The ceremony in Iraq marking the end of the US intervention
This week – 8 years, 7 months, and 15 days after his predecessor George W. Bush announced, „Mission Accomplished” – President Obama is declaring that, despite a large US presence remaining in the country, the war in Iraq is over.
Matthew Duss and Peter Juul write for AlterNet:
The United States is withdrawing the last of its troops from Iraq this month, which makes now an appropriate time to begin weighing the costs and benefits to U.S. national security from our intervention there.
On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush stood aboard the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and declared to the country and to the world that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
As Americans would quickly find out, President Bush’s declaration of victory was severely premature. Iraq would soon be in the throes of a violent insurgency and, eventually, a full-blown sectarian civil war.
More than eight years after that speech, as President Barack Obama prepares to keep his promise to end the war, Iraq has made progress but still struggles with insecurity and deep political discord. Though the level of violence has remained down from its 2006–2007 peak—when dozens of bodies could be found on Baghdad’s streets every morning—Iraq still endures a level of violence that in any other country would be considered a crisis. Still, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future.
But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy. The war was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits….
It is critical to remember the shifting justifications for the U.S. intervention in Iraq. The Iraq invasion was sold to the American public on the basis of Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction and his alleged relationship with Al Qaeda. When both claims turned out to be false, the Bush administration justified the intervention on the idea that a democratic Iraq would be an ally in the “war on terror” and an inspiration for democratic reform in the Middle East. These arguments remain, at best, highly questionable….
Total deaths: Between 110,663 and 119,380
Coalition deaths: 4,803
U.S. deaths: 4,484
U.S. wounded: 32,200
U.S. deaths as a percentage of coalition deaths: 93.37 percent
Iraqi Security Force, or ISF, deaths: At least 10,125
Total coalition and ISF deaths: At least 14,926
Iraqi civilian deaths: Between 103,674 and 113,265
Non-Iraqi contractor deaths: At least 463
Internally displaced persons: 1.24 million
Refugees: More than 1.6 million
Cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom: $806 billion
Projected total cost of veterans’ health care and disability: $422 billion to $717 billion
The foregoing costs could conceivably be justified if the Iraq intervention had improved the United States’ strategic position in the Middle East. But this is clearly not the case. The Iraq war has strengthened anti-U.S. elements and made the position of the United States and its allies more precarious.
Empowered Iran in Iraq and region. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the primary strategic beneficiary of the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. The end of Saddam Hussein’s regime removed Iran’s most-hated enemy (with whom it fought a hugely destructive war in the 1980s) and removed the most significant check on Iran’s regional hegemonic aspirations. Many of Iraq’s key Iraqi Shia Islamist and Kurdish leaders enjoy close ties to Iran, facilitating considerable influence for Iran in the new Iraq.
Created terrorist training ground. According to the U.K. Maplecroft research group’s most recent index, Iraq is the third-most vulnerable country in the world to terrorism. The years of U.S. occupation in Iraq created not only a rallying call for violent Islamic extremists but also an environment for them to develop, test, and perfect various tactics and techniques. These tactics and techniques are now shared, both in person and via the Internet, with extremists all over the region and the world, including those fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Loss of international standing. While abuses are perhaps inevitable in any military occupation, the images and stories broadcast from Iraq into the region and around the world have done lasting damage to the United States’ reputation as a supporter of international order and human rights. Gen. David Petraeus has said that the damage done to the United States’ image by Abu Ghraib is permanent, calling it a “nonbiodegradable” event.
Diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan. Rather than stay and finish the job in Afghanistan as promised, the Bush administration turned its focus to Iraq beginning in 2002, in preparation for the 2003 invasion. Special Forces specializing in regional languages were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq, and Predator drones were sent to support the war in Iraq instead of the hunt for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Stifled democracy reform. While the Arab Awakening of 2011 is a potentially positive development, there’s no evidence that the Iraq war contributed to this in any positive way. A 2010 RAND study concluded that, rather than becoming a beacon of democracy, the Iraq war hobbled the cause of political reform in the Middle East. The report stated that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.” Rather than supporting democratic forces in neighboring Syria, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly voiced support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Fueled sectarianism in region. The invasion of Iraq replaced a prominent Sunni Arab State with one largely controlled by Iraq’s Arab Shia majority. While the end of the oppression of Iraq’s Shia majority is a positive thing, this shift has exacerbated regional tensions between Shia and Sunni, including in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, and Bahrain (where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based). Lingering disputes in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen also continue to invite exploitation by both state and non-state actors.
More Detailed Costs
VeteransTotal U.S. service members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan: More than 2 million
Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA health care: 1,250,663
Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans who have used VA health care since FY 2002: 625,384 (50 percent of eligible veterans)
Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans with PTSD: At least 168,854 (27 percent of those veterans who have used VA health care; does not include Vet Center or non-VA health care data)
Suicide rate of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans using VA health care in FY 2008: 38 suicides per 100,000 veterans
National suicide rate, 2007: 11.26 per 100,000 Americans
Iraq reconstruction (as of September 30, 2011)
Total funding: $182.27 billion
Iraqi government funds (including Coalition Provisional Authority spending): $107.41 billion
International funds: $13.03 billion
U.S. funds (2003-2011): $61.83 billion