Posted by admin on
Driving past the Kuwait international airport yesterday, I could see U.S. military aircraft lined up ready to fly the last American troops in Iraq back home. The last, that is, with the exception of the approximately 15,000 Americans who will remain at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, as well as the 200 who will serve as advisors to the Iraqi military. In 2003, the Iraq War was sold to the American public, and the world at large, as necessary, short, and cheap. As it turns out, however, none of these claims were true.
Iraq’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction (including nuclear weapons) and its ties to al-Qaeda were the cited reasons for the war. As the war progressed, however, it became increasingly clear that these allegations were without foundation. With the initial casus belli lying in ruins, the narrative turned to “regime change.” America was liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s undeniably brutal and repressive regime. Conveniently ignored and forgotten in this reframing was America’s historical alliance with Hussein.
Decimated by eight years of war with Iran followed by the invasion of Kuwait and the resulting UN sanctions, the Iraqi army never posed a plausible threat to American forces. Appreciating this reality, the Bush administration declared that the war would end quickly with minimal loss of American lives. The death of Iraqi civilians was never discussed. To the contrary, the Iraqi people would welcome invading U.S. forces as liberators. As we now know full well, these promises were not to be. America was seen as little more than a self-interested invader, and became mired in a protracted war with an insurgency aimed at expelling the Americans from Iraq.
It is, however, the war’s cost, both financially and otherwise, that has left the deepest impact. Dick Cheney once famously asserted that Iraqi oil revenues would off-set the cost of war and ensure that the American tax-payer would not foot the bill. The claim, which proved to be grossly inaccurate, was little more than an inadvertent acknowledgement of one of the war’s true underlying motivations: to control Iraq’s oil supplies.
Currently, the US government estimates that the war price tag ran to approximately $800 billion, a figure that does not take into account many ancillary expenses, such as long-term veteran care and the cost of replacing military materiel. Catherine Lutz of Brown University calculates that once these additional expenses are taken into account, the true cost of the war in Iraq is closer to $3.6 trillion.
But, of course, the cost in dollars and cents pales in comparison to the toll the war has taken on human life. While media outlets have widely reported on the approximately 4,500 dead and 30,000 wounded U.S. soldiers, the Iraqi death toll has been less publicized. Although the exact number cannot be accurately counted, it has been reliably estimated that well over 100,000 Iraqi has been killed as a result of the war (a Johns Hopkins epidemiological study of deaths in Iraq placed the number at 654,965, while an ORB survey estimated over one million deaths as a result of the war in Iraq). Moreover, despite all the talk of nation-building, approximately a quarter of Iraqis now live below the poverty line with more than half living in what the UN termed “slum conditions,” approximately 1.3 million Iraqis are internally displaced, and a further 2.5 million are seeking refuge from the war abroad.
In short, the Iraq War has been anything but necessary, short, and cheap.