"The 9-Year Lesson From Iraq"
Today marks the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war. The final convoy of U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq on December 18, marking the end of the U.S.’s major troop presence in Iraq. The end of the Iraq war relieved a major strain on the U.S. military and permitted the Pentagon to shift its focus to the war in Afghanistan — U.S. combat troops are expected to handover security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2013 or 2014 — and President Obama seeks a “strategic pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. But while the withdrawal from Iraq paid security dividends for the U.S., the human and financial costs of the war are only beginning to be fully understood. And political critics, like Mitt Romney, who argued that the withdrawal was an “astonishing failure” now acknowledge it is “appropriate.” (Romney also said that we never would have gone into Iraq if we knew then what we know now.)
THE TRUE COSTS OF WAR: In February 2002, George W. Bush adviser Kenneth Adelman infamously wrote that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” to Baghdad. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Wars come at a high financial cost and the Iraq war was no exception. Through FY2011, the war has required $806 billion in federal funding and is estimated to incur a total of $3 – $5 trillion in economics costs on the United States. The humanitarian cost is even more striking. Of the 4,804 coalition military fatalities, the U.S. military suffered 4,486 deaths. The toll on Iraqi civilians has been even higher. Between 105,722 and 115,485 Iraqi civilian deaths have been recorded and 2.8 million Iraqis have found themselves internally displaced by the war.
A STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE: Since the first day of work after the inauguration, President Obama put a high priority on ensuring security in Iraq in coordination with a drawdown of U.S. combat troops. The final withdrawal of combat personnel in December 2011 and the improving security situation in Iraq “is a credit to our troops—who succeeded, at great cost, in restoring a measure of stability when all looked to be lost; and who trained an Iraqi Army that is now, in defiance of the doubters, capably providing security for its citizens,” said Antony Blinken, Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President, in remarks delivered at CAP last week. The White House’s strategy strengthened U.S. national security by: restoring U.S. military readiness; expanding option to deal with other military threats in the Middle East; reducing the financial burden of the U.S. caused by the war; freeing up military resources to fight the Al Qaeda network; and rebalancing overall U.S. national security strategy to deal with real threats to our nation. The president’s decision to withdraw all combat personnel by the end of 2011 reflected his administration’s efforts to refocus the country’s national security strategy on long-term U.S. national security interests of countering nuclear proliferation, worldwide nuclear arsenal reductions and the security of regional partners Asia and the Middle East.
THE STRUGGLE OF RETURNING VETERANS: While combat personnel withdrew from Iraq last year, the battle for veterans benefits continues as returning members of the military face growing economic inequalities at home and a struggling national economy. Returning veterans face a difficult job market and, according to a whistleblower lawsuit, some of the nation’s biggest banks “defrauded veterans and taxpayers out of hundreds of million of dollars by disguising illegal gees in veterans’ home refinancing loans.” And as the GOP’s anti-labor agenda continues to play out, anti-war veterans governments are claiming a prominent role in the nation’s political debates. An estimated 10,000 veterans joined a rally organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War in solidarity with movement challenging Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attacks on public sector unions. And veterans groups have aren’t embracing GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s policy proposal to privatize veterans benefits. ““The [Veterans of Foreign Wars] doesn’t support privatization of veterans health care,” VFW spokesperson Jerry Newberry told TPM. “This is an issue that seems to come around every election cycle.”
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