Lessons From the Failed Iraq War
by GEORGE OCHENSKI
The Iraq War has been deeply unpopular with most Americans for most of its nearly nine years, so it was heartening to hear that President Obama intends to pull out all our combat troops by year’s end. Nevertheless, after the bloodshed, destruction and unbelievable cost—well over a trillion dollars—we have almost nothing to show for our efforts beyond 4,500 dead U.S troops, many more Iraqi dead, the mysterious disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and veterans suffering the alphabetical effects of Improvised Explosive Devices and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It turns out that those who opposed the war from its beginning were right: It’s come to an ignoble end. Obama has done his best to spin this, to make it look as though it was his call, but really, he had no choice. This was his Vietnam. We’ve been kicked out. All that’s missing are Iraq embassy workers on the rooftop clinging to a helicopter.
Those who have paid attention to the high-level discussions between Iraq and the U.S. in the last year will recall that as recently as last month, the official U.S. position was that we would be leaving tens of thousands of troops in Iraq to train Iraqi troops and police forces and provide security for diplomatic missions.
But that has not been the position of the Iraqis, who long ago tired of the killing and destruction visited on their cities, businesses, homes and families by U.S. forces, and the atrocities committed by the mercenaries we hired through discredited firms such as Blackwater (now Xe).
The names of the villains that got us into this debacle should go down in history—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice and the rest of the coterie of war hawks who nested in the White House during the Bush administration.
Now they should be tried as war criminals.
They cooked the intelligence, and did real and lasting harm to the reputation of the U.S. by having people tortured. And they had people tortured. We ought to be ashamed.
And yet, what have we learned from this so far, or from the ongoing war in Afghanistan?
According to Obama’s new Pentagon chief, former CIA Director Leon Panetta, we’ve learned that killing people with drones and black ops by Special Forces teams is the future of American warfare.
This has to make you wonder about Panetta’s threats that military budget cuts will doom our armed forces. Overall military spending in the U.S. has doubled in the last decade to $700 billion annually. That figure doesn’t include the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Panetta says that cutting that military spending by as little as 7 percent a year over the next ten years—by $50 billion—will cripple our ability to protect the nation.
And whom does Panetta think we should worry about now?
That nation is spending $95 billion a year on its military now–less than a tenth of what we spend when you add in our wars. Panetta says we have to keep spending hundreds of billions of dollars on our military to prepare for the coming Asian threat and “strengthen our presence in the Pacific.”
This is bizarre. We borrow 40 cents of every federal dollar we spend, including on the military, and China is our biggest creditor. So we will presumably borrow even more money from China to further build up our military so it can protect us from…China? Do you remember the scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, when the inmates impersonate the doctors?
Meanwhile, we sell coal, wood and other North American raw materials to China and their huge cargo ships return bearing cheap consumer goods. Our factories are dying while China goes full tilt. We seem to think we’re competing with them by eagerly helping them compete with us.
Meanwhile, our military and diplomatic leaders contend we should keep doing just what we’ve been doing, strutting and blustering.
But there is a good alternative, in which we actually learn something from the Iraq War: that we can no longer invade and occupy other nations. That option would be off the table. We’d cap our armed forces at a million members, stop commissioning new aircraft carriers and reduce staffing at our 800-plus foreign bases. We’d get out of Afghanistan tomorrow. We’d learn peace. And none of that can happen until the Obama administration has the courage to admit that the Iraq War failed.
George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent, where this column originally ran. He lives in Helena, Montana. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.