Yesterday, what the media are calling the last American combat convoy left Iraq. That draws down the force in being to something a little larger than 50,000, from one at its peak hovered around the 140,000 mark. Seven years is a long time, particularly for a country that can be challenged by paying attention to a 30 minute television show.
For someone who has spent most of his life fascinated by history, just the phrase “last convoy” brings to mind certain imagery. Watching the Strykers lumbering across the Iraqi desert, it’s hard not to conjure up images of the final Soviet personnel carriers crossing out of Afghanistan or the iconic picture of the Huey evacuating CIA operators from a downtown rooftop during the fall of Saigon.
In every case, there’s something unsettling about the scene – something unfinished. We seem to be pathologically hard wired to demand an ending to every story or to expect that some final grand gesture will bring closure. Study history long enough and you come to the conclusion that nothing ever really ends it just becomes part of our collective past and informs the future in the same way that Vietnam informed the Soviets in Afghanistan and both influeced how we did and didn’t behave in Iraq. Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, the Iraq experience will inform whatever comes next. And history sweeps on towards the next last convoy.