Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: War costs to U.S., Iraq huge, tragic

Standing in world diminished

March 17, 2013 

  • Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst.

Tuesday, March 19, will mark a full decade since the United States commenced its war against Iraq. It was a war of choice that ended with many unanticipated consequences for the U.S., the most important of which is the substantial diminishing of its global geostrategic position and its loss of geopolitical clout in the Middle East, Southwest Asia (Pakistan) and Central Asia.

The mismanagement of the war was tragic in terms of the death of some 4,490 military personnel and an estimated 50,000 U.S. casualties. A recent report by the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office states 253,330 service women and men have suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most recent study of the cost of the wars by Brown University places the potential costs of the wars (including long-term medical care) at about $4.4 trillion — 24 percent of the current U.S. budget deficit.

The costs of the nine years of war to the peoples of Iraq were gigantic. It is difficult to sort out the number of Iraqis killed, wounded or injured. Iraq Body Count suggests that around 250,000 were killed or wounded; some estimates say one out of every four Iraqi children under 18 lost one or both parents.

The casualties continued even after U.S. combat troops were withdrawn in December 2012, although 15,000 military and diplomatic personnel remain in Iraq.

The damage to Iraq's industrial, electric, water, sewage and road infrastructure by U.S. and allied comprehensive bombing was massive. Many state institutions were destroyed by bombing and looting. Looting destroyed much of Iraq's bountiful historical treasures and national archives.

There was vast destruction of homes, buildings, universities, medical and health facilities. An estimated 3,000 to 10,000 doctors, dentists and health workers fled the country. Some cities, such as Fallujah, were largely destroyed; several others half destroyed. An estimated 500,000 people fled the country; another 2 million were internally displaced.

The cost of the war does not encompass just the costs of combat, but also the damage it, along with the war in Afghanistan, did to American relations with nearly all the peoples of the Middle East and of Southwest and Central Asia. The major result of the war among peoples in the regions is a dramatic loss of U.S. prestige.

They view the war against Iraq as not just a continuation of the war against terrorism, but against Muslims; that it was an effort by the U.S. to secure its continued domination of the region, its countries, peoples and raw materials — especially its oil and gas resources.

Indeed, the war in Iraq, along with the war in Afghanistan, contributed greatly to the Arab Spring revolutions commencing with ferocity in December 2010 and still continuing. Arab peoples sought to remove the dictatorship and tyranny of their rulers; all of them in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen were staunch allies of the U.S. and Europe.

Such consequences of the war — which seemed to have been completely uncomprehended by political and economic elites — now pose serious challenges to the democratic institutions that Americans have striven so arduously to achieve. While drones had been in use for years before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the great proliferation of their use grew as a result of these wars.

The use of drones, renditions, targeted killing, assassination and enemy leadership decapitation, which mushroomed as essential vehicles of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism policies during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are now major challenges facing the American judicial system.

American citizens can now be legally killed, without, it seems, due process of law.

One of the biggest challenges confronting historians in the future will be to determine the role the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played in reducing, one hopes not eliminating, Americans' human, civil and legal rights.

Or, perhaps as one sage so aptly said: "The chickens have come home to roost."

The war did unravel Iraq; what the U.S, political and economic elite did not envision is that it also contributed to the unraveling of America.


Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst.


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