Katy Burns: Do we really want to do it again? (After all, Iraq went so well)
If you listen carefully, there are always drumbeats of war – sometimes loud, sometimes soft – in this country’s governing corridors.
Not too long ago it was over Libya, and President Obama was excoriated by some conservative opponents for his failure to involve our nation more aggressively when Libyans rose up and deposed brutal strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
More recently, armchair generals in and out of Congress have demanded greater American participation in the armed struggle under way in Syria.
And always there is a persistent call for action – specifically military action, including a pre-emptive strike – to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
All this goes on as the American people reflect on the 10 years that have passed since the U.S. sent troops into Iraq, the last time a president (with the agreement of plenty of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle) authorized a pre-emptive war against another sovereign nation.
Do we really want to do it again? And at what cost this time?
Remember how seductive the arguments for the Iraq invasion were. It would be a low- or no-cost war. Revenue from Iraqi oil would easily cover the costs – and ensure the U.S. of an endless supply of cheap gas.
The war would be short – perhaps as little as two weeks. Our troops would surely be home in just months.
We would be greeted as liberators. Grateful Iraqis would strew rose petals in our troops’ path.
Democracy would be born and flourish, and it would spread as if by magic through the rest of the Middle East.
And we would be rid of the odious Saddam Hussein and his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The threat of a nuclear cloud would be gone forever.
Except, of course, that there never was a threat of a nuclear cloud. Our “advisers” on the necessity of war turned out to be such sketchy characters as “Curveball” and Ahmed Chalabi. The carefully calibrated “evidence” that somehow a tin-pot dictator half a world away really posed a grave threat to our country was given voice by credulous reporters from some of our most prestigious news organizations.
Turns out there were no weapons of mass destruction. We were not greeted as liberators but as occupiers. Rather than a flowering of democracy we ushered in years of civil destruction and war, of sectarian bloodletting and ethnic cleansing, of appalling casualties on the part of our troops and even more on the part of Iraqi civilians. The entire region is more awash in arms than ever before.
And – I nearly forgot to mention – we left the country in the control of a man who is generally described not as a democrat but as an aspiring strongman who runs an increasingly autocratic government riddled with corruption.
Plus – unlike Hussein – he’s a great new friend of the ruthless theocrats running Iran. Thus, because of our intervention, Iran has increased its influence and power in the volatile region.
Even while the debacle was unfolding,
some of its architects were given presidential Medals of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Meanwhile, our troops were coming home, wounded in spirit and body. And we all got stuck with the bill.
That bill has now been nicely tabulated by the good folks at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.
The cost to American taxpayers?
At least $2.2 trillion. That includes nearly $500 billion for the future care of (and disability payments for) injured veterans, many grievously wounded. Since the war was financed through borrowing rather than taxes, cumulative interest will amount to many more billions.
At least 190,000 people were killed directly in Iraq, including 4,488 American servicemen and women and an additional 3,400 U.S. contractors. The vast bulk of those who died of direct war violence were Iraqi men, women and children, and countless more died from disease or injury because of what the report calls war-degraded living conditions.
Terrorism increased significantly in Iraq during the war, and weapons and warriors from Iraq found their way elsewhere in the Middle East, including to currently war-torn Syria.
Health care in Iraq deteriorated dramatically with sanctions and war. More than half of the country’s doctors have left the country, and Iraqis now increasingly must seek medical aid outside the country.
Iraq’s infrastructure is still a wreck. The $60 billion earmarked for rebuilding roads, health care and water treatment systems has instead gone primarily to the police and the military – and to massive fraud, abuse and general waste of the funds.
If the Brown study – found at costsofwar.org/ -- isn’t enough, consider as well the ancillary costs to our country.
The image and reputation of the U.S. plummeted around the globe as we were seen as culturally tone-deaf bullies who brought death and destruction to innocent civilians and destabilized a significant geographic region. Much of the goodwill that flowed toward the United States after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, vanished.
That was particularly true when we were seen as embracing interrogation tactics which we had previously, along with the rest of the civilized world, condemned as torture.
And while the war drained American treasure, we’ve seen our own infrastructure – built in the early 20th century and now unable to cope with the demands of the 21st century – crumble and decay. Our social service safety net has been further shredded.
The decision to go into Iraq and our conduct of the war once it was under way will, many predict, be considered by future historians as one of the biggest military and strategic blunders American leaders have ever made. And yet some of the principal architects of the entire affair are unperturbed.
“I’d do it all again in a minute,” former vice president (and fierce advocate for the invasion) Dick Cheney bragged to an interviewer recently. I’m sure he would. And many of those who argued most fiercely for the war are, today, not only convinced of their rightness but eager to advise more military incursions to right the perceived wrongs of the world.
Yes, they want to do it again. Will we again acquiesce?
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)