I was watching the continual loop of Saddam Hussein's hanging when I flashed back to the night three years ago when I learned about his capture while serving in the Army's 1st Armored Division and living in one of his former palaces. There was a sense of celebration as we watched the video on CNN of Paul Bremer announcing to the crowd of media in the Green Zone, only a few short miles away across the Tigris, that "We got him!"
Now, three years later, as I watch Saddam plunge through the trap door I remember the thoughts that came shortly after his capture: "What next?"
Our soldiers on patrol felt that the unrest we faced in December 2003 was beginning to boil over, and soon we faced an all-out insurgency from ranks of Moqtada al-Sadr's militias. It was only days after Saddam's capture that we lost two more soldiers to a roadside bomb. We began to ask: "What next?"
As Saddam swung from the gallows, the American deaths in Iraq surpassed 3,000. More than 2,500 of those deaths have come since Saddam's capture. We are also approaching another milestone: Nearly 50,000 soldiers have been medically evacuated for being wounded, injured or ill. The cost of this war continues to grow and the question still lingers: "What next?"
Today the Angus Reid Global Monitor released a poll that 90 percent of Iraqis think the situation in their country was better before the U.S.-led invasion. The Iraqi and American people want to know: "What next?"
There was no sense of urgency in Washington. The president would not be "rushed" and Congress shut down for the holidays knowing that many were packing up for good. One colonel told me he attended a State Department meeting where the chair decided to reconvene in two weeks. He wanted to stand on his chair and scream, "Do you realize that in two weeks more than 20 soldiers may die?" The colonel wants to know: "What next?"
The president now wants to expand this war and send tens of thousands more troops into Baghdad to quell the civil war. I have a friend who commands a company of troops in Ramadi, and he is longing for a strategy. His soldiers drive around on patrols day and night waiting to be attacked so they can focus their energies on the enemy, but they have no mission. The captain wants to know: "What next?"
Violence in Iraq is at an all-time high and over the last three months, the number of American troop casualties in Iraq has increased to three a day. In December, 111 soldiers gave their lives while waiting to find out what's next.
It is time for this new Congress to fulfill the promises made during the election that was commonly referred to as "a referendum on the war in Iraq." It is time for our leaders to make the tough decisions.
Saddam is dead. We have a new Congress. OK. What's next?
Jonathan Powers, a native of Clarence, is a veteran of the war in Iraq. He is vice president of policy for Veterans for America.