Looking Back At Our War With Iraq

Reply Wed 1 Sep, 2010 04:00 pm
In order for us to learn something from this war, and to prevent a reoccurrence, it is important to consider the lies leading us into the war and the horrific costs sustained by the USA and Iraq.

A Milestone On The Road Out Of Iraq

Yesterday evening, speaking to the nation from the Oval Office, President Obama "declared an end to the seven-year American combat mission in Iraq," saying that "the United States has met its responsibility to that country and that it is now time to turn to pressing problems at home." While around 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and will still engage in combat while carrying out what is now primarily a training and advising mission, yesterday's announcement by the President represents the fulfillment of a promise he made in February 2009, to have the majority of U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of August 2010. The Pre sident noted that, over the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, "we have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas," and that "as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad." Describing the new Iraq mission, Vice President Biden said, "We have a written agreement with the Iraqi government, signed by George W. Bush, binding President Barack Obama to withdraw all troops by the end of next year. ... But we have faith that the Iraqi troops who our sacrifices have allowed to be trained are in fact ready and will be increasingly able to supply total security to this country by the end of next year." Biden adviser Tony Blinken told reporters, "We're not disengaging from Iraq, and even as we draw down our troops, we are ramping up our engagement across the board."

DEFINING THE WAR'S LEGACY: President Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq remains controversial, though it's now obvious that the main justifications for the war -- Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and a substantive relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda -- were false. Several key decisions the Bush administration made, such as disbanding the Iraq army and the de-Baathification of Iraq's bureaucracy, fed a growing insurgency that was gathering steam even as President Bush prematurely declared in May 2003 that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." The ensuing insurgency led to years of sectarian strife and the near-collapse of the Iraqi state. With the U.S.'s attention and resources focused on dealing with the Iraq insurgency, Iran was able to extend its influence both with Shia parties in Iraq and throughout the region, the Taliban was able to retrench in Afghanistan, and anti-American extremists throughout the Middle East drew strength from the constant images of death and destruction beamed out of Iraq via satellite. Many of these radicals gained expertise from tactics honed against American forces in Iraq.

COUNTING THE COST: While the ultimate legacy of the U.S. intervention in Iraq is still to be determined, it is possible -- and necessary, given the implications for future interventions -- to attempt to tally the war's costs and benefits to the national security of the United States. In May 2010, Center for American Progress analysts Matt Duss, Brian Katulis, and Peter Juul quantified the costs in their report, The Iraq War Le dger. While recognizing that the end of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime represents a considerable global good, the authors note that most of the war's other benefits very much remain in the realm of conjecture. A nascent democratic Iraqi republic allied with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future, but the war's costs are very real in the here and now, with the current cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom hovering around $748.2 billion, and the projected total cost of veterans' health care and disability at $422 billion to $717 billion. As of yesterday, 4,416 American troops had lost their lives in Ira q, with more than 30,000 wounded and more than 39,000 diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Low-end estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths are around 100,000, with many more wounded, and over 4 million displaced both within and outside Iraq.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TIMETABLES: While the U.S. was bound by the terms of the withdrawal agreement signe d by the Bush administration and Iraq, setting August 31, 2010 as an official date for the change in mission was President Obama's decision, and one with important implications for Afghanistan. It sends the signal that the U.S.'s deployments will not be determined by events outside of U.S. control, and that the U.S. will make the decision when it leaves. CAP's Larry Korb and Brian Katulis observed that, while the conventional wisdom holds that Bush's open-ended commitment of troops to Iraq created conditions for the U.S. withdrawal, "a closer examination of the facts demonstrates that the opposite is true -- in Iraq, violence declined because more Iraqis perceived that U.S. troops were leaving and took appropriate action." Sticking to a timetable for Afghanistan, Korb and Katulis write, "offers the best hope for us and the Afghan people because it will motivate them to take control of their own affairs and increase their own security forces."

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