WASHINGTON — A decade after the night that U.S. bombs first rained down on Baghdad, the president joked about wearing a green tie for a belated St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Congress noisily focused on whether spending cuts would force the cancellation of the White House Easter egg roll. Cable news debated whether a show about young women has too much sex in it.
But on one topic, there was a conspiracy of silence — Republicans and Democrats agreed that they did not really want to talk about the Iraq war.
The 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion came and went Tuesday with barely passing notice in a town once consumed by it. Neither party had much interest in revisiting what succeeded and what failed, who was right and who was wrong. The bipartisan consensus underscored the broader national mood: After 10 years, America seems happy to wash its hands of Iraq.
Never mind that Iraq remains in perilous shape, free of Saddam Hussein and growing economically, but still afflicted by spasms of violence and struggling to move beyond autocratic government.
With U.S. troops now gone, the war has receded from the capital conversation and the national consciousness, replaced by worries about spending, taxes, debt and jobs. Whether the United States won or lost, or achieved something messy in between, seems at this point a stale debate.
President Barack Obama, who rose to political heights on the strength of his opposition to the war, made no mention of it in appearances Tuesday. Instead, he issued a written statement saluting “the courage and resolve” of the 1.5 million Americans who served during eight years in Iraq and honoring the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans “who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who as a Republican senator broke with his party over the war, a move that complicated his recent confirmation hearings, likewise stuck to a written statement praising the troops and urging Americans to “remember these quiet heroes this week.”
Those on the other side of the debates likewise paid little notice. Former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and many other authors of the war made no public comments. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent a message via Twitter: “10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Although some foreign policy and news organizations held forums or produced retrospectives in recent days, the floors of Congress did not ring out with speeches expounding on the lessons of Iraq.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, gave a speech about the Middle East without mentioning the anniversary. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was prepared to say something about the anniversary if questioned at a morning news briefing, an aide said, but no one asked.
“This is a little like the crazy uncle in the attic that nobody wants to talk about,” said John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq and is now a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “But we need to because we put him there.”
Critics like Nagl argue that the anniversary should serve as a reminder about what he sees as the mistake of starting the war. “It would be a shame if we did not pause and think hard about this as a nation,” he said. “We paid an enormous price as a nation. The Iraqis have paid a huge price. The region is destabilized.”
The White House found itself in the awkward position of standing by Obama’s opposition to the war but offering an optimistic prognosis for Iraq, and even giving a grudging nod to Bush for removing a dictator from power.
“Ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was a welcome development for the world and for Iraq,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said at his daily briefing.
“The president believes that Iraq has the potential for a better future today because of the remarkable sacrifice and service of American men and women in uniform as well as civilian American men and women who served in Iraq.”