There will be no Armistice Day established to commemorate the end of the Iraq War. No images of Times Square embraces or decorous surrender ceremonies aboard a U.S. Navy ship. Not even a “Mission Accomplished” declaration.

There will be no Armistice Day established to commemorate the end of the Iraq War. No images of Times Square embraces or decorous surrender ceremonies aboard a U.S. Navy ship. Not even a “Mission Accomplished” declaration.

The conflict that lasted twice as long as World War II ended instead with a statement from President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening. The war’s resolution — to the extent that defining victory or defeat ever will be possible — won’t be known for months, years or perhaps decades to come. Indeed, the ever-changing mission in Iraq made defining its purpose a nearly constant challenge over the years.

“A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested,” Obama said in his Oval Office address, during which he declared combat operations in Iraq officially over. “These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America’s longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst these shifting tides: At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve.”

Obama was correct in issuing prominent praise to the members of our military. Count us among those who, as Obama said, are “awed by their sacrifice and by the sacrifices of their families.”

With democracy and general stability in Iraq still tenuous, the performance of America’s military in the face of changing missions and unanticipated hostility stands as the lone, indisputable bright spot in the whole Iraq endeavor. We hope that changes — that the American military presence remaining in Iraq can help the country guide itself to stability.
Likewise, we hope the refined focus now placed on our effort in Afghanistan might lead to a more decisive, and positive, result there.

But it’s disingenuous to focus solely on the positive as we end the “war” phase of our Iraq endeavor.

In 2003, there was no issue more divisive in this country than the Iraq invasion. Those who questioned it were branded traitors or unpatriotic. As things went wrong, the tenor of the debate only worsened. Even the relative success of the troop surge in 2007, which brought some semblance of order to Iraq, served only to stoke hostility here at home.

We know now that it was a war sold on false pretenses: First, that it was necessary to thwart a nonexistent weapons of mass destruction program; second, that it would be easy.
Implicit in the second pretense was the misguided belief that this would be a victory with minimal sacrifice. The lives of some 4,500 Americans killed, more than 100,000 wounded and an Iraqi civilian death toll believed to top 100,000 will stand forever as sad testimony otherwise.

That is the resounding lesson history will teach about Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As we, in Obama’s words, “turn the page” in Iraq, we hope the 49,000 U.S. troops who now begin Operation New Dawn can help Iraq write a more redeeming chapter to that history.

State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill.