US troops are heading home. Families all over America are rejoicing in the pending arrival of their loved ones. America is proud of all the soldiers that fought a war that has been criticized from its inception. Of course, now the analysis of the war can begin. It will be a decade or two before any final judgements can be made. But, below are the thoughts of a contributor to this blog. Welcome home, heroes!!
Yesterday the last American combat brigade stationed in Iraq crossed over the border into Kuwait. Officially, our war in Iraq is over, although some 50,000 soldiers will remain to train and otherwise assist the Iraqis as they continue their struggle to rebuild their country.
We went to war in Iraq based on a belief that Saddam Hussein was either holding or preparing weapons of mass destruction, generally described as chemical with more extreme elements asserting that he had or was close to having nuclear capabilities. None of this turned out to be true. Some proponents also tried to tie Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and Al Qaeda, which also was untrue. In fact, it was well-known even at that time that Saddam Hussein had great enmity for Osama Bin Laden, given Saddam’s secular perspective and view that Al Qaeda, if allowed to establish a material presence in Iraq, would be a threat to his ability to retain power.
So what were the human costs? Stars and Stripes reports that 4,414 of our soldiers made the greatest sacrifice, another 1,135 incurred the loss of one or more limbs, another 31,897 suffered wounds of a general nature, and thousands more have come home with some degree of post-traumatic stress syndrome. On the Iraqi side more than 113,000 civilians (not soldiers) have been killed and countless others have been injured. The number of Iraqis that have lost their homes and way of life is yet calculated, if it even can be.
As to the dollar costs, to date we have spent over $3,000,000,000,000. For those not used to this many zeros, that is three trillion dollars. To put all this in some perspective, we will have spent an average of $429 billion dollars for each of the more than seven years we have been at war in Iraq, equivalent to nearly half the budget deficit we face just in 2010. Our ongoing costs are expected to exceed $12.75 billion for the one additional year our 50,000 support soldiers are expected to remain in country. But unlike with past wars, no tax was assessed to pay for this endeavor, contributing greatly to the extraordinary national debt that has now become topic-one as we come into the next election cycle. The true extent of our investment in the war in Iraq – the lives and families destroyed, dollars spent and moral standing we lost as the world’s only super power – likely will never be known.
This leads to two, difficult questions. First, what have we gained, and second and perhaps more importantly, has it been worth it? Yes, a despot has been removed, but who has or will in time fill the void? Is the Middle East any more stable than it was before we invaded? Is Iran – notably on the list of “regimes of terror” in 2002, unlike Iraq, which never was – any less a threat to the world than it was at the beginning of the war? Or with today’s growing Al Qaeda presence in Iraq has Iran been empowered to an even greater position than it was before we started this war? Have we aided the effort to establish lasting peace for Israel or have we made that even more difficult?
In 2003 former President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier to stand beneath a banner that proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.” He then spoke to the nation and proudly declared our invasion of Iraq a success. It was not then, and it remains unclear even today just exactly what that success he to which he was referring might have been, let alone what mission in the country’s interests we had actually accomplished. The non-existence of the weapons of mass destruction that were the purported basis for our invasion in the first place makes the mission all the more troubling.
The decision to invade Iraq will undeniably haunt our economy for years to come. Yet sadly, we continue down this same undefined path in Afghanistan. But as of last night, the war is over. Some may argue too soon; others not soon enough, but we all solute the men and women who served their country in Iraq with honor and valor. They have the gratitude of a troubled nation.