Iraq was a war with too few victors

Apr 21, 2013 By Mark Shields

We were told it would be an inexpensive cakewalk, but it was far from it.

"History is written by the victors," as Winston Churchill wrote. But the United States 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq was indeed a war with no victors.

We know the American numbers: 4,488 killed; 31,965 wounded and, because there are truly no unwounded war veterans, nearly one out of two U.S. veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has applied for disability benefits. The best estimate is that at least 110,000 Iraqi lives were lost and some 2 million Iraqis were driven from their homes.

Because we were told, before the invasion, by prominent national security experts appointed by President George W. Bush that "liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk," there obviously would not be a big price tag on it. Thus could Iraq become the first American war in 155 years to be fought without a military draft and with tax cuts.

According to the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University on the costs of war, because the U.S. financed the Iraq War by borrowing, the cost of interest alone by 2020 could reach $1 trillion and the eventual costs of the Iraqi invasion and occupation, when veterans' benefits and treatments are complete, could be $6 trillion.

But more was lost than we simply count. Saddam Hussein, the brutal despot who ruled Iraq, did not have the chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction the American people were told by their government he had. Why did Saddam simply not contradict the U.S. rationale for war? He, almost certainly, did not want Iraq's bitter enemy, Iran --with which Iraq had fought a blood eight-year war just a decade earlier, to know that he did not possess any WMD.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was toppled, captured, tried and executed. But women in Iraq today have fewer civil rights and legal status than they did under the despot, and the current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who spent the years 1980 to 2003 in Iran, is a close ally of Tehran who enables the transportation of arms from Iran through Iraq to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to wage war against his fellow citizens.

Iraq for the United States was not a war of necessity or of self-defense. It was a war of aggression planned, initiated and waged against a country that had never attacked the United States and a country that had neither the capacity nor the intent to do so.

But because the U.S. government, both civilian and military, had been unable to capture Osama bin Laden, the architect and the engineer of the Sept. 11, 2001, deadly attacks upon the United States, why not deliver a knockout punch on a tyrant who was without either redeeming social value or influential friends, and at the same time establish democracy in the region by building a new nation that would be grateful to and an ally of the U.S.?

In going to war, President George W. Bush abandoned --or, more accurately, repudiated --the policy of cooperation and consultation with other nations that had been the hallmark of U.S. policy for more than half a century following World War II and through the "long, twilight struggle"' of the Cold War.

His father, George H.W. Bush, in 1991 had sought and won backing from the U.N. Security Council while skillfully enlisting a genuine international coalition to join the effort to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The second Mr. Bush ignored the United Nations and allies and pursued a Lone Ranger strategy to wage an unwise and unnecessary war.

None of this could have been done without a compliant and complicit Congress (of the 150 members of Congress who voted against war with Iraq, just seven of them were Republicans) and, except for a handful of courageous journalists, the American press corps were self-muzzling sheep. Truly a war with too many losses and no victor.


Editor's note: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields is a former Marine and political consultant who now appears regularly on "Newshour" on PBS.

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