President Obama recently announced that all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year. I am glad to hear that, but instead of a time for celebrating, this is a time for reflecting on the lessons learned and the damage done.
What have we learned from our experiences in Iraq during nearly nine years of occupation?
We have learned there were no weapons of mass destruction (which was the main reason we were told we needed to invade the country), and it didn’t take nine years to figure that out.
We got rid of a bad guy and some of his cronies, but we learned the hard way that using armies to exterminate vermin is an expensive proposition, in terms of money, resources, and lives.
This misadventure in foreign policy has reportedly cost more than $800 billion so far, and it has been suggested that the final cost could exceed $4 trillion. Even adjusting for inflation, this is more than the US spent to fight World War II, according to some sources.
Incidentally, we also learned that Washington is either not very good at math, or not very good at truth, because at the time we dived into the mess in Iraq, our fearless leaders estimated that the cost would be more like $50 billion. That is still a lot of dough, but it is not even close to reality.
For those who like to look at things from a more local perspective, the war in Iraq has cost Minnesota more than $23 billion, according to www.costofwar.com.
About 4,480 US troops have given their lives in Iraq since 2001, and more than 32,000 have been wounded. Many more Iraqis have died.
Then, there are the countless veterans who have struggled to rebuild their lives after serving in Iraq. In addition to all that they have given up, many must contend with post-traumatic stress disorder, injuries, and disabilities resulting from their deployment, and any number of other challenges.
Our young men and women have always stepped up and answered the call of duty when their country has needed them. We, as a nation, owe it to them and their families to be absolutely sure of our motives and our mission before we make that call.
Do we feel safer as a result of the war? There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it, if we do.
Is Iraq going to be our ally as a result of our occupation and our efforts to rebuild the country? I don’t believe we can say that with any confidence.
When we invaded Iraq, some critics said we were only doing so to get at their oil. That doesn’t seem to have panned-out very well for us, if that was our intention. We could buy a lot of oil for $800,000 billion, and even more if the war total does reach that $4 trillion mark.
For that matter, this money could buy a lot of other things, such as health care for US citizens, or incentives for small businesses to help them create jobs.
I specifically mention small business, because that is where the money would do the most good.
If there is one thing that makes working people absolutely furious, it is when the government hands over tax dollars to large corporations, where the money is used to pay exorbitant salaries and huge bonuses to corporate executives for failing in their jobs.
Did our invasion of Iraq improve our standing in the region or the world? Some might argue that we are worse off now than we were before the war.
Is the Middle East more stable as a result of our efforts during the past nine years? We might use many adjectives to describe the region, but stable would not be one I would choose.
The men and women of the US military have served bravely in Iraq and made great personal sacrifices. In spite of this, it is difficult to say if the overall mission in Iraq has been accomplished, not because of any failure on the part of our troops, but because our leaders in Washington never clearly identified what the mission was.
I am glad our troops will be coming home, but it seems to me that about the only way we can count the war in Iraq as a victory would be if we, as a nation, learn from our experiences and use them to make better and clearer decisions in the future before sending our young men and women into harm’s way.
We should also demand that government give us realistic answers as to the cost and purpose of our overseas adventures.
Better still, we could ask our elected officials to deal with the problems at home before trying to save the world. Maybe that really would be asking too much.