On this eighth anniversary of the Iraq War, I feel a deep sense of sadness mixed with anger, along with regret for what might have been. We’ve had eight years of futile war in Iraq and nearly ten years of the same in Afghanistan.
Following September 11, 2001, the world stood with the US. We had a choice then: to respond legally, morally and with wisdom; or, like a helpless giant, to flail out with our vast arsenal of weapons. To our shame, our leaders, then and now, have taken the latter course.
Before this war began, many of us marched for peace. People all over the world marched for peace, but peace was not to be.
Dick Cheney said, “We will be greeted as liberators.”
Donald Rumsfeld said, in effect, that the war would pay for itself: “The bulk of the funds for Iraq’s reconstruction will come from Iraqis – from oil revenues, recovered assets, international trade, direct foreign investment….”
George W. Bush said, we will attack “at a time of our choosing.” He dismissed the United Nations, saying “The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities. So we will rise to ours.” He chose to attack Iraq on the evening of March 19, 2003, and he did so with shock and awe, but without legality under international law.
Less than two months later, Bush dressed up in a flight suit, landed on the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, stood under a sign that said “Mission Accomplished,” and boasted with his usual shortsightedness, “In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” The people of the world will have prevailed when Mr. Bush is on trial at the International Criminal Court.
The result of our Global War on Terror is that we have spent more than $780 billion on the Iraq War and more than $387 billion on the Afghanistan War, a total of over $1.167 trillion. These wars have cost California $147 billion, and have cost our 23rd Congressional District $2.6 billion. These numbers grow by the day. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has predicted that the total cost of the war in Iraq to the Federal government and to society will conservatively exceed $3 trillion.
It is long past time to end this drain of our resources, which might have gone instead of war and massacre to support the poorest among us, to schools, to health care, and to improve our infrastructure.
The Global War on Terror, along with other excesses of capitalism, including massive fraud, has resulted in some 400 families in the US having assets exceeding those of the poorest 50 percent of Americans, some 155 million people. Four hundred families versus half our population. And many of our political representatives have fought for tax breaks for the very rich, while seeking to end the collective bargaining rights of the unions for public employees – teachers, nurses, firefighters and policemen. This is just plain wrong. But it is what we have become as a nation.
Across this nation, people still haven’t connected the dots to understand the toll war takes on our society.
Of course, the money wasted is only a part of the outrage that has weakened our country. More importantly, some 4,500 American soldiers have died in Iraq. Of these, 4,300 Americans died since George Bush dressed up in his flight suit and gave his victory speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. But the death toll of Americans is dwarfed by that of Iraqis. By some estimates, more than a million and a half Iraqis have died in the Iraq War. Four million have been displaced from their homes.
In Afghanistan, 1,498 American soldiers have died and 2,361 total coalition forces have died. In 2010 alone, 2,777 civilians died in Afghanistan. Of these, 1,175 were children and 555 were women.
It is tempting to say that they all died because George Bush lied. But George Bush’s lies were only one factor. They also died because so many good Americans were silent in the face of these wars. They also died because, in the case of Afghanistan, Barack Obama escalated the war and made it his own.
Let me conclude with a poem I wrote about the war, titled “Worse than the War.”
WORSE THAN THE WAR
Worse than the war, the endless, senseless war, Worse than the lies leading to the war,
Worse than the countless deaths and injuries, Worse than hiding the coffins and not attending funerals,
Worse than the flouting of international law, Worse than the torture at Abu Ghraib prison,
Worse than the corruption of young soldiers, Worse than undermining our collective sense of decency,
Worse than the arrogance, smugness and swagger, Worse than our loss of credibility in the world, Worse than the loss of our liberties,
Worse than learning nothing from the past, Worse than destroying the future, Worse than the incredible stupidity of it all,
Worse than all of these, As if they were not enough for one war or country or lifetime, Is the silence, the resounding silence of good Americans.
When will we say that we’ve had enough? When will America try to regain its conscience, its soul, its decency and its honor? When will we become a force for peace in the world? The answer is: It’s up to us! It’s up to us to take back our country and put it on the path to peace.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.