The long-awaited end of President George W. Bush's tragic Iraq War is finally here. For nine long years, Americans have fought, suffered and died in what history will surely call one of the most ignorant and unjust wars the U.S. has ever launched. To hear President Obama this week, you'd think we actually won something. But the grim truth is that we won nothing. The Iraq War was an unmitigated disaster that has seriously diminished our standing in the world and contributed significantly to our economic woes at home. The rhetoric and chest pounding is thick at war's end, but the reality cannot and never will be anything but another sad failure for America's ongoing imperialist foreign policy.
Perhaps it is understandable that President Obama, in his role as commander-in-chief of America's armed forces, can, with a straight face and serious demeanor, claim that we leave Iraq "with our honor intact and our heads held high."
But I guess that would depend on who "we" is. It certainly isn't the American people, of which two-thirds have opposed the war since well before Obama took office. Nor would it be the Iraqi people, who have suffered grievous losses at our hands. Although Gen. Tommy Franks, who was once in charge of the Iraq debacle, proudly proclaimed "We don't do body counts," there are plenty of others who did keep track of the carnage we caused. Just Foreign Policy, using data compiled by the respected British medical journal The Lancet, estimates the Iraqi death count to be well over a million people. A million dead is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Montana killed in less than a decade. Tough to see where the honor is in that.
Nor did those who served in this useless war escape unscathed. Nearly 4,500 men and women who went to Iraq did not come back alive. While the Pentagon estimates 32,000 service members were wounded, that number is dwarfed by the 320,000 who suffered brain injuries there. These are the veterans who the Pentagon only recently decided had actually been injured—and who will suffer and wrestle with personal demons throughout their lives thanks to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And then there's the mind-numbing cost of the war. According to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, the cost of waging the war is more than $800 billion, which, as they put it, comes out to "nearly $3,000 a second." While that enormous expenditure cannot be justified by the outcome, it is a pittance compared to the estimated $4 to $6 trillion that Harvard and Columbia University economists say it will cost to deal with the aftermath of the war in long-term veterans' care, weapons and vehicle replacements, etc. President George W. Bush and the Pentagon initially estimated the cost of the Iraq War at $50 to $60 billion, a number that, in retrospect, didn't even cover one year of the war's costs, let alone consider the post-war tally.
Unfortunately, there's no real way to measure what the Iraq War (and the ongoing Afghanistan War) has cost our country in terms of international respect. After 9/11, America took a hard right turn on virtually every aspect of both domestic and foreign policy. Frightened nearly to death by the collapse of the Twin Towers, the strike on the Pentagon and a couple envelopes of white powder in the mail, Congress and the White House embarked upon a rapid unwinding of constitutional rights while cranking up the police-state mentality to the max.
Suddenly, spying on American citizens by their own government was acceptable. Formerly secure in their right to privacy, Americans soon discovered that virtually every aspect of their lives was now subject to government inspection. The few entities that refused to cooperate with the federal government in releasing the phone, credit card or even library records of everyday citizens found themselves threatened by the government. And like the good little sheep we have become, far too many Americans stood silently by while their rights were eroded by the security tsunami emanating from Washington, D.C.
In the country once believed to hold high the torch of freedom, our Statue of Liberty proclaims: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" But no longer. Now visitors to our country can expect a harsh "security" shakedown when stepping onto America's once-fabled shores. The "golden door" no longer stands open and welcoming, especially for the "wretched refuse" of foreign lands. It's so bad that even the Canadians, our great friends and allies for two centuries, are deemed a threat to our "porous Northern border" and are treated with suspicion and mistrust.
So what did we really get out of the Iraq War? Well, if you believe President Obama, "we have now achieved an Iraq that is self-governing, that is inclusive and that has enormous potential." That "potential," however, is exactly the same reason Bush got us into the war in the first place. As the Washington Post put it this week, President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will now "focus instead on what's next—a relationship both leaders described as rich in shared interests, from education to oil, politics to security."
The key word here, as former Halliburton CEO and Bush's Vice President Dick Cheney might say, is "oil." Halliburton made billions as a war contractor. It will make billions more exploiting Iraq's oil reserves. We paid the tab in human tragedy and costs, but Halliburton gets the reward.
If anything good can come from the Iraq War, one would hope that America has learned a lesson in the stupidity of imperialist foreign policy. In 2002, then-Sen. Obama called Iraq "a dumb war." He was right then and ought to quit whitewashing our Iraqi debacle now.
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.