Five years ago, I was involved in an online Christian forum which frequently veered off topic and onto politics. The invasion of Iraq was a primary subject of conversation for much of 2003. Most of these people proudly counted themselves among the Religious Right, and staunchly defended the conquest. Even when no WMDs were found and the primary justification for the war proved to be a sham, these people were unwavering.
“It doesn’t matter,” they insisted. “Hussein was a menace, a tyrant. His people suffered at his hand, and they are better off liberated.”
I cautioned them to temper their exuberance. I agreed that Hussein was a thug, a brute, and a butcher (one who obtained the tools for his butchery courtesy of the Reagan administration…). But merely because Hussein had been deposed and then apprehended did not mean that Iraq had been “liberated.” Even putting aside the criminality of the war itself, the invasion could only be considered worthwhile if Iraq turned out better in Hussein’s absence. The invasion could not be judged from the point of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner and speech. Lets see where we are at five, ten, twenty years down the line.
So here we are, five years from that fateful day. Things have hardly gone as the administration presumed. They insisting that we would be greeted with flowers and chocolates, able to pull out in a couple years and a few billion dollars, leaving the seeds of an enlightened democracy to blossom in the the Fertile Crescent and spread throughout the Middle East.
What is the state of Iraq?
- Iraq does indeed have a fragile, newborn Democratic government. If the U.S. doesn’t interfere and require Iraq to institutionalize their client status, as they did with Cuba after the Spanish-American war, and if the government doesn’t implode in sectarian/ethnic bickering, this might possibly develop into a legitimate and functional government.
- Instead of several billion, the war has cost at least half a trillion dollars. In looking at the hidden costs of the war, Joseph Stiglitz suggests that the real cost is three trillion. Until our troops are entirely withdrawn, that figure continues to burgeon. There is no indication that either our current administration nor the Republican presidential nominee has any inclination to reduce our troop commitment.
- Almost four-thousand U.S. troops have sacrificed their lives for the war. Actually, they’ve died. Many more than that have sacrificed their lives, now suffering emotional illness which may dog them for a lifetime, shattered marriages, and other tragedies. Again there is no reason to think these numbers won’t continue to climb.
- Over 700,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the invasion. Well over four million have become refugees, displaced because of the chaos and violence. The basic infrastructure is still not restored to pre-war condition.
- The national intelligence estimates for 2006 and 2007 suggest that the conquest of Iraq has resulted in the growth of terrorist organizations and increased their threat to our national security.
- In the aftermath of the occupation, Al Qaeda has now established a presence in Iraq—one nonexistent before.
Maybe things will improve in the future. Maybe the violence is nearing its end. Maybe at ten or twenty years, we will see the beginnings of a prosperous Iraq, a model for a new, modern Middle East and ethnic/religious cooperation.
Or maybe things will take a turn for the worse. Maybe the region will explode in bloodshed, or this delicate coalition will snap and pave the way for some new bloodstained junta to take the reigns. Maybe the U.S. will be forced to maintain a presence, to establish a protectorate in Iraq to prevent rivers of blood—and perhaps to protect U.S. national interests. McCain isn’t opposed to a thousand years…
Who can know? All I can say is that here, at the five year anniversary of the War on Iraq, the results look questionable, and hardly worth the price.