Iraq: An ignominious anniversary

March 20, 2013 

It began with “shock and awe” as American and a few allied forces rained chaos from above Baghdad. And 10 years after the initial assault, our troops gone since the end of 2011, the country remains gripped in war. Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia has hardly abated.

Columnist George Will asked a very interesting question Sunday on the ABC program “This Week,” of Stephen Hadley, former national security advisor for President George W. Bush, “You asked, Mr. Hadley, would we do it differently? The question to me, would we do it at all. If in 2003 we knew what we know now -- the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the difficulty of governing and occupying a society in which once you lop of the regime you’re going to have a civil war in a sectarian tribal society -- I think, no, we would not do it again.” To Hadley’s credit, much of the criticism of the war is in hindsight, including that of the American people. In a Washington Post poll, 58 percent said the Iraq War wasn’t worth it. Fifty-six percent said the same of the war in Afghanistan.

Yes, it was an enormous investment. In human terms, 4,487 American servicemen and women were killed with more than 32,000 wounded, 20 percent of those with serious head or spinal injuries. According to the Department of Defense, 30 percent of the troops deployed in Iraq returned with “serious mental health problems.” While this war was billed as a coalition action, only 316 non-U.S. servicemen and women paid the ultimate price. The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths are not conclusive, but are estimated to be between 111,000 to 150,000.

The financial cost of the war also needs to be factored in as we audit whether the war was worth it or not. A just released report from the Associated Press stated: “So far, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Persian Gulf conflict in the early 1990s are costing about $12 billion a year to compensate those who have left military service or family members of those who have died.

“Those post-service compensation costs have totaled more than $50 billion since 2003, not including expenses of medical care and other benefits provided to veterans, and are poised to grow for many years to come.” (Read the entire report at: www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/19/cost-of-war_n_2906192.html).

So as we reflect on the 10-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, are we asking the right questions now? The questions we should keep at the forefront shouldn’t be cast in the bright light of hindsight, but the dim fog of foresight. It will prepare us to ask the right questions when the next run up to war begins.

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