The Iraq war in dollars and lives
More than seven years have passed since George Bush Jr. declared an end to major combat missions in Iraq in front of a big “mission accomplished” banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. In that speech, Bush said “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001.” It didn’t take long for most people to realize the validity of that entire statement (like the war itself) was false.
Last week was Barack Obama’s turn. In a national televised address he formally brought an end to US combat operations in Iraq and proclaimed it was time for America “to turn the page.” Not once did he mention victory and rightfully so.
In the seven years and 165 days since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Americans have seen a million and a half servicemen enter Iraq with more than forty-four hundred leaving in a flag draped coffin. More than thirty thousand men and women returned home wounded or missing limbs and tens of thousands more have enjoyed their homecoming with post traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses brought on by chemical weapons used such as white phosphorous.
In financial terms, the war was predicted by the Bush administration to cost about fifty to sixty billion dollars in 2003…they were a little off. Up until Obama’s speech, economists say that the cost for the American tax payer was an estimated three trillion dollars (accounting for both government expenses and the war’s broader impact on the U.S. economy). Let me repeat that a little louder so you can grasp the notion of THREE TRILLION DOLLARS! That’s a number three followed by twelve zeros! Imagine what could have been done with that money; give every American an electric car, send everyone to college for free, solve world hunger… cure cancer?
Obviously the real cost of the conflict was the price that Iraqis paid themselves, mostly with their lives. At least a hundred thousand Iraqi lives have been lost, but experts and household polls put the number of excess Iraqi deaths from half a million to 1.2 million. They have no estimate of how many Iraqis have been wounded or fallen ill from chemicals or their weakened infrastructure, but you can be sure it’s rather high. There have also been at least two million Iraqis that have been displaced, many going to Jordan and Syria for safety.
In the lead up to the invasion, Americans were given several reasons for going to war; the first case was that Saddam Hussein had connections to 9/11, but the most notorious of grounds was the fear of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. That same fear was repeated daily, culminating with Colin Powell’s infamous presentation at the UN general assembly. When both of those rationales proved to be false, the new basis for the invasion was quickly changed to “overthrow of Saddam Hussein for the good of the Iraqi people”.
Little did anyone know at the time, but it turned out that Iraq was better off with the Stalinist Saddam Hussein at the helm. During Saddam’s 35 year rule, the Iraqi deaths caused by Saddam’s regime amounted to a maximum of six hundred thousand, excluding those lost in his American funded war with Iran. As many Iraqis have said “at least our power stayed on back then.”
Now that this war is officially over and there is relative peace, it remains to be seen how long it will last. There are still just under fifty thousand US troops remaining in the country to train and assist the Iraqi military. In the eyes of militants and insurgents, fifty thousand troops can be seen as fifty thousand targets and if there is another breakout of sectarian violence, Americans can easily find themselves back where they started, much like Afghanistan.
At least this time Barack Obama unlike his predecessor chose his words carefully.