As I See It
Caught up in the euphoria of a quick victory in the Iraq War with the loss of fewer than 140 American lives, and TV images of liberated Iraqis dancing in the streets, we must guard against underestimating the true costs of this conflict.
There is no rejoicing among the families of the Americans who have been killed, or for those whose lives have been shattered by devastating wounds.
The cost has been equally as great for the uncounted thousands of Iraqis, especially civilians, who have met similar fates (like the 12-year old boy who had both arms blown off), and is one they are unlikely either to forget or forgive.
Add to that the financial cost to the people of Iraq in the destruction of their homes and businesses and the uncontrolled looting which followed their liberation, especially the stripping of priceless antiquities from the National Museum. The Iraqis will not forget or forgive that, either. (The failure of U.S forces to prevent looting was a grave mistake. Under international law, the conquering forces are required to assume the task of maintaining law and order where the previous regime has collapsed. In spite of clear warnings (based on prior experiences) that the National Museum would be the target of international art thieves, our military ignored those warnings and completely dropped the ball.)
In our own country, we have yet to feel the full economic cost of this adventure in “nation-building.”
After spending tens of billions of dollars on raining destruction on Iraq, we are facing an additional cost of $100 billion dollars to rebuild what we destroyed, and $10 billion per year for occupying forces to oversee the formation of a functional democratic government in the country.
The total cost, which could exceed $200 billion, will be spent to rebuild Iraq instead of meeting the crying needs for rebuilding America. Think of what $200 billion could do if spent here at home – rebuilding crumbling schools, improving education and health care for American children, overcoming severe transportation problems in our own country, to name but a few needs crying for attention.
It is ironic that this high-priced adventure in regime-change and nation-building comes from a president who ripped his predecessor up and down for involving America in the same kind of regime-change and nation-building in Haiti and Kosovo, which cost chump change in comparison.
An unanswered question is the efficacy of trying to convert Iraq into a functioning democracy. The success of the Marshal Plan in rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II is being cited. The big difference is that both of these countries were homogeneous societies without major internal religious discord or ethnic conflict. In Iraq we are confronted with both; between the Kurds and the Iraqis, and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Finally, there are the political implications of our action against Iraq. Does might make right? Does the suspicion of possession of weapons of mass destruction or of possible connections to terrorist groups, or oppression of a people by a brutal dictatorship, justify military intervention?
At first the Bush Administration claimed legitimacy for military action under the U.N. resolution demanding destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But that argument wasn’t selling, largely because the U.N. inspections had failed to discover any such weapons.
The next claim was that Iraq could supply them to al-Qaida, but there was no evidence of such an alliance, and if Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction, it couldn’t supply them to anyone.
So Bush had to come up with the emotional issue of delivering the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator and bringing them democracy. It was the same in the Civil War. A war to preserve the Union didn’t generate enough support, so the emotional issue of freeing the oppressed slaves was invoked. It takes something like that to convince people to accept the sacrifices that come with war.
Next: Concerns about possible consequences of our Iraq adventure.
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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