Two Lessons From An Anti-War'rior

In the end, with collaborators like Nita Chaudhary, Tara McGuinness, Eli Pariser and others, we probably organized more than 30,000 candle vigils, thousands of protests, millions of calls to Congress, dozens of TV ads, millions of signs and stickers, town hall meetings, emails, blog posts, prayers and more from the White House to Crawford, Texas and in hundreds of cities and towns across America.

We knew through all this work that if there was no way to quickly end the war with George W. Bush in office, we needed to change the country hoping they would change our political leadership. That is exactly what happened. Americans responded and, since 2004, Democratic candidates opposed to the war in Iraq replaced more than 60 pro-war Republicans in Washington.

For me, on this tragic anniversary of the war, there are two things to reflect on.

First, the task of ending the war is not complete yet. President Obama is endeavoring on a plan to withdraw U.S. troops. I believe he is doing so in good faith and I am proud that America elected our first president opposed to the war we were in on Election Day. This is reaffirming of the wisdom and decency of the American people.

But while we are leaving Iraq, and after we leave, there will be an unmet burden both for millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors and their families who carry wounds both seen and unseen.

It will be easy to thrust responsibility on to the hawks and warmongers, but those of us who opposed the war--and the politicians we supported--are essentially running the country now. This is our challenge. We have obligations both to our veterans and to the Iraqi war victims. It will continue to cost tens of billions in the years ahead but that is the necessary cost of our irresponsibility as a country getting into Iraq.

And while we focus on healing those in the war we should also seek to heal the first casualty of this and every war--the truth. There are still questions that haven't been answered about how we got into the war and what happened once we were in it. We deserve answers.

I especially believe that we need to focus on how U.S. policy fanned the flames of sectarian violence and cleansing (called ethnic cleansing in other wars) that turned Baghdad from a mixed city into a majority Shiite city. This is an often-neglected area with profound moral implications.

Did we train and arm sectarian Iraqi Army brigades who by day provided security and by night led death squads? The evidence suggests we did.

The Iraqi refugee crisis remains one of the largest in the world--larger than Darfur last time I checked. Shouldn't there be a truth commission to investigate all of this? The goal of the commission wouldn't necessarily be to seek criminal convictions. What is most important is that we learn the truth lest history repeat itself.

And while the process of ending the war will continue for years, the second big lesson I hope we take from Iraq--as a country and as human beings--is that wars are terribly hard to stop once they start. If we learn nothing else from the war in Iraq it should be that the task of staying out of wars should be a critical activity of human civilization. In this regard, the project that President Obama laid out during the campaign of revitalizing U.S. diplomacy and rebuilding our image is central. We also need to match that with a vision for non-violent forms of conflict resolution.

The human, economic and psychic damage of the war will be felt for decades. There is little that we can do about that except hope that we don't fall into the trap of repeating these errors again.