Evaluating the Costs
The Army’s order requiring soldiers whose enlistments soon end to stay with units if within 90 days of deploying to Iraq got me thinking about the costs of the Iraq war. Bush went to war believing that it would be fast, easy and not too expensive. He was wrong. Americans and Iraqis have been paying for his mistake for over a year. Now, GI’s will be serving against their will. It’s not a draft but it amounts to the same thing for those affected. War costs continue to mount with no satisfactory end in sight.
Bush’s problem now is to keep Americans from realizing what a terrible mistake he made in attacking Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction, few Iraqis dancing with joy (although many welcomed Saddam’s fall) and an unstable post war occupation that has largely appropriated Iraq’s economy to American corporations. Baghdad will soon host the largest US embassy in the world and teams of Americans will monitor and advise Iraqi ministries after the hand over. In the meantime, Iraqi businessmen and entrepreneurs are shut out of their own economy and ever more likely to support resistance to the occupation.
The Iraq war is quickly running up costs, adding to the US government’s deficit. It’s something we are paying for right now with scarce public funds. We are also paying for it with our national honor and the lives of soldiers and civilians. So what are we getting for all this sacrifice?
• The War on Terror. So far, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has created the conditions for more terror. Iraq is now up for grabs where it wasn’t before. Saddam Hussein did not tolerate independent organizations within his dictatorship. He controlled his borders. Now Iraq is becoming a Mecca for jihadists wanting to drive the infidels from Muslim lands. Outside Iraq, al-Quaeda and its allies remain active. They continue to strike pretty much at the same rate as they did prior to 9-11, not in the US but elsewhere. The most recent attack in Saudi Arabia targeted the oil industry, sending shock waves through the economy. Meanwhile, America is diverting resources to Iraq at the expense of effective action against terrorism elsewhere in the region and the world.
• Weapons of Mass Destruction. Invading Iraq did little to reduce the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorist groups. By 2003 Iraq no longer possessed meaningful WMD stocks. Hans Blix, in Disarming Iraq, his account of weapons inspections immediately prior to the US invasion, tells of asking the US to identify sites for inspection only to find nothing significant there. Although Blix expected to find some WMD’s in Iraq, he began to think that Iraq may have actually disposed of these weapons. By the end of 2003, many former experts concluded that Iraq possessed no significant WMD’s when the US invaded.
But weapons of mass destruction remain a genuine problem. North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel have nuclear weapons. Pakistan and North Korea are known purveyors of nuclear weapons technology. Uncomfortably large amounts of fissionable material is unaccounted for. Chemical and biological technology is readily available to terrorists who know how to employ this knowledge. These are the conditions that threaten the world and America with WMD’s. Invading Iraq did nothing to address these conditions.
• Middle East Democracy. Bush promised to plant and nurture democracy in the Middle East. Instead, he brought a military occupation that was unable to fulfill the expectations of many (most?) Iraqis. The Baathist dictatorship was quickly overthrown but the occupation failed to provide a timely reconstruction and basic services. A year later, the Iraqi economy is barely functioning and much of the money goes to foreign corporations and workers. If America is lucky, Iraq will hold elections in January and begin to deal with its own problems. Perhaps Iraqis will have the talent and good will to create a vibrant multi-ethnic democracy in the coming years. If they do, it will be their achievement, not ours.
Not much accomplishment to show for the lost lives, billions of dollars and damage to America’s honor and credibility in the world. Many Americans have sacrificed greatly in the months since 9-ll, all doing so because they believe they are serving their country. That gift has been wasted by Bush’s careless and reckless war. He and his advisors ignored evidence that merited further consideration before invading another country. They authorized the destruction, death and chaos of war because they thought it would be easy. As a veteran, what bothers me most about Bush’s war is that he did not understand what he was doing. Neither he nor his advisors understand the chaos and inhumanity of combat: once the dogs of war are unleashed, they are out of control.
Sometimes, war is unavoidable. In those times sacrifice, hardship and sorrow protect the nation and its people. Difficult but necessary. But calling for these sacrifices to fight imaginary dangers at the expense of effective action against real threats is a betrayal of the public trust.