The recent eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq provides an opportunity to reflect on what we have accomplished since we set out to rid ourselves of the fear of Saddam’s WMDs and bring freedom to the Iraqi people.
Saddam Hussein is gone, his “weapons of mass destruction” impossible to locate. Up to half a million Iraqi noncombatants have fallen as collateral damage to the bombs, missiles and bullets of the American military or as victims of the ethnic cleansing and score-settling that followed naturally the fall of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime. As a consequence, 2 million to 3 million more have fled the country to live as refugees in neighboring states such as Jordan and Syria.
Those lucky enough to survive and participate in parliamentary elections have voted into office a largely Shia-dominant government that continues to operate institutions similar to Abu Ghraib and uses imprisonment and torture as political tools. Roadside and suicide bombs continue to detonate.
What are the costs of these accomplishments? Almost $1 trillion taxpayer dollars spent, more than 4,400 U.S. soldiers killed, another 32,000 seriously wounded, and roughly a third of demobilized servicemen returning with or soon to develop serious mental health problems. Many soldiers have been redeployed to the war in Afghanistan, which has cost U.S. taxpayers another $350 billion and American families more than 1,500 military sons and daughters. The Taliban still control many areas of the country.
While we have expended these resources to make ourselves safe from terrorists and Iraq safe for “democratic” institutions, our safety and freedoms have been under attack by a home-grown enemy. Financial deregulation has permitted Wall Street investment banks to engineer new species of “derivative” investments with high levels of risk.
When one class of these financial WMDs — packages of subprime mortgages with inflated ratings — had built up sufficiently in the global financial bloodstream, their toxicity became manifest, sending the U.S. housing market into collapse and initiating a worldwide economic crisis. Rather than allowing these corrupt institutions to fail according to the rules of free-market economics, the president and Congress enabled Wall Street to “leverage” this self-created financial disaster into a $700 billion transfer of public monies into private hands.
As a direct result of this crisis, many Americans are without homes (there have been more than 4 million foreclosures) and without incomes (8 million jobs have been lost). In spite of the Obama stimulus, the economy is still stalled.
Rather than putting additional money into job creation and economic recovery, our elected officials on both federal and state levels, taking their cue and their campaign contributions from the Koch brothers and other worker-unfriendly plutocrats, are in the process of legislating cuts to public programs and the elimination of public-sector jobs and collective-bargaining rights. These measures are being justified as “deficit reduction” and public employees and their unions scapegoated for budget shortfalls more attributable to the results of Wall Street recklessness.
The wave of popular revolts that has swept through the Middle East in the past few months suggests that the U.S. may no longer be capable of manipulating political events in the Arab world. The massive U.S.-supplied arsenal stockpiled by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt ($10 billion in U.S. arms deliveries between 2002 and 2009) was powerless to quell the teeming crowds in Tahrir Square, which forced him from office in February. Economic woes (a 25 percent jobless rate among young people, uncontrolled inflation) were a major factor in the uprising.
If regime change and democratic freedoms can be obtained in countries like Egypt without loss of American lives and expenditure of American dollars, perhaps we should pull back from our military adventurism abroad and focus our energies and resources on our own economic problems. Perhaps it’s time for a popular uprising here.
The money we have spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been used to give President Barack Obama’s stimulus a better chance of success. The money we will save when we end these futile military commitments can be used as the foundation of a new stimulus program to return the American economy to prosperity and restore American jobs.
Sam Jenkins of Orono is a retired technical writer.