And so, 8 years and 9 months after George W Bush ordered American troops to invade a country that had neither attacked us nor possessed the means to attack us, the Iraq “war” is over. 4484 American troops lost their lives; 264 under President Obama’s watch with 68 of those coming after he declared the “end of combat” in August, 2010. Over 33,000 were wounded with many of them suffering loss of limbs. All of these figures are subject to change, of course, as some of the wounded may still succumb to their injuries. The rates of PTSD and GI suicide are unmatched in our military history. Upwards of 100,000 Iraqi civilians (including women and children) have died as a direct result of the invasion and untold thousands are still living in exile; driven from their homes during the height of the civil war which the invasion permitted to take place. Then there is the matter of the money spent/borrowed to pursue this invasion and occupation. The final numbers aren’t in but it’s safe to safe we are looking at hundreds of billions; money that was diverted from domestic needs.
President Obama and other elected officials have been quick with their praise of the troops; as well they should be. It is estimated that over one million troops passed through Iraq over the course of the almost 9 year occupation. Many of them served up to 9 separate tours in that country. They all sacrificed for our country and in our name. Of course that does not mean that every American who served did so honorably. The photos from Abu Grahib and the stories about rogue troops in places like Haditha bore witness to the worst in human nature. But aside from the purely military performance aspect, there seems to be some doubt over the question of “Was it worth it?”
In order to be able to assess the “worth”, we must first establish the “it.” In this case the “it” must be measured in blood and treasure. Therefore, we must start with the value of a human life; 4484 human lives; hundreds of thousands of human lives. In September of 2007, current Speaker of the House (then, Minority Leader), John Boehner told us the money spent and the loss of life would be “a small price” (at that point 3700 American troops had already died)
After we determine for ourselves the value of a life, we then ask what it is that was actually accomplished with our un-provoked invasion and subsequent occupation of a country that had no air force, no navy, and whose infrastructure was still reeling from the damages we leveled in the 1991 Gulf War. After it became painfully apparent that would be no Weapons of Mass Destruction as charged by the Bush administration, the first thing we are told by those who led the charge is that the evil dictator, Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge. Captured and tried, he met his fate at the end of a hangman’s rope. This was in 2006. By this point 3,000 American troops had been killed. It is true that Saddam was brutal dictator. Human rights groups had reported that in the years prior to the 1991 Gulf War he had ordered thousands of Iraqis to their deaths and his regime was certainly guilty of brutal torture of thousands of others [As a point of reference, this was during the time when the United States (under the Reagan administration) considered Iraq to be an ally and was the recipient of our support in the form of both conventional weapons as well as chemical and biological stocks; which he subsequently used to kill Iranians as well as many of his own people], most groups have reported that, with the end of the Gulf War and a more watchful eye of the world upon him, Saddam’s ability to operate and commit such atrocities was severely curtailed. Indeed, most of the mass graves unearthed by our troops and by human rights groups since our 2003 invasion have been dated back to pre 1993.
So the next “benefit” we are told about is the improved quality of life for the Iraqi people. So many of the returning veterans have told us about the schools and medical clinics they built and how they felt so proud of the way they had helped improve the lives of the Iraqi people. Indeed they should hold their heads up and take great pride in those efforts. However, it is worth taking a look at where things were before our invasion and where they stand today. By every report, before the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq boasted one of the best infrastructures in the entire Middle East. Their roads and bridges were comparable to any in the western world and their educational and health institutions were the envy of many countries in the region. A secular oasis in the heart of the Islamic world, women were a major force in both medicine and scientific arenas. With the Gulf War, however, Iraq has now experienced some 20 years of almost constant bombardment, sabotage, and terrorist activity which has taken a real toll on every aspect of Iraqi life.
Today, according to last quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) in October of this year, things are a long way from pre-war norms.
Supply and Demand
Iraq’s electricity supply on the grid and estimated demand both reached record levels in July. Total supply averaged 175,580 megawatt-hours (MWh) per day, or 7,316 megawatts (MW). Each of the two components of current supply, power-plant production within Iraq and electricity imports from Iran, also achieved all-time highs. Demand, however, was almost twice the available supply— 336,900MWh per day, or 14,038MW— resulting in a 6,722MW supply-demand gap, the largest monthly shortfall to date. Figure 4.14 shows the monthly and 12-month rolling national averages for electricity supply and demand from January 2009 through July 2011. As discussed in SIGIR’s July 2011 Quarterly Report, as well as in the feature on the Kurdistan Region in this Quarterly Report, the aggregated supply and demand figures for the entire country mask the differences between the situations in the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq. While the Ministry of Electricity (MOE) is currently struggling to provide at least 8 hours of electricity per day to consumers in the 15 provinces served by its transmission and distribution network, KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] officials reported that consumers in the Kurdistan Region started experiencing full days of uninterrupted power this fall, though they expect this to drop back to 18 hours per day when demand peaks in the winter.
Water and Sanitation
The GOI, UNICEF, and the European Union this quarter released the findings of a survey assessing the conditions of water and sanitation services in Iraq’s 18 provinces. The survey found that 79% of the population has access to the drinking water distribution network, leaving one in five Iraqis without access to safe drinking water. Access is worse in rural areas, where two in five Iraqis do not have access to drinking water networks. The survey also found that 17% of the population does not have access to adequate sanitation services. Fluctuations in the supply of electricity, shortages in equipment and machinery, and lack of conservation were cited as main causes for the lack of water and sanitation services. The survey was part of a $10 million project to improve the GOI’s delivery of water and sanitation services.
According to USAID, Iraq’s health care has declined significantly in the last two decades as measured by life expectancy, child mortality, and other indicators. The country suffers from systemic challenges, including a lack of doctors and trained staff (particularly nurses), a drug distribution system plagued by weak controls, and poorly maintained infrastructure that leads to unsanitary conditions. The poor security environment has created additional obstacles to the delivery of adequate care. According to a recent issue of The Lancet medical journal, an estimated 18,000 physicians— about half of the total that worked in Iraq prior to 2003—have fled the country. Iraq now has about one-fifth as many doctors and one-third as many nurses per person as Jordan. The GOI estimates that more than 600 physicians have been murdered since 2003, but the Iraqi Medical Association puts the number closer to 2,000. As a result of a deteriorating health care system, Iraq’s health statistics have worsened:
• Life expectancy at birth in 2010 was 58 years, down from 65 years in 1980.
• The chance of an adult dying before the age of 60 has increased almost 40% since 2000.
• The maternal mortality rate—84 per 100,000 live births—is twice as high as Jordan’s.
• The infant mortality rate is 41 deaths per 1,000 live births.
• Mortality for children younger than 5 is at 45 per 1,000 live births—twice as high as Jordan’s and almost three times as high as Syria’s.
• Child immunization rates are down nearly 20% since 2000 and now average about 36%.
And so, the question is, with thousands of lives lost, thousands more affected by injury and illness; with an infrastructure left in near third-world condition and with political uncertainty in the near future, has our invasion been “worth it” to the Iraqis?
As for the U.S.; there are also other considerations. Are we more secure as a country because of this invasion? The obvious answer must be that, as Iraq never posed a threat to this country, our security position had nothing to gain from that invasion. However, many people who are observers of history (especially Middle East history) will tell us that, the very act of invading a sovereign nation in that part of the world will leave us vulnerable to future threat from generations who will never forget that it was the United States that left them in the condition they are in today. As even former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mused at one point; we should be careful not to create more terrorists than we are killing. Surely, watching your family flee their home and country or, worse, becoming orphaned, possibly with wounds of your own cannot be something that will fill you with love and respect for your invader/occupier.
And what of our own citizens? There is no doubt that our country was bitterly divided as a result of the election of 2000. But there can be no argument that the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq caused a total political civil war within this country that still has not mended. Will the end of the Iraq war help in the healing process? Already there are those on the right who are criticizing President Obama for simply complying with the terms of the Bush negotiated withdrawal of forces and ending the war. Worse still, they are saber rattling to start the next one in Iran.
In the past two election cycles, our economy has been at the center of the discussion (even as troops are still dying on Afghani and Iraqi battlefields). Our projected budget deficit is in the trillions of dollars. There can be no doubt that the billions spent in Iraq (almost every penny of which was authorized “off-budget”) – coupled with a massive reduction in revenues pushed by the Bush administration – contributed in the largest way to our current economic condition. Digging out only means more pain for those who are already at the bottom end of the economic spectrum. A recent report from the US Census Bureau concludes that 1 in 2 Americans are now classified as at or below the poverty line.
Am I happy the war is over? Ecstatic. Was it worth it? Not for a second.
Chad (The Left) Shue