The Iraq War: One Year Later

Sunday, 21 March 2004

This past week has seen the architects of the Iraq War preening on screen and in print, bragging about the great success the war has been. On the other side, those who opposed the war from the beginning, as well as many who were originally supporters--or at least undecided--have staged massive protests worldwide and spoken out in various forums about the harm that the war has caused. When President Bush gave his War Speech a year ago, I had my doubts about many of the claims that he made in it, as I had doubted many statements from administration officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. One year later, my suspicions have been largely confirmed. The president and his cohorts misled, deceived, and in many cases lied to the country in its efforts to justify a war of choice against Iraq. I will begin with an overview of the costs of the war, then I will return to Bush's War Speech and look again at the claims he made to the nation. In my initial reaction to the speech, I made many comments and a number of predictions regarding the war, and I will evaluate those as well.

The Costs of the War

Human Cost

The most significant cost of the war has been the human lives lost on all sides, soldiers and civilians alike. Another human toll involves those people who have been wounded, in many cases maimed for life. Here are some of the statistics:

These raw figures remind us that war destroys lives. War kills, mutilates, and scars both physically and emotionally.

Financial Cost

Before the Iraq War began, Donald Rumsfeld argued that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would be short-lived and would practically pay for itself, once Iraqi oil production reached pre-embargo levels. The reality has been quite different. An estimate by, which is based on figures from the Congressional Budget Office and includes interest payments (since the cost of the war add to the budget deficit), indicates that more than $107 billion has already been spent on the war. (None of the other figures in this paragraph includes interest payments.) The Pentagon acknowledges that the war continues to cost about $4 billion per month. The Bush defense budget for fiscal 2005 is $402 billion, which accounts for 3.6% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, up from $2.9% in 2000 under President Clinton. Incredibly, however, this figure includes nothing for the cost of the ongoing campaign in Iraq! In an effort to reduce the apparent size of the 2005 budget deficit, the White House will ask Congress for more money for Iraq outside of the budget, and this amount is likely to be between 30 and 50 billion dollars--but might be more, depending on what transpires in Iraq. The Congressional Budget Office has projected total costs approaching $200 billion for a U.S. occupation of Iraq that might last until 2013. These figures are a far cry from promises that the war would almost pay for itself, and the U.S. is bearing almost all the costs alone. Contrast the present circumstance with the Gulf War of 1991 under the first President Bush, when a true coalition of nations participated in the war and helped defray the costs, paying $53 billion of the total cost of approximately $65 billion.

Diplomatic Cost

Spain's new prime minister-elect, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said, "The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster," and he pledged to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq by the end of June if the United Nations doesn't control of the situation, an extremely unlikely scenario. The President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, complained that Poland had been deceived by the U.S. and Britain about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Poland might pull out some troops earlier than originally planned. And these are two of our strongest allies! France, Germany, Russia, China, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, and many, many other countries strongly opposed the attack on Iraq, and both the failure to find WMDs and the extremely unstable situation in Iraq are reasons these countries continue to oppose U.S. actions there. Average citizens around the world are much more anti-U.S. in general than their governments are. In Britain, the U.S.'s strongest ally in the war, a solid majority of the population opposed the war. Many around the world consider the U.S. to be the greatest terrorist state on the planet. Despite Bush administration claims that they have built a "Coalition of the Willing," relations between the U.S. and its erstwhile allies around the globe are at an all-time low. The White House's insults to the French, the Germans, and most recently the Spanish (accusing the incoming government of appeasing the terrorists who bombed Madrid) are a poor way to win diplomatic support.

Environmental Cost

It took ten years to clean up the environmental impact of the Gulf War in 1991, and the job was not nearly complete. Oil well fires, destruction of wildlife habitat, tons of heavy metals in the ground, and, perhaps worst of all, tons of radioactive depleted uranium (DU) bullets littering the countryside and infecting the water supply, led to increases in birth defects, various cancers, and many other ailments among the Iraqi people. Many people believe that DU may be one of the causes of the Gulf War Syndrome that affected many U.S. soldiers as well. Sea birds, coral reefs, and rare turtles were also casualties. The present war is repeating the disaster. Although not nearly as many oil wells were set on fire, the longer duration of the war and the increased tonnage of military ordnance used, including DU shells, indicates that this war will probably have at least as great an impact on the environment as the first war had. The damage to the environment that war causes affects the health of those living in the country. The international health charity Medact, in a report entitled "Continuing Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on Iraq," states: "The health consequences of the 2003 war on Iraq will be felt by the Iraqi people for years, even generations."

Cultural Cost

Early in the war it was reported that looters had broken into the Iraqi National Museum and stolen countless numbers of priceless artifacts. When reporters learned that many of the items had been hidden in bank vaults and elsewhere by museum staff for safekeeping before the war, many claimed that the stories of looting had been imaginary. That's nonsense. Hundreds or thousands of pieces were looted from the museum, and though many have been recovered, many others are still missing. The Oriental Institute in Chicago maintains an online database which currently lists more than 250 missing items from the museum. Some of the thieves who robbed the Iraqi people were Iraqis themselves, but others were coalition soldiers and journalists. And the Iraqi National Museum was not the only cultural casualty of the war. The National Archives, the National Library, the Al-Awqaf Library, the Central Library of the University of Baghdad, and the Library of Bayt al-Hikma are other buildings whose contents, many of which were unique, were destroyed in whole or in part. In addition, numerous archaeological sites thousands of years old have been looted since the beginning of the war, destroying forever the knowledge they might have offered to scientists. What compounds the tragedy of the cultural losses is that archaeologists and museum officials in the West, including the prestigious Archaeological Institute of America, wrote to the Bush administration prior to the war warning of the dangers to museums, other cultural institutions, and archaeological sites, but their admonitions largely fell on deaf ears, and many of their direst predictions came true.

Security Cost

Last week President Bush proclaimed that the war on Iraq was "good for the Iraqi people, good for America, and good for the world." However, the facts do not support this statement. In addition to all the other costs of the war already mentioned, the security situation in Iraq and around the world is worse than it was before the war. It is true that many terrorists have been captured or killed, but many more have been enlisted by the war, which served as a U.S.-financed recruiting effort for Al-Qaeda. Before the war, terrorists were kept in check by Saddam Hussein, who, though a brutal dictator, had no love for the religiously motivated terrorists. Now, terrorists, both Iraqi and foreign (though mostly home-grown), strike with impunity throughout the country, killing and wounding soldiers and civilians alike. The situation is no better in nearby Afghanistan, where the distraction of the Iraq War has allowed the Taliban and their terrorist allies to reemerge as a force to be reckoned with. Around the world, bombings in Istanbul, Bali, Morocco, and Madrid suggest that international terrorism is alive and well. Iraqis, Americans, British, Spanish, Australians, and others are less safe today than they were one year ago. If instead of waging a war on a weakened, toothless tiger the U.S. had led an all-out offensive on terrorism--aiming not just at capturing current terrorist but also at alleviating the root causes of terrorism, beginning with poverty--perhaps the world would be safer today.

Further Reflections on Bush's War Speech

In the light of the events and revelations of the past year, I will reexamine portions of the president's War Speech and evaluate both his words and some of my own comments from one year ago. In the section that follows, the president's words are in black, and my comments are indented and in red. (See also my essay "Commentary on Bush's War Speech.")

Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraq regime have failed again and again because we are not dealing with peaceful men.

In fact, the weapons inspections led by the U.N. were astoundingly successful at disarming Saddam Hussein. Despite many early claims by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell that they knew exactly where the WMDs were and that WMDs had actually been found, all of their claims turned out to be false. Incredibly, as recently as January the vice president was still claiming that the U.S. had found "conclusive evidence" that Saddam Hussein did have "programs for weapons of mass destruction." Even leaving aside the fact that having "programs" is not at all the same as having actual weapons, the statement itself is simply a lie, and the White House moved quickly in the days that followed to play down the statement.

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people.

As noted above, the first statement was patently false. As for the second, Saddam did use WMDs against Iran and against Kurds, in clear violation of international conventions of war. However, since the U.S. at the time was supporting Iraq in its war against Iran, our government was willing to overlook his atrocious behavior. Apparently it's all right for tyrants to use WMDs against their enemies, as long as the tyrants are useful to us politically (note: the same criticism could be leveled against many previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat).

[Iraq] has a deep hatred of America and our friends and it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of Al Qaeda.

The alleged connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was another lie. As I pointed out in my initial commentary, it was well-known that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were enemies; at least, it was well-known to everyone outside the Bush administration (and apparently someone has yet to tell Dick Cheney, who still claims a connection). Bush's claims concerning the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda has turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, however. As a result of the war, Iraq is now crawling with al Qaeda terrorists.

Recognizing the threat to our country, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to support the use of force against Iraq.

Many congressional leaders, including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, are now claiming that the Bush administration misled them concerning the threat that Iraq posed. While it is no doubt true that the White House misled Congress, there were plenty of congressmen and -women with the wisdom, insight, and courage to oppose the administration's strong-arm tactics and vote against the bill authorizing the president to make war on Iraq. The majority of the Democrats in the House, along with 6 Republicans, and 22 Democrats, one Republican, and one Independent in the Senate voted against the war. Among those opposed were Dennis Kucinich, Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Cynthia McKinney, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Daniel Inouye, Barbara Boxer, Paul Wellstone, Jim Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee, and Constance Morella.

The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat, but we will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety.

After twelve years of sanctions, Saddam Hussein was no threat to his neighbors, much less to the U.S., and Bush knew it. It has come to light in recent months that the White House began planning to remove Saddam Hussein from power from the very beginning of the Bush presidency, long before the attacks of 11 September 2001, apparently to avenge Saddam's botched assassination attempt on Bush's father. The al Qaeda attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania were the pretences the Bush administration needed to launch its long-planned attack on Iraq, and despite the president's protestations as late as February 2003 that he had not yet made up his mind to go to war, he had in fact decided to do so within days of the 11 September attack. The result of Bush's reckless, headlong drive to war is less safety and security in the world, as the ranks of terrorists have swelled in response to the war.

America tried to work with the United Nations to address this threat because we wanted to resolve the issue peacefully. We believe in the mission of the United Nations.

If by "work with" the president meant "bully," then the first statement is true. Otherwise, it is yet another lie. From the beginning the U.S. had one agenda: to get the U.N. Security Council to back its war on Iraq. Fortunately, France, Russia, China, and several non-permanent members of the Security Council (including Mexico) had the backbone to resist U.S. bribes and threats and vote their consciences, opposing the war. The Bush administration most certainly does not believe in the mission of the United Nations. Instead, it believes that the U.N. exists to rubberstamp U.S. policy throughout the world. When the U.N. refuses to do so, the White House simply ignores the U.N. and acts unilaterally.

Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power.

Saddam Hussein had in fact disarmed, not willingly perhaps, but grudgingly. Several nations a year ago claimed that the evidence suggested that Iraq had disarmed itself, as did the U.N. weapons inspection team, led by Hans Blix. Administration shills promptly began waging a vilification campaign against Blix, one that continues to this day. The problem is, it is obvious to almost everyone in the world, even those who supported war on Iraq and continue to think it was a good idea, that Blix was right when he said that the inspectors could find no evidence that WMDs still existed in Iraq.

Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world.

The coalition of the bribed and bullied went to war against Iraq alongside the U.S. and Britain, but the most representative organization in the world, the U.N. General Assembly, was strongly opposed to the war. And, as I pointed out in my essay entitled "The Unjust War Theory," despite centuries of Christian teaching to the contrary, I don't believe that war can ever be called just, and this one didn't even come close to the standards proclaimed by those who believe in the Just War theory.

Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you.

This promise was small comfort to those who knew the high costs that civilians always pay for war. As noted above, at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed or wounded since the war began.

The day of your liberation is near.

Unfortunately, the day of liberation for many Iraqis has turned out to be "a day of darkness and gloom" (Zeph 1:15) rather than a day of rejoicing.

War has no certainty except the certainty of sacrifice.

In response to this statement, I said, "In this particular war, the U.S. will sacrifice much. It will sacrifice the lives of young men and women--disproportionately people of color--who serve in the armed forces." As far as I can tell, the sacrifice that men and women in the U.S. military have offered has been borne in numbers that approximate the racial and ethnic makeup of the country as a whole. I find little comfort, however, in noting that the racial and ethnic composition of those who have died reflect the diversity of the nation. If anything, such reflections only intensify the sorrow that I feel for the lives wasted in this unnecessary war, and it reminds me that when a nation goes to war, the whole of the nation suffers. Great sacrifices have indeed been made on our behalf by brave men and women in the military. Now is the time to begin pulling our forces out and replacing them with a U.N. contingent, with a strong emphasis on other Arab countries, that will likely prove less desirable targets to the Iraqis who oppose the American occupation.

The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities.

The Bush administration is not really interested in peace in the world, unless "peace" means "complete and total acquiescence to U.S. desires." The U.S.-supported coup in Haiti against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, its support of those who want to overthrow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, its attempts to interfere in the elections in El Salvador, and its overt support for the election victory of Spain's Popular Party demonstrate that self-determination and democracy are not high priorities for the White House. Better a little chaos, or the overthrow of a democratically elected leader, as long as it benefits American business interests, than the will of the people, apparently.

Concluding Remarks

The one-year anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq reminds us again of the futility of war for solving the world's problems. Yes, Saddam Hussein is now in custody, but the Iraqi people still have no representative government, and it's possible that the U.S. will not allow a truly representative government to take office (see above on the U.S. interference with the democratic process in other countries). All of a sudden it is dawning on the administration that radical Shiites might take power and want to set up a regime similar to that in neighboring Iran. Duh! The foreign policy of the Bush administration has been a disaster since the beginning (comments on its domestic policy are reserved for another time). The world is a more dangerous place than when Bush assumed power in 2001. The U.S. has alienated our allies and made new enemies. When November arrives, we must rise up and vote to remove Bush and his cronies from office, both for the sake of America and for the sake of the world.

© Copyright 2004, Progressive Theology

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