As the War in Iraq winds down, after eight and a half years of conflict and occupation, it's an opportune moment to take stock of this military adventure, to ask why we undertook it, and to estimate its cost in lives, materiel, cash, reputation, and future strategic advantage.
It is now well-established that Iraq was not a breeding-ground for Muslim terrorists. Even if it had been, it's doubtful that any direct military action would have resulted in its eradication, since Islamic terrorism knows no borders, and, as has become abundantly clear, Al Quaeda was not territorial--it was an ideological franchise, free-floating and transportable. Arguments made at the time by the Bush Administration that Iraq was linked to the 9/11 bombings were erroneous.
It is now well-established that Iraq did not possess nuclear weapons, and also that it was not secretly conducting research or attempting to construct nuclear devices or delivery systems for them. This was made abundantly clear by the failure to locate any such devices or substances, or other evidence of their existence, after the country had been military subdued and occupied. Arguments made at the time by the Bush Administration that Iraq was threatening to drop a nuclear device in America ("a mushroom cloud" as Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice put it) were proved to be erroneous.
It is now well-established that the Bush Administration had no clear idea about what a post-war Iraq would look like, or how it might go about creating a context in which a so-called Western style democratic government (friendly to the West) might take root there. Once the country had been subdued, and the Saddam government dismantled, the American military was suddenly in the position of attempting to figure out what it was supposed to be doing there, as it became clear that a protracted guerrilla war would develop in the succeeding years, which shows little signs, even now, of simply dying away.
Estimates of the true costs of the Iraq War to the United States are now $845 billions of dollars, with the total cost to the American economy of three trillion dollars, and given the future medical and support costs to wounded soldiers and their families, that figure will undoubtedly rise.
Though accounts differ, a reliable estimate of the number of Iraqi civilian deaths is put at or near 130,000, with an additional 500,000 collateral casualties. Coalition forces deaths 4800.
American money was thrown around with abandon. In one report, neat bundles of six billions in American hundred dollar bills were airlifted into Baghdad in C-130 cargo planes by the Bush Administration; all of the 12 billions of such infusions of "mad money" are now unaccounted for, amounting to what some have called "the largest theft of funds in our national history."
The nation of Iraq is now in a state of flux. Our puppet government, headed by Nouri al-Maliki, seems weak and vacillating in the face of widespread unrest and threats of ethnic, religious and regional factional conflict. Like our departure from South Vietnam, there are expectations of a general collapse of authority once the American military is no longer present to prop up our opportunistic fair-weather friends. There are those who believe the new Iraqi regime's days are strictly numbered. Privately, my own guess is that the nation will descend into general civil war within a matter of weeks, resulting in the reestablishment of a new military ruler (as Saddam had been), or a theocratic establishment, headed by an "Ayatollah" or ruling Muslim priest-class. The Iraqi populace has little or no loyalty to the ideals of America, or its interests in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, our relations with neighboring countries, including Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Emirates, and Kuwait are all seriously compromised. Military invasions and occupations are messy affairs. Despite all the best efforts of our soldiers and aids-people, we will be remembered as invaders by the Iraqis.
From a purely selfish point of view, the price of oil has quadrupled since 2003. The interruption of Iraqi oil production caused a world wide crisis in supply, which continues to some extent right through to the present. Much of the oil which was once earmarked for the West, will now be routed East to China and India.
Saddam Hussein had been America's ally during the years of Iraq's war with Iran. It suited our purpose to entertain his dictatorial regime when Iran was our enemy. But the Bush Administration had been planning an Iraq invasion even before 9/11; in fact, it was reported that Bush and his cronies met in Texas while his first (fraudulent) election was being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, to firm up plans to mount a campaign for the invasion of Iraq, to "finish the job" his father had left undone in the Kuwait War.
The tidal wave of lies and false justifications perpetrated upon the American Congress and the American people to build support for the invasion was not without precedent in American history. But our preemptive military incursion, on this scale, amounted to a new level of corrupt exploitation of public opinion, and an unimaginable squandering of resource and man-power.
Bush II inherited a booming economy, and in six short years, turned our nation into a sad shadow of its former greatness. The Iraq war wasn't the only cause of this, but it was the centerpiece of Bush's presidency. He made Americans ashamed to be Americans.
President Obama has been doing the usual patriotic thing, welcoming our returning soldiers, and giving speeches about America's honorable service, our departure "with honor" from the distant Middle East battlefields. I remember the same speeches we heard by the Nixon Administration during the disengagement from Vietnam. They have a familiar ring.
The Iraq War was a totally unjustified adventure, expensive beyond measure, with catastrophic consequences which will continue for decades. It was fought in vain, and all of the sacrifices and casualties suffered for it will have been for nothing. Iraq will not become a democracy, and its people will not be better off. I was against the Iraq War from the beginning, and I have seen no reason to change that opinion at any point since.