In the past week, we’ve tried to provide much-needed scrutiny of who was right and who was wrong in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003. Micah Sifry, co-editor of the Iraq War Reader, looked back at the collection of “history, documents and opinions” he helped put together a decade ago and specifically named those who got it right — and those who didn’t.
But as we’ve examined the role our media played in enabling the Bush administration’s lust for war, we haven’t said enough about the costs of the war for the people of Iraq — possibly because they are nearly impossible to quantify after a decade of crippling sanctions followed by a decade of war.
Recent estimates find between 110,000-123,000 civilians were killed and millions were displaced from their homes as a result of the war. One report says that there are now 4.5 million orphans in Iraq. Even though the U.S. occupation has now been officially over for more than a year, violence still rages and the death toll continues to mount, as the ethnic and religious rivalries the Bush administration were so ignorant of at the outset of the war fester.
Since the invasion, the freedoms Iraqi women once enjoyed have disappeared. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not appointed one female to a cabinet post and women are now subject to tribal rule, which has resulted in them fading almost completely from economic life.
Violence against women is rising and the images of a Baghdad full of women without headscarves, driving themselves through the streets or filling college classes, are now distant memories.
The consequences of the Iraq War for the United States can only be hinted at, with numbers like 4,487 Americans killed and 36,395 wounded. Estimates that the war has already cost us $1.7 trillion and could end up destroying more than $6 trillion in taxpayer wealth don’t even begin to describe the damage the Iraq disaster has exacted on the tiny percentage of the American people who actually fought in it.
For those who served and their families, the tragedy will linger on for a lifetime. Meanwhile, the politicians who demanded the war have merely suffered only a loss of reputation, and the pundits who supported them have barely been scathed for their cheerleading.
Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and their fellow unrepentant neoconservatives in the press appear regularly in right-wing media outlets that shrug away the Iraq catastrophe. And while some opponents of the war, including President Obama, were rewarded with the public’s trust, others — including Janeane Garofalo and Phil Donahue — were punished for speaking out, and the sting of that rebuke lingers.
Thankfully, the Republican Party as a whole has justifiably suffered for its blind militarism based on bad and sometimes completely false intelligence.
The American Conservative‘s Daniel McCarthy compares the GOP’s current position to what the Democratic Party faced coming out of the 1960s. “The root of the GOP’s problem now is the same as that of the Democrats in 1969: The party’s reputation has been ruined by a botched, unnecessary war—Vietnam in the case of the Democrats, Iraq for the GOP,” he writes.
There’s no better indication of this than the battle that’s now being waged in the GOP between the hawks — John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — and isolationists — Rand Paul (R-KY).
“Republicans split over Bush’s wars as deeply as Democrats once split over Vietnam,” McCarthy wrote.
“Although the party still sees Ronald Reagan when it looks in the mirror, what the rest of the country sees is George W. Bush—much as post-Vietnam Democrats continued to think of themselves as the party of Franklin Roosevelt when in the minds of most Americans they had become the party of Johnson and McGovern.”
But as another potential conflict over alleged weapons of mass destruction brews with another Middle East country, the lessons of Iraq must be examined and present in every serious conversation contemplating war — especially a pre-emptive war based on nearly the same logic that prompted the invasion of Iraq.
For it seems we could too easily make the error we made in March of 2003 again.
America still sees the war as a mistake but by a smaller margin than just a few years ago:
As the war’s dark shadow fades, the idea that we could easily be led into another unnecessary conflict begs the questions that weren’t asked as the war raged: Would the invasion of Iraq been worth it if weapons of mass destruction had been found? Why was containment a viable strategy against the Soviet Union but not for Iraq — and now, Iran? Can any military conflict that requires the occupation of a Middle Eastern nation ever be “won”?
There are no easy answers, but the legacy of the Iraq War — hopefully — is that those who ask the questions won’t be vilified and those who answer will be held accountable.
AP Photo/Karim Kadim