What We Have Wrought in Iraq
We should recognize the true cost of invading Iraq.
The war has fueled terrorism. Our invasion has become a powerful rallying point for many in the Muslim world who regard it as unjust. In a national intelligence estimate completed in April 2006, America’s National Intelligence Council concluded that the Iraq war has fueled the growth of Islamic extremism and terror groups and is being used to spread the global extremist message.
Thousands have traveled from around the world to Iraq to fight against this newest perceived aggression. Terrorist organizations across the globe, including Al Qaeda, have won new converts to their cause and their methods because of the invasion. Terrorist attacks are on the rise. According to terrorism specialist Peter Bergen:
“The president is right that Iraq is a main front in the war on terrorism, but this is a front we created” and “the Iraq war has expanded the terrorist ranks: the year 2003 saw the highest incident of significant terrorist attacks in two decades, and then, in 2004, astonishingly, that number tripled [from 175 to 655].” ( Boston Globe, July 17, 2005, “Study cites seeds of terror in Iraq,” by Bryan Bender; Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec, 2005 with Alec Reynolds)
Note that the U.S. State Department declined thus far to release these statistics for 2005.
A British Joint Intelligence Committee report from 2006 found that “ Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalization of British Muslims and for the extremists who view attacks against the U.K. as legitimate.”
As was said by Republican Melvin Laird, secretary of defense under Richard Nixon and architect of “Vietnamization” (the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam), “Our presence is what feeds the insurgency.”
According to a study by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, and Linda Bilmes, of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, by invading Iraq, we are on course to spend $1 trillion. The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward – A New Approach states that amount might be as much as $2 trillion. That is money that instead could have been used more productively.
War is not de facto wrong because it is expensive. If there are observable and measurable benefits to fighting a war, costs can be tolerated. But we can find no such benefits in the war in Iraq. It does nothing to advance the global search for terrorists. Rather, it breeds them.
The toll of war in purely economic terms has been high. Consider its impact on oil prices. Since the invasion began, the price of oil has increased from $28 per barrel to a price above $70, and is currently above $50, due in large part to the disrupted supply and uncertainty the war has created. Some have attributed the price increase to heightened global demand, especially from China and India, but many analysts contend that, absent Iraq and the geopolitical fallout from our confrontations, the price of oil would be significantly lower—$45 or less per barrel.
The national debt has increased by 30 percent to $8.6 trillion during the war, a result of the record-setting deficits caused by the price of this war.
The toll can be measured in other ways, as well.
We have taken our eyes off Afghanistan, resulting in an increase in insurgency and a dramatic increase in opium production. Terrorists—the Taliban and Al Qaeda—have gained a renewed foothold in Afghanistan. As we have seen elsewhere, the Taliban was initially welcomed because of the services and order they restored to the country. The emergence of democracy there was not accompanied by the sustained resources to enable that government to properly serve the needs of the people. And so the country has “re-devolved” to the warlords and the Taliban.
Another toll has been the loss of enormous reserves of international and domestic goodwill. At home, some soldiers have concluded that we are spending lives and money for a people who do not want our help. And many Americans that were content to let our government lead in this situation now feel differently, as the 2006 elections signaled.
The U.S. invasion has now brought Iraq into a civil war—by any meaningful current definition of the term—and that civil war has been escalating. Over a million Iraqi citizens have fled the country, including disproportionate numbers in the professional classes, creating a potential refugee crisis in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere.
The Iraq war has brought forward the specter of corruption that inevitably accompanies armed conflict. The Iraq Study Group Report cites estimates of losses to corruption per annum in Iraq of $5 to 7 billion. Allegations abound of misspent funds by contractors, and of oil and other resources being diverted to the personal enrichment of Iraqi politicians.
And, finally, this war has cost lives—over 3,000 U.S. military fatalities and a minimum of 46,000 Iraqi casualties and counting. However, this estimate of Iraqi casualties is almost certainly low since a recently released U.N. report counts 34,000 Iraqi deaths in 2006 alone, and respected researchers overseen by Johns Hopkins University have estimated that the Iraqi death toll may be as many as 655,000 people.