The Heavy Toll of the Iraq War
Today is one anniversary that is definitely not cause for celebration. Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush made the fateful decision to launch the unnecessary Iraq War.
The consequences of this decision have been overwhelming. A new report estimates that the Iraq War will end up costing American taxpayers at least $2.2 TRILLION, but perhaps as much as $4 TRILLION with interest since Bush put the war on the national credit card at the same he slashed taxes on the wealthy.
(Incidentally, $4 TRILLION is the total amount of deficit reduction that President Obama is seeking, including about $2 TRILLION in the current round of negotiations in order to replace the sequester and stabilize our long-term debt.)
The bill for the war may be large, but the human cost of the Iraq War is even more staggering. It’s estimated that 200,000 people, civilians and soldiers alike, were killed as a result of the war. A million other Iraqis were displaced by the conflict.
These topline figures are just the beginning. Our ThinkProgress colleagues outline five ways the U.S. is worse off because of the Iraq War:
1. The debt
At the start of the war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost around $50-60 billion in total. They were wrong by more than a factor of ten, sending the U.S.’ debt soaring, a condition that has yet to be rectified. According to a recent study, the war is set to have cost the U.S $2.2 trillion, though that number may reach up to $4 trillion thanks to interest payments on the loans taken out to finance the conflict. Of that staggering amount, at least $10 billion of it was completely wasted in rebuilding efforts.
2. The physical and psychological strain on U.S. troops.
The soldiers charged with fighting the war were stretched to their limits, put through multiple tours, with increasing length of time overseas as the war stretched on and shrinking downtime in between each. All-told, over 4,000 U.S. troops died during the country’s time in Iraq, with another 31,000 wounded in action. In the aftermath, the cost of providing medical care to veterans has doubled, adding to the difficulties faced by those who served. Up to 35 percent of Iraq War veterans will suffer from PTSD according to a 2009 study, while the suicide rate among veterans has jumped to 22 per day.
3. The forgotten war in Afghanistan.
Even worse, the war in Iraq caused the U.S. to take its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Rather than following through, the Bush administration allowed the country to stagnate, prompting a Taliban resurgence beginning in 2004. As the West focused almost exclusively on Iraq, Taliban fighters imported tactics seen in Iraq to great effect, keeping the Afghan government weak and U.S.-led NATO forces on their heels. The result: the United States is still attempting to tamp down on Taliban momentum today.
4. The opportunity costs.
Aside from missed opportunities in Afghanistan, the Iraq War-effort was all-consuming, pulling resources from all other areas of U.S. defense policy. Relationships with key allies were allowed to grow stale and U.S. prestige around the world plummeted. Fighting in Iraq was realized to be a diversion from combating al Qaeda, drawing funding that could have gone towards a litany of other efforts to effectively counter terrorism.
5. The strengthening of Iran and al Qaeda.
The power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam and the lack of adequate U.S. forces left room for U.S. adversaries to fill the void. Counter to what some still believe, Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq prior to 2003. Instead, it was only in the post-Saddam climate that they gained a foothold in the form of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group continues to carry out attacks against civilians to this day, keeping the Iraqi government on edge.
In the end, it was not the United States that gained the most strategically from invading Iraq, but the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. In removing Saddam Hussein’s predominantly Sunni regime from power, the U.S. opened the door to a greater Iranian influence in the region. That influence has been seen playing out counter to U.S. interests in situations such as allowing Iranian planes bearing weapons for Syria to cross Iraqi airspace.
Given that we know now that the war was launched on false premises and have witnessed what has happened since, you’d think the architects of the war would at least admit they wrong or express some regret. You’d be wrong.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took to Twitter today to pat himself on back:
“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Richard Perle argued in an opinion piece earlier this week that it was still right to have removed Saddam Hussein, even though he had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Top war architect Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that things “spiraled out of control,” but blamed others and argued that things would’ve been different if the war had been prosecuted his way (it was, incidentally).
Astonishingly, the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka even went so far this week as to argue that the mess in Iraq is really President Obama’s fault. This view was echoed yesterday by Fouad Ajami, a conservative intellectual close to Wolfowitz and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also criticized Obama for ending “an honorable war.”
It appears that the American people are smarter, or at least more honest, than the neocons who led us into perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Polls out this week show that a majority of Americans believe the Iraq War was not worth fighting.
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