This morning, CNN hosted a debate with Republican, Democratic, and Independent candidates for Florida’s Senate seat, Marco Rubio, Rep. Kendrick Meek, and Gov. Charlie Crist. The three candidates debated a variety of current issues, and highlights included Crist and Rubio stating that they felt that all of the Bush tax cuts should be extended, even those for the wealthiest Americans.
At one point, a CNN moderator asked the candidates if “America is safer and better off for having gone to war in Iraq?” Rubio responded, “I think ultimately yes. First of all, the world is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge….The world is a safer place not to mention the Iraqi people are better off than they were under Saddam Hussein.”
Meek went next, saying that the “war was based on falsehoods and not on fact” and refused to give a “blanket yes” to the question of whether the world was safer thanks to the war. The congressman continued, “I think we would’ve been better off if we had looked at diplomatic solutions and hadn’t been lied to by the Bush administration.”
Crist then gave the last answer. “I think the world is a safer place because of the action we took in Iraq,” he concluded:
MODERATOR: Mr. Rubio, is America safer and better off for having gone to war in Iraq?
RUBIO: I think ultimately, yes. First of all, the world is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge. He is no longer in charge of that country. Let’s understand one thing. Right now we’re worrying about Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. If Saddam Hussein was still there you’d have a full-blown arms war the way you’ve seen between Pakistan and India. So the world is a safer place not to mention the Iraqi people are better off than they were under Saddam Hussein. [...]
MODERATOR: Mr. Meek, same question.
MEEK: Well I would tell you this. There was a no-fly zone prior to going to war in Iraq. It was a war based on falsehood and not on fact. And also there are a number of American lives that have been lost. Saying that, those sacrifices that have been made, it’s important to note that the international community needs to continued to be engaged in Iraq. The largest U.S. embassy in the world is in Iraq because of the Bush doctrine. I understand the situation as to the world being safer because we went into Iraq, I couldn’t give you an overall blanket yes on that.
MODERATOR: Do you think we would’ve been better off if we hadn’t gone in?
MEEK: I think we would’ve been better off if we would’ve looked at diplomatic solutions and wouldn’t have been lied to by the Bush administration. I think a number of American lives would’ve been saved and this would be a different world if we would’ve given diplomacy an opportunity.
CRIST: I think the world is a safer place because of the action we took in Iraq.
It is an oddity of American political life that, more than seven years after the Bush administration launched its illegal and disastrous war in Iraq that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily, that major political players are still debating whether or not the war made our country and the world “safer and better off.” Nevertheless, it is important to dismantle the claims put forward by Rubio and Crist.
Rubio displays a hefty ignorance history by claiming that an Iraq under Saddam Hussein would’ve engaged in an arms war like that between India and Pakistan. Ever since the Gulf War, Iraq was under draconian sanctions that reduced its military to levels where it was completely unable to threaten any of its neighbors — and, unfortunately, exacted an enormous human cost on its civilian population. There could have been no arms race because Iraq did not have access to the materials to make them.
Rubio and Crist both claim that the world is a safer place thanks to the war in Iraq. The facts tell very a different story. In 2007, terrorism experts and research fellows at Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank conducted a survey of terrorism incidents worldwide since the Bush administration-led U.S. war in Iraq. Their study found that terrorism incidents worldwide increased by seven times, or six hundred percent, since the Bush administration invaded Iraq.
More recently, researchers Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and James Feldman of Air Force Institute of Technology found that, “from 1980-2003, there were 350 suicide attacks in the world, only 15% of which were anti-American.” Yet after the Bush-led war in Iraq, “there have been 1,833 suicide attacks, 92% of which were anti-American.”
Whether is Iraq is “better off” is more of a subjective question, but the level of suffering borne by the Iraqi people suggests they are not. In 2004, a year after the toppling of Saddam Hussein and well-before the spike in levels of violence that started with the sectarian warfare in 2005, Iraqis were 58 times more likely to die a violent death than they were before the invasion. Sectarian tensions and a fragile political system led to Iraq breaking the world’s record for the longest time without a government. Damage to the country’s infrastructure limits Iraqis to an average of five hours of electricity a day, and a recent document dump by the whistleblower organization Wikileaks has uncovered tens of thousands of previously unreported civilian deaths and the widespread use of torture and other brutal military techniques by the Iraqi government. All of this is without noting that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives, entire generations of children have grown under occupation or in sectarian warfare, and millions fled the country. All for the cost of $4-$6 trillion dollars, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.