In February 2002, George W. Bush adviser Kenneth Adelman infamously wrote that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk.” But 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 and total costs have been estimated between $3 – $5 trillion. 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.
While the withdrawal from Iraq means an end, or at least a decrease, in some of these costs, the end of the Iraq war permits the U.S. to turn to other security challenges such as: restoring U.S. military readiness; expanding options 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 security threats. The withdrawal reflects the administration’s efforts to refocus the country’s national security strategy on the long-term U.S. national security interests of countering nuclear proliferation, worldwide nuclear arsenal reductions and the security of regional partners in Asia and the Middle East.
Returning veterans, as well, find that the costs of war remain high even when their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to an end. Veterans face: growing economic inequalities; a struggling national economy; and 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.”
Veterans also face attacks on their benefits such as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 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.”
Speaking today, Obama cited the sacrifices made by veterans and called on the country to support its veterans:
Now, our nation reaffirms our commitment to serve veterans of Iraq as well as they served us — to uphold the sacred trust we share with all who have worn the uniform. Our future is brighter for their service, and today, we express our gratitude by saying once more: Welcome home.
A longer version of this post can be viewed in today’s Progress Report.