Highlights
 
Quotable
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 

March 26, 2008

Hard to See the Benefits Through the Bills and the Blood


Charles Peña

Last week marked five years since President Bush's decision to engage in preemptive war against Iraq (or more accurately, preventive war, since there was no imminent threat to thwart; rather its purpose was to prevent a potential threat that had not yet emerged from materializing – even though there was no concrete evidence that such a threat would, in fact, materialize). Speaking at the Pentagon, the president declared that the Iraq war was worth fighting: "Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision." The implication is that the benefit warrants the cost.

So what was the benefit of removing Saddam Hussein from power? Five years ago – speaking to an audience from the American Enterprise Institute – President Bush argued:

"In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world – and we will not allow it. This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country – and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted."

Moreover, he intoned that "the safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat."

But five years later, the president was unable to demonstrate that the Iraq War was worth fighting by the criteria he used to justify the decision to go to war. Instead, he made this case:

"What our troops found in Iraq following Saddam's removal was horrifying. They uncovered children's prisons, and torture chambers, and rape rooms where Iraqi women were violated in front of their families. They found videos showing regime thugs mutilating Iraqis deemed disloyal to Saddam. And across the Iraqi countryside they uncovered mass graves of thousands executed by the regime.

"Because we acted, Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children. Because we acted, Saddam's torture chambers and rape rooms and children's prisons have been closed for good. Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer invading its neighbors or attacking them with chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer paying the families of suicide bombers in the Holy Land. Because we acted, Saddam's regime is no longer shooting at American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and defying the will of the United Nations."

In used-car-sales terms this is known as bait and switch. And the reality is that Saddam Hussein was never a direct threat – military or terrorist – to the United States. So although one less dictator in the world may be a good thing in a general sense, in terms of U.S. national security (the only raison d'être for the use of military force) there was no demonstrable benefit for invading Iraq to depose Hussein.

On the other hand, the costs have been real and considerable. The direct cost of waging the war and subsequent military occupation is $500 billion and counting. (John McCain has said he has no problem with us being in Iraq for another 100 years. You do the math.) The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the total cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion, with Iraq accounting for three-fourths of the costs. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz from Columbia University and Linda J. Bilmes from Harvard estimate the total economic cost will end up being $3 trillion in their new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War (social costs could push the bill to as much as $5 trillion). Whether it's $1 trillion or $3 trillion, it's a far cry from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's belief that the Iraq adventure would cost something less than $50 billion and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz's fantasy that Iraqi oil revenues of $50-$100 billion would pay for the occupation and reconstruction costs.

But costs are not just dollars and cents. This week, the cost in American lives reached 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. And the cost in Iraqi lives will likely never be fully known. IraqBodyCount.net has documented nearly 90,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. A June 2005 Iraqi Health Ministry survey estimated 151,000 violence-related Iraqi deaths out of 400,000 excess deaths due to the war. The British Lancet study estimated nearly 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths through June 2006 related to the war. And in September 2007, a poll by Opinion Research Business (an independent polling agency in London) estimated that over 1 million Iraqis died as a result of the conflict.

Beyond casualties, the war has taken its toll on the U.S. military. Extended deployments, the use of stop-loss orders to keep soldiers from leaving the military after fulfilling their obligation, and activating more National Guard and Reservists than were cumulatively mobilized since the Cuban Missile Crisis (including for the Vietnam War, the Cuban refugee crisis, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Desert Storm) has stretched the military – in particular the Army and Marine Corps – thin. The result is that even Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted at a congressional hearing that "people are tired." According to the Army's chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, "Our soldiers are deploying too frequently. We can't sustain that. … We just can't keep going at the rate that we're going." Casey's civilian counterpart, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, has put it this way: "We are consuming readiness as fast as we build it."

And what about oil? Although never a stated reason for going to war, getting rid of Hussein would result in what amounts to U.S. control of (or at least unimpeded access to) Iraqi oil, which ought to yield some benefit. A year before the invasion, the price of oil was less than $21 per barrel. Today the price of oil is over $100 per barrel, and the resulting soaring costs of gasoline and other petroleum products could possibly be the final straw that breaks the economy's back.

Finally, there is the cost that the Bush administration refuses to recognize: that Iraq is creating more terrorists. When the president talks about "defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq" he fails to mention that al-Qaeda in Iraq did not exist under Saddam Hussein's rule. And while al-Qaeda in Iraq's indiscriminate violence has not won them many fans in Iraq (polls show that Iraqis – both Shi'ites and Sunnis – have no great love for Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda), the U.S. military occupation is a lightning rod for jihadists and confirmation for many Muslims of bin Laden's claim that the United States is attacking Islam itself (according to a 2007 poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, 8 out of 10 Muslims in the countries surveyed believe that the United States seeks to "weaken and divide the Islamic world"). And for all the happy talk by President Bush about "helping the people of Iraq establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East," Muslims plainly see continued U.S. support for autocratic and repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt – again confirmation of bin Laden's accusations about the hypocrisy of U.S. policy and an easy sell to recruit to the ranks of extremism and terrorism.

comments on this article?
 
Archives
Most Recent Article

  • TSA: Tedious, Slow, and Absurd?
    3/25/2009

  • Hey, Big Spender!
    3/18/2009

  • Conflicting Visions of Security
    3/4/2009

  • Portents From the First
    Press Conference
    2/18/2009

  • Obama Wants a Surge
    of His Own
    2/11/2009

  • Terror, Torture, and Empire
    on the Silver Screen
    1/28/2009

  • Why War?
    1/14/2009

  • Why Lightning Hasn't Struck Twice
    12/31/2008

  • Not Home for the Holidays, Again
    12/17/2008

  • More Security, Less Secure
    12/3/2008

  • Missile Defense and
    the American Empire
    11/19/2008

  • You Can't Cut Spending
    and Spare 'Defense'
    10/29/2008

  • What Happens in a Police State…
    10/22/2008

  • Can Afghanistan Be Won?
    10/11/2008

  • The Pakistan Dilemma
    9/24/2008

  • What $700 Billion?
    9/10/2008

  • Georgia On My Mind
    8/28/2008

  • My Energy Plan Is
    Better Than Yours
    8/6/2008

  • Bidding War Over Afghanistan
    7/23/2008

  • Is Iran Still an Option?
    7/9/2008

  • Change We Can Believe In?
    6/25/2008

  • Having Your Cake and
    Eating It Too
    6/11/2008

  • Things to Remember on Memorial Day
    5/28/2008

  • Mission Accursed
    5/7/2008

  • Whither the Price of Oil?
    4/23/2008

  • McCain's Foreign Policy Vision: Style Over Substance
    4/2/2008

  • Hard to See the Benefits Through the Bills and the Blood
    3/26/2008

  • The Golden Rule
    3/13/2008

  • More Amtrak Security,
    More Safety?
    2/27/2008

  • Hobbled in Kabul
    2/13/2008

  • Is Bad PR Really the Problem?
    1/30/2008

  • Shocked, Shocked by Bush's Broken Promises
    1/16/2008

  • Providing for the Common Defense
    1/9/2008

  • Not Home for the Holidays
    12/26/2007

  • Bush's Surreal Iran Policy
    12/12/2007

  • An American in Paris
    11/29/2007

  • Fred Thompson and the Kitchen Sink
    11/15/2007

  • To Bomb, Or Not To Bomb
    10/31/2007

  • Not -So-New Homeland Security Strategy
    10/17/2007

  • Misunderestimating the Price of Iraq
    10/3/2007

  • Greenspan's Unsure Grasp of Economics
    9/19/2007

  • Close, but No Cigar
    9/5/2007

  • Defusing Nuclear Hysteria
    8/30/2007

  • More Troop Reduction Legerdemain
    8/22/2007

  • Memo to Rep. Ron Paul
    8/8/2007

  • Surveillance Society
    7/25/2007

  • Lucky, but for How Much Longer?
    7/4/2007

  • Cooperative Threat Reduction Is Worth the Cost
    6/20/2007

  • Unprepared for Bioterrorism
    6/6/2007

  • Rudy Giuliani and the
    Fort Dix Six
    5/23/2007

  • Good Intentions and
    Unintended Consequences
    5/9/2007

  • Still Whacking Moles in Iraq
    4/25/2007

  • Yankee, Go Home
    4/11/2007

  • Foreign Follies
    a Sobering Read
    3/28/2007

  • Reducing the Risk of Nukes
    3/14/2007

  • Our Pals in Pakistan
    2/28/2007

  • The Future of Terrorism
    2/14/2007

  • Whither the Surge?
    1/31/2007

  • 92,000 More Soldiers?
    1/17/2007

  • Requiem for a Dictator
    1/3/2007

  • Another Year,
    Another Iraq Plan
    12/20/2006

  • Two Pair of Twos
    12/6/2006

  • Worse Than Staying the Course
    11/22/2006

  • The Mother of All Defense Supplementals
    11/8/2006

  • Fish or Cut Bait in Iraq
    10/25/2006


  • Photo - George Cole

    Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
    Policy Institute
    , an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. He has also appeared on CNN, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and The McLaughlin Group, as well as international television and radio. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda, and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.


    Charles Pena's new book is now available. Order now.

    His articles have been published by Reason; The American Conservative; The National Interest; Mediterranean Quarterly; Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy; Journal of Law & Social Change (University of San Francisco); Nexus (Chapman University); and Issues in Science & Technology (National Academy of Sciences).

    His exclusive column appears every other Wednesday on Antiwar.com.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2014 Antiwar.com