Published on Friday, March 19, 2004 by the Philadelphia Inquirer
Too Great a Toll in Lives with Too Vague a Purpose
by Mary Ellen McNish
One year after the invasion of Iraq, we have a chance to look with sober eyes at the intended and unintended consequences of this war - a war that was chosen, not forced upon us. It is true that Saddam Hussein and his Baathist party were removed, but at a great cost to both the Iraqi and American people - a cost that continues to build on a daily basis:
An estimated 16,000 Iraqis have been killed.
About 555 U.S. soldiers are dead, and thousands more have been wounded.
About 1,000 U.S. troops have been evacuated to Germany for psychiatric reasons, according to a recent UPI report.
The United States has spent more than $100 billion on the war, adding to our already staggering national deficit.
Iraq's infrastructure is still in shambles, with massive unemployment, shortages of electricity, and undrinkable water.
These are the costs of a war and occupation, which millions around the world protested, which most of our major allies opposed, and whose justification is now widely challenged. These are the costs of a war, for which there was a clear alternative - continuing with United Nations inspections and diplomatic pressure. In retrospect, we find that this approach was succeeding in reducing weapons and tensions, while the war has wreaked havoc on Iraqi society and may very well have provoked greater danger for the United States as well.
We were called to war with great certainty that our security was at risk - but we were misled. All that is and was certain is that resorting to war guaranteed great violence and death. War is not a path to lasting peace - but there are such paths. Recent history in such places as South Africa, Poland, Czech Republic/Slovakia, and Georgia (the former Soviet republic) has demonstrated the power of nonviolent political change. Transitions in these countries suggest that just and long lasting solutions can best be achieved through nonviolent popular action. Nonviolence works. War simply doesn't.
We now face a fork in the road. The United States has amassed virtually unchallengeable military might. Will we continue to seek our security through constant, preemptive use of military power - or will we actively seek alternatives to war? Will we continue to act unilaterally and arrogantly on the world stage, or will we renew our commitment to diplomacy and the community of nations?
A year in Iraq gives us some ideas of the impact of the first choice. After spending more than $100 billion on this venture, 80 percent of Iraqis are under- or unemployed, the electrical grid functions below prewar levels, and the oil infrastructure remains dilapidated. There is very little security. Casualties and chaos have defined Iraq over the past year and there will be no possibility of a stable government, economy or civil society until people feel safe.
Many of us believe there is another way to behave in the world - a way that will ultimately provide us with true security. We can support and strengthen international institutions that assure greater security for all of the world's people. We can marshal the great strengths and resources of this country to improve basic conditions for people at home and abroad. Author and social commentator Jonathan Schell has expressed his vision this way:
"It has been said that peace begins when the hungry are fed. It is equally true that the hungry will be fed when peace begins. Equality and nonviolence - peace and justice - are inextricably linked, and neither can flourish in the absence of the other."
On the occasion of this sad anniversary, let us challenge ourselves to re-imagine our international relations. Let us stay the hand of our military power and aspire to a new constructive and positive role in the world community.
Mary Ellen McNish is general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee
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