Monday, December 3, 2007

Iraq Again

The President is at it again. This morning he once again berated the Democrats in Congress for not giving him the money he has asked for--$200 billion in supplemental funds for the Iraq War. The Democrats have proposed a supplemental of only $50 billion, qualified by language that would start the long process of bringing the troops home, and ending the war. In turn, Republicans and their President try to cow Democrats by accusing them of abandoning American boys in battle.

In such a climate, it is necessary to bring a bit of context to this struggle. And by “context,” I mean to simply remember how this war started, and what its cost has been, both to the United States, and to Iraq.

Consider first an item by today’s Associated Press: “National Debt Grows $1 Million a Minute.” That’s one million a minute, folks, $60 million an hour, $1440 million a day. It means the United States government now owes $9.13 trillion dollars! That’s $30,000 for every American man, woman, and child. And just for comparison, it was $5.7 trillion when Bush took office in 2001, and gave tax breaks to the richest Americans, at the same time as he decided to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. This kind of debt, like yours and mine, doesn’t come free: interest on it came to $430 billion last year alone, the third highest spending item in the national budget. The second item was “Defense” spending, helped, of course, by the huge outlays for Iraq. Only that most of the cost of fighting and dying in Iraq is not even included in the Defense budget—it must be covered by supplementals such as the one Bush is now asking for: $200 billion just to get through the Spring.

Then let’s get back to that Iraqi war. This was not a war against an enemy that had attacked or even threatened the United States, Iraq having had nothing whatever to do with 9/11. This was a war of CHOICE. It was an illegal aggression against a country that not only had done nothing to us; it was a country that the United States had been, for the dozen years prior to its 2003 invasion, attacking. The U.S., that is, had imposed sanctions on Iraq that resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 children due to the lack of medical supplies. It had virtually destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure—it’s water treatment facilities and the like. It had continuously bombed Iraqi areas it called “no-fly zones.” Such measures had reduced Iraq’s standard of living from where it had been in the 1980s—as the most advanced Arab nation, with a highly-educated, secular population—to a third-world basket case, which, even today, is threatened with a cholera epidemic, due to unclean drinking water.

Then, when UN inspectors failed to find the alleged “weapons of mass destruction” the Bush administration claimed Iraq had hidden, the United States ignored the UN and began its “shock and awe” campaign of bombing a virtually defenseless country. It then raced into that country, overwhelming the minimal resistance offered by the vaunted Republican Guard of Saddam Hussein, and took possession of the country. The President, in full military regalia, trumpeted the great victory: the United States, a nation of 300 million with the most advanced weaponry in the world, had defeated Iraq, a nation of 26 million, with no air force, no navy, virtually no artillery, and an army that had vanished before the U.S. onslaught.

What followed was the destruction of an entire nation, including its priceless heritage of libraries and archeological sites marking the very birth of civilization. In the years since, 70% of Iraqis have become unemployed, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million Iraqis have died, countless others have been wounded or irradiated by uranium-tipped weapons, and more than 2 million have fled the country. An additional 2 million have been displaced by the civil war that has raged between Shiite and Sunni Arabs that once lived side by side. And of course, over 4,000 Americans have been killed.

This is the “great cause” that the President now demands be continued. This is the noble fight that he ridicules Congress for refusing to fund. Americans are told that if the vaunted U.S. military cannot “finish” this job—a job they are now allegedly succeeding at—the United States reputation in the world (not to mention the reputation of Bush and his Republicans) will suffer irretrievable damage. The truth, obvious to all but the most obtuse, is that America’s reputation is already in tatters, and precisely because of its illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The truth is that no more Iraqi civilians need to be slaughtered. No more American boys need to sacrifice their lives. The illegality does not need to go on. What needs to happen is that Iraq must be allowed to recover free from an occupying army (for that is what American forces are: an occupying army resented by every Iraqi) making that recovery impossible. If the United States needs to invest more of its treasure in this benighted venture, it must invest millions in the business of rebuilding, of compensating a long-suffering people for the damage already done them. Any other expenditure to validate such a criminal adventure would be not only morally bankrupt and fiscally irresponsible, it would be insane.

Lawrence DiStasi

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