same things.
I remember the doctor coming home from Ghana and me coming back from Berlin and P's wedding and his match day and wondering when, not if, we would invade. I remember sitting on the bus that day and talking to my friend Laura. I remember her asking why I thought the war would be unjust, and how my explanation that we hadn't exhausted all diplomatic means seemed so terribly inadequate.
I remember watching "shock and awe" on television and being glad that it seemed that the war would go quickly, without much fighting. I remember the poet Kathleen Norris telling my sister that "awe" is a word to describe God, not a word to describe the work of men's weapons.
I remember the president declaring "Mission Accomplished" on my birthday, as I sat trying to write a take-home exam on war and peace for my IR class. I remember Italy with my family that summer and seeing rainbow "Pace" ("peace") flags everywhere, hanging from rooftops and balconies, used as curtains and wall decorations. I remember South Africa and trying to explain to a group of French political scientists that just because I was from Texas didn't mean I thought the war was a good idea.
I remember the fear that came with learning that A and N and J and so many others would be deployed to a place that seemed to be getting worse every day. I remember wondering how the American people could re-elect someone who got us into such an untenable situation, but also understanding that it's hard to change presidents in the middle of a war. I remember my incredulity at learning that a Baylor administrator was going to Baghdad to oversee part of the reconstruction, despite not speaking Arabic and knowing little about the region and its cultures. I remember worrying every day about Steve the Lawyer as he worked in the Green Zone.
I remember my surprise when public opinion began to turn against the president. I remember being so aware of how little I've sacrificed for this war, while others have given everything.
Most of all, I remember the sadness at learning that more soldiers have died. I remember the shock of learning that so many Iraqis have died because of my country's shortsightedness. I remember my total surprise in learning that 2 million Iraqis have fled their country as refugees, and that another 1.7 million are internally displaced, meaning they've had to leave their homes behind.
Today I will not protest. I will not call my senators in anger; I will not ask my students to debate the war's morality. I will not rant about bad decisions, arrogance, or the immorality of pre-emption.
Today, I will say a prayer of thanks for those who have given their all to bring peace. I will mourn those who have died, and pray for those who must live with this mess. I will pray for leaders to make sensible decisions that are driven by the best interest of the Iraqi people, and not by domestic politics. I will hope that things will improve soon, and pray that there will be faith, hope, love, and peace in all corners. And I will remember.