25 Years In Iraq, With No End In Sight
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Iraq invaded Kuwait 25 years ago this month. That drew the U.S. military into Iraq, and in some form or another, ground troops, advisers, airpower. It has been there ever since. NPR's Greg Myre covered that first U.S.-led Gulf War and offers this look at the surprisingly long trajectory of American involvement in Iraq.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: That first U.S. war with Iraq delivered a message that was one of the most deceptive in the annals of warfare, namely that fighting in the Middle East was extremely easy. U.S. air power made Saddam Hussein's army appear defenseless in Kuwait. Hapless Iraqi troops were so desperate to quit that some of them surrendered to American journalists armed only with notebooks. After the Iraqis were driven out of Kuwait, every American who entered - soldier or civilian - was treated as a liberator. As gas stations and grocery stores reopened, we were ushered to the front of long lines and told there was no need to pay. The U.S. ambassador in Kuwait joked that he had the only embassy in the world with pro-American graffiti on the walls. No one imagined America was about to get bogged down for a quarter-century in Iraq and the broader Middle East, a region where it had never fought a major war. But the euphoria obscured a point that bedevils the U.S. to this day. Winning military battles is one thing. Fixing a broken country is quite another. After freeing Kuwait, U.S. troops advanced deep into the Iraqi desert. I spent time with American troops outside the southern city of Samawah, where gunfire crackled all night long. But the Americans were mere bystanders. They had strict orders to remain neutral as Saddam Hussein's army crushed a rebel uprising just a few miles away. H.R. McMaster is a lieutenant general now. But back then, he was a young Army captain in the area. The rebel leaders begged us for weapons, he told me at the time, but all we could do was wish them luck. This was the U.S. dilemma - then and now. The U.S. could stand back and watch a horror show. Then it was Saddam; today it's the Islamic state. Or America could intervene and find itself mired in Iraq's bitter internal feuds. Many Americans who fought in that first war are now long since retired. Those joining the military today weren't even born when the first U.S. invasion took place. For 25 years, the U.S. military has alternated between charging in and pulling back in Iraq. But America has never completely left, and a solution remains as elusive as ever. Greg Myre, NPR News.
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