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Serious Stuff

So-Called Victory in Iraq at What Cost?

January 21, 2012 by Somebody Else

You know, one thing that really bothers me about any discussion involving war and its consequences are statistics.

Allow me to explain here. The media hits you with a truckload of data regarding wars -- how many US service-persons were killed and injured, how much the war effort has cost us financially, and occasionally, usually as a kind of minor side-note, how many people in some foreign country died because of our military invasion of it, whether as combatants or "collateral damage," as the clinical and impersonal expression goes.

You look at the statistics, a series of numbers, and you maybe say to yourself, hmm, those are some thought-provoking figures, I wonder what the top political analysts on CNN will say about that, will this help or hurt the president's chances for re-election, and let me go pick up my morning coffee and donut.

But of course, that's just one possible reaction to war stats.

Another response might be something like, one death is too many, one dollar spent on this was way too much, the central premise of the whole military invasion amounts to a grave distortion of the truth, or an outright lie, however you prefer to call it, and in the end, it's all been nothing but a bunch of blood, sweat and tears, all in vain, all one very big, awful, tragic, reprehensible and criminal mistake. That would be my reaction, actually.

Come on, people. Let's step away from the statistics for just a moment. Let's say that you were one US service-person in Iraq, and you were crippled for life because of a serious injury that you suffered there, or killed -- let's also think of how that will affect your family members and friends and colleagues. After all, each of us only has one life, the only life we will ever know. If it were yours it would be too much -- wouldn't it? How many deaths or injuries are too much? Here's your answer -- one is too much.

But let's not stop there. Let's imagine that you are one person living in Iraq. The United States didn't have to invade your country. But it did. And because of that, you were crippled or died. Or a family member of yours was crippled or died because of the US military presence in your country. Are you going to look at a bunch of statistics about the war? Maybe, but that's not the point.

No, what primarily concerns you is how all of this has impacted you personally. Of course, if you are dead, it becomes more an issue about how your family, friends and colleagues are dealing with losing you. For you, and for them, the military invasion of your country was one military invasion too many. End of story.

But in any case, let me roll out a few statistics for you about the Iraq War.

US service-persons killed: 4,404
US service-persons injured: 31,827
Iraqi dead: more than 1 million
Iraqi injured: unknown
Total financial cost of war to United States: more than $1 trillion 

In "Casulties of the Iraq War" on Wikipedia:

Estimates of the total number of Iraqi war-related deaths are highly disputed. National Public Radio has a bar chart with various estimates. Project Censored has named the "corporate media blackout" of the number of Iraqi deaths caused by U.S. occupation (which it estimates at over one million) as the number-one censored story for 2009. In December 2007, the Iraqi government reported that there were five million orphans in Iraq — almost half of the country's children.

Also, in "Financial Cost of the Iraq War" on Wikipedia:

The report disavowed previous estimates of the Iraq War's cost as being under $1 trillion, saying the Department of Defense's direct spending on Iraq totaled at least $757.8 billion, but also highlighting the complementary costs at home, such as interest paid on the funds borrowed to finance the wars and a potential nearly $1 trillion in extra spending to care for veterans returning from combat through 2050.

Those figures are significantly more than typical estimates published just prior to the start of the Iraq War, many of which were based on a shorter term of involvement. For example, in a March 16, 2003 Meet the Press interview of Vice President Dick Cheney, held less than a week before the Iraq War began, host Tim Russert reported that "every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement."

Let's go back to where it all started, shall we?

I remember that fateful evening of March 17, 2003. I was with some friends at a pleasant social gathering. We were aware that President George W. Bush was going to make an important televised address that night, so we turned on the set to watch. Right before the speech began, a violent thunderstorm rolled in, as if foreshadowing and building suspense for some evil event about to unfold, just like a scene from a cliché-ridden horror movie. This was a part of what we heard:

America tried to work with the United Nations to address this threat because we wanted to resolve the issue peacefully. We believe in the mission of the United Nations.

One reason the U.N. was founded after the Second World War was to confront aggressive dictators actively and early, before they can attack the innocent and destroy the peace.

In the case of Iraq, the Security Council did act in the early 1990s. Under Resolutions 678 and 687, both still in effect, the United States and our allies are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it.

Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.

This only made up a very small part of a rather long speech, but in my view, you can pretty much disregard the rest of what he said as nothing more than a collection of spurious reasons used to justify one single sentence, which I repeat for you here once again:

The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.

Understandably, in this speech, Bush did not refer directly to the UN's refusal at the time to authorize the US-led invasion of Iraq. That would have detracted from his misleading argument. Let's see a summary of what happened at the UN.

From "United Nations Security Council and the Iraq War" on Wikipedia:

In 2003, the governments of the US, Britain, and Spain proposed another resolution on Iraq, which they called the "eighteenth resolution" and others called the "second resolution." This proposed resolution was subsequently withdrawn when it became clear that several permanent members of the Council would cast no votes on any new resolution, thereby vetoing it. Had that occurred, it would have become even more difficult for those wishing to invade Iraq to argue that the Council had authorized the subsequent invasion. Regardless of the threatened or likely vetoes, it seems that the coalition at no time was assured any more than four affirmative votes in the Council—the US, Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria—well short of the requirement for nine affirmative votes.

On September 16, 2004 Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, speaking on the invasion, said, "I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal."

At this point, you might be wondering to yourself, okay, what were the UN's reasons for not giving its stamp of approval? Were they good reasons or bad reasons? Was Bush really justified in disregarding the UN Security Council's refusal to authorize the invasion of Iraq?

Of course, we could go over those reasons together -- we could go over the well-known fiasco regarding the so-called weapons of mass destruction that were never found, but that would be entirely beside the point.

From the perspective of so many nations and people throughout the world, and not a few of us within the United States as well, the essential issue is this. Bush's justification for invasion was based upon an illogical and contradictory double-standard, which amounted to the following:

  1. Iraq has not complied with UN resolutions.
  2. Iraq and all other nations must act in accordance with the authority of the UN.
  3. The United States and some of its allies ask the UN to authorize an invasion of Iraq because of its refusal to comply with UN resolutions.
  4. The UN refuses to grant such authorization.
  5. The United States is justified in disregarding the authority of the UN and invading Iraq since Iraq had not complied with UN resolutions.

As you can see, points 2 and 5 contradict one another, so the subtext here is quite clear. According to Bush's argument, all nations must act in accordance with the authority of the UN, except for the United States and those nations that support its interests.

In the United States, this in and of itself did not seem to cause much of a stir among the general population.

No, our preoccupations were perhaps less cerebral and more personal. Many of us didn't want to see our soldiers -- that is, our family, friends, and colleagues -- put in harm's way for the sake of an unnecessary war. Many of us didn't want to pay out the nose financially for a massive military invasion. Was it yet another example of blatant American exceptionalism? Sure, but that seemed to be the least of our worries.

However, as far as much of the rest of the world saw it, the United States was once again showing them that, as far as it was concerned, the rules that applied to everyone else did not apply to it, and that, when it came right down to it, the final authority in the world was not really the United Nations, but rather, the United States.

In my view, that, perhaps more than anything else, defines the way a very large part -- perhaps the majority -- of humanity sees the US-led invasion of Iraq, that is, and as no less a man than Kofi Annan has put it, as an illegal act of war, and as such, the suffering and death that has resulted from it has all been the consequence of criminal behavior.

But let's get off our ethical and moral high horse here for awhile and consider the Iraq War from a purely Machiavellian, cynical and materialist point of view, according to nothing more than naked geopolitical power politics, in which the chief aim is to win a game of king of the hill on the world stage. With this jaded and all-to-common standard as our guide, was the Iraq war worth it?

Well, as already mentioned in this article, the cost and duration of the war far exceeded anything that we were told to expect at the start of the conflict. It crippled, and continues to cripple, our economy. It contributed a very large chunk to our ever-growing federal deficit, which, lest we forget, was a sizable budget surplus before our military misadventures in the Middle East began. Not a good outcome, to say the least.

And, if we cut the crap and get right down to the real business of why the war was fought, which was to secure cheap and reliable access to Iraq's vast reserves of petroleum, we can only claim a temporary victory at best. As US forces have finally withdrawn from that country, sectarian violence has continued to increase, and Iraq now faces the looming prospect of a civil war that could Balkanize the country into three separate states, one Sunni, one Shiite, and the other Kurd. In that case, the Shiite state would align itself with Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, and whether or not the Sunni and Kurd states would cooperate with US petroleum interests is an open question.

Be that as it may, with the Shiites the vast majority in Iraq, and under the reasonable assumption that they will end up controlling Iraq's principal petroleum reserves, the case could be made that the Iraq War was an entirely wasted effort. And I'm not even trying to be ethical and moral here -- I'm just talking strictly from the point of view of big oil and its bottom-line interests.

Some of you might be wondering, well, I just can't imagine that the whole thing has been a total loss -- I just can't accept that all of our honorable service-persons have suffered and died in vain.

But how short are our memories? Was Vietnam all that long ago? In the end, what did we get out of that? What benefit came to the United States and to the world at large as a result of our involvement in that country? None whatsoever -- and the same thing has been true for Iraq.

And again, let's not forget the terrible cost of the war to the Iraqi population. How many the wounded, the killed, the ones left parentless, the ones left hopeless? I repeat -- just one single injury or death has been far, far too many.

That is the cost of war, always too high, always a tragedy, always a violation of humanitarian principles. There are no good wars, but the Iraq War was certainly one of the worst. And if the United States supposedly won that conflict, it was most definitely a hollow and entirely meaningless victory.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...