December 30, 2011 - 3:29pm ET
I heard one of my favorite holiday songs on the radio yesterday — John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." I've always loved it, but this year it holds special meaning for me — especially the children of the Harlem Community Choir singing "War is over, if you want it." on the chorus .
This holiday season, I got someething that — as a progressive — I have wanted for years: an end to the war in Iraq. As it happens, this "gift" is like many given and received this time of year. You never really know what you're getting until you unwrap it. Once unwrapped, it's not to be quite what you thought or hoped it would be. And, even with price tag removed, you know it cost way too much.
In this case, there are multiple price tags, and the exact price is hard to calculate. In March, the Congressional Research Office put the cost of our latest misadventure in Iraq at $806 billion. President Obama has said that the Iraq war will likely end up costing over $1 trillion. Out of that, billions were wasted or stolen outright by private contractors, as Donald Rumsfeld's dream of privatized warfare with virtually no oversight came true. Meanwhile, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bimes say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cold end up costing anywhere from $4 trillion to $6 trillion.
Then there is the cost that cannot be calculated: The human cost. Jim Wallis — who, like me, has a son who was born in the run-up to the Iraq war — calculated that cost back in October, when President Obama announced that .
The Center for American Progress published a report called "The Iraq War Ledger," that includes a stark illustration of how much the war has cost the Iraqi people.
As devastating as these figures are, they're still only a partial accounting of the unnecessary costs of a war of choice, and the price unnecessarily paid by American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. As I wrote back in September, after the audience at a GOP debate booed a gay soldier serving in Iraq, "supporting the troops" in Iraq since 2003 has included:
Some of the wounds of war suffered by our soldiers are shared with Iraqi civilians. Many soldiers are returning from Iraq with untreatable lung disease, believed to be caused by "unknown toxins in the middle east." Many Iraqis suffered horrific wounds long-term war related sickness due to known toxins in the Middle East — known toxins, because we dropped them in Iraq and admitted to to doing so. Just as many Iraq veterans suffer from PTSD, more than any other mental problems as a result of their service in Iraq, so do many iraqis almost certainly suffer from PTSD — about 5 million, if rate of incidence parallels that of U.S. soldiers, including a huge percentage of Iraqi children — as a result of our government's choice to go to war in Iraq.
The war is not over for our veterans, and statistics from the Cost of War website show that it isn't' over for Iraqis either.
Iraq's high devastated economy and resulting huh unemployment has many Iraqi women and children vulnerable to aburgeoning sex trade that has thrived in an Iraq destabilized by our war, and has expanded its reach to export Iraqi refugees to Syria and Jordan as sex slaves.
According to the site, our war in Iraq did a number on Iraq's economy.
- Neoliberal policies instituted by the US in 2003 have resulted in increased unemployment, raised insecurity and ultimately slowed the pace of reconstruction. Agriculture and manufacturing have stagnated.
- Manufacturing has been hard hit by loss of electrical capacity during the sanctions and war years.
- Unemployment remains high, estimated by the Iraqi government at 23% in 2011, and by the UN at 28%
Our war in Iraq did a number on our economy too. As Richard Eskow and Ezra Klein pointed out, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the primary drivers of our current budget deficit and debt.
That's how we went from a $230 billion surplus in 2000 to a $15 trillion debt. As Andrew Lam wrote at the New American Media blog, that's about $1.3 trillion going south every year.
Wherever he is right now, you can bet Osama Bin Laden is smiling.
All that, for a war that — according to the CAP report — empowered Iran in Iraq and the surrounding region, created a terrorist training ground, cost the U.S. international standing, diverted resources from Afghanistan, stifled democratic reform, and fueled sectarianism in the region.
All that, because our government chose to go to war with a country that, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's confusion notwithstanding, had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, no ties to al Qaeda, and no weapons of mass destruction. Nor was there any humanitarian justification for the war in Iraq, as Human Rights Watch reported in 2004. There were no mass slaughters underway or on the way, and we were at least two decades too late to stop some of Saddam's mass murders, because at the time he wasn't just an SOB — he was our SOB. The most we could do was dig up the remains. Instead of riding in on white horses to stop an atrocity in progress, there's increasing evidence that we committed some atrocities of our own, beyond those we already know about.
And for all that, despite the "end" of the war in Iraq having been declared, and the number of U.S. soldiers coming home, it isn't really over and we aren't really leaving.
In addition, it looks like another 150 U.S. service members will stay behind, training and advising Iraqi security forces — as part of training that has already been called a "bottomless pit" of American money.
Yet, as Andrew Lam noted, even as the president announced the "end" of the war in Iraq, congress approved $662 billion in defense spending, with very little debate about military spending that's more likely to cost jobs than create jobs.
So, while it's tempting to join in cheering the end of the Iraq war, as a defeat for neocons and a victory for progressives, it doesn't feel quite right. As someone who's been a part of the anti-war movement since Operation Desert Storm, and joined with thousands of others to march against Operation Enduring Freedom and this most recent war Iraq, I definitely join the families of our service members in celebrating the love-one's homecomings. And I want very much to join in a celebration of a true end to our war i Iraq. Like I said before, it's like getting something for Christmas that I've spent years wanting and asking for.
But putting the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq into context, it feels less like getting a long-awaited gift than it does getting getting the dreaded bill in the mail, for a too-expensive gift bought on credit.