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Katy Burns

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.)

Legacy Comments16

All of the previous comments are pretty much irrelevant to the editorial. It doesn't matter who started or ended the Vietnam War, and it doesn't matter which party was in power, and how and when. They're just diversionary tactics from the real point. ("Look over there!") What matters is that war today is long, bloody, and obscenely expensive. What matters is that everyone except a very few who have investments in the war machine has gotten poorer due to the $520B spent... money that could have helped so many to get on their feet, get educated, stay healthy, and contribute to society. I don't care who the president is. Any president or congress that gets us into another damn, unwinnable moneypit of an offshore war is wrong, and will not have my support. And this doesn't even address the immorality of it all. I had an "Attack Iraq? No!" bumpersticker on my car, and all I can say now is - "I told you so. Let's, for God's sake, not do it again."

The role that the US plays in foreign countries is the main question for me. Do we belong in countries that will never change their ideologies at the cost of lives and obscene cost? Do we protect countries that do not join in with us like France when we fight? Or do we just protect ourselves from being attacked? For me you cannot change a country that is ruled by their religion, terrorists, dictators etc. History proves that. But the US seems to think they can. The price is too high in my book, and once we engage in these wars, we leave and the bad guys just take over again like they did before we went in and tried to help. They do that by killing folks who want change to a democracy.

We need to do two things the next time politicians start rattling sabers. 1) Raise the taxes necessary to fund the war and 2) institute a draft so that more people have skin in the game. I almost wish there was a way to increase the odds of a Congressman's or Senator's child be selected. Let's see how the public's appetite for war is after this. If everyone's willing to sacrifice, then let's do it.

It boggles the mind when folks like gracchus write that Carter would have gotten another term if the hostages were freed. Carter took inflation from 5.22% to 11.83% in four years. Cola adjustments were 5.9 and 4 years of Carter brought them to 14.3 Intrest rates went from 6.25 to 20% under Carter. He abandoned the Shah of Iran. Allowed middle east to starve us of oil. Yeah Carter lost because of the hostage issue? I think not.

I have one question. How long can war with Iran be avoided???

It maybe hard to remember now, but there was wide spread fear of communism taking over the world in the 50's. When the French left Indochina there was a vacuum and Eisenhower was the first President to send military advisors to Vietnam. Democrats (with a capital D) may have "started" the war but it was conservative Republicans who were against ending it (think Archie Bunker) Nixon was elected in '68 with a promise to end the war. The most deadly part of the war was durning his administration and it didn't end until "73.

36,878 dead during Johnsons term. (Nixon did not assume office until Jan 1969) 21,195 dead during Nixons term. The facts prove your wrong. But maybe you meant total war dead. I have not fact checked that, but I'd bet the farm you'd be wrong there too. Facts are stubborn things.

If your brother had died in this war, maybe you wouldn't care so much during whose term it was. But the FACTS are Nixon promised to end the war and it took 5 more years, longer than America's participation in World War 11. Eisenhower knew there is alot of money to be made in war and alot of people who push war for that reason.

Well good point. Obama promised to end both wars and five years later, Iraq is teetering on the brink of disaster after a hasty pull out and more people have been killed in Afghanistan under Obama over the past four years than under Bush and five years later we are still there. You point is understood.

Yes, the facts are Nixon promised to end the war, and end it he did.

58,220 Americans killed in Vietnam - a war democrats took us into and a war Republicans got us out of

"...a war democrats took us into and a war Republicans got us out of" Not exactly. Someday you ought to read about how Nixon's people sabotaged the first efforts at ending the Viet Nam war. Doesn't it remind you of how Reagan's people stage-managed delaying the release of the hostages from Iran, denying Carter the credit (and the reelection) he deserved?

Did you just say Carter deserved to be reelected??

Yes I did. If he gets credit for getting the hostages home he gets reelected. It couldn't be simpler. He wasn't a very good president, but let's not forget that it was Reagan and his delusional fiscal policies that set us on the path that culminated (at least I hope culminated) in the 2007-08 debacle.

And let's not forget that since Obama took office in 2009, we have seen a marked increase in deaths in Afghanistan and among coalition forces. Of course the progressives in the press seldom if ever mention this. The same people covering every caskset coming home under Bush give it no attention today under Obama. This link says it all: http://icasualties.org/oef/. Perhaps Katy means that Democrats simply can't execute a war.

"War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes." --Two time Medal of Honor recipient Major Gen. Smedley D. Butler, USMC.

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