Published on Saturday, March 18, 2006 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Iraq War: Three Years Later
The end of the third year of war in Iraq coincides with the quadrennial release of the Bush administration's National Security Strategy report. It seems they haven't learned a damn thing.
The latest strategy document reiterates the flawed first-strike doctrine that was used to justify this unjustifiable war.
Failing to find the weapons of mass destruction fundamental to the claim that Iraq posed a threat worthy of pre-emption forced President Bush to offer a new rationalization for the invasion. It was to be the first step in a grand scheme to spread democracy in the Middle East.
What the war has spread is hatred and mistrust for our nation in much of the world.
We can remember that brief, sad, but uplifting moment in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities when America and Americans were embraced by the world in a bond of grief, compassion and respect. That moment should have produced a global counteroffensive against terrorist crime and a newborn and hard-won U.S. sophistication about the evils of the world. But the administration turned its back on the world and invaded Iraq, a nation that had no involvement in 9/11 and posed no legitimate threat to us or its neighbors.
The bungling had just begun. On the race to Baghdad, military headquarters downplayed pockets of dogged resistance, leaving the seeds of insurgency to fester. The lack of adequate armor swelled our casualties. Decisions to dismantle the Baath Party and disband the Iraqi army without salaries or pensions removed a trained bureaucracy and discarded a potential 400,000-man security force.
Then came the outrages at Abu Ghraib.
This misguided adventure has taken a heavy toll in U.S. blood and treasure. At last count, 2,322 U.S. soldiers had been killed; 17,400 wounded.
The loss of life among Iraqi civilians may be incalculable, certainly in the tens of thousands.
Before the invasion, the White House estimated the cost of war and rebuilding Iraq at $50 billion to $200 billion. The Congressional Budget Office now sets the cost at about $500 billion. Even that is a gross underestimate, according to Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who figures the cost at between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.
Stiglitz's calculations take into account such things as the lifetime disability and health care costs for the hundreds of soldiers, increased costs of recruiting replacements and of replacing war-worn equipment and the hundreds of billions of dollars in interest to service the resulting federal budget deficit.
And there's loss from having not spent the same money elsewhere, such as schools, roads and research. "One cannot help but wonder," Stiglitz writes, "were there alternative ways of spending a fraction of the war's $1 trillion to $2 trillion in costs that would have better strengthened security, boosted prosperity and promoted democracy?"
A fool's errand launched by an errant foreign policy has distracted us from catching those responsible for 9/11, weakened our military capacity, sullied our reputation and perched us atop an insurgency that may explode into civil war.
© 2006 The Seattle Post-Intelligencer