24th December 2011
The withdrawal from Iraq is to be celebrated like a migraine that finally subsides. It is what the majority of Americans have long asked for through pollsters and by their election of a president who promised to get us out.
It is what peace advocates have marched and lobbied for since before the invasion began. So, yes, it’s wonderful to have those troops come home.
The sacrifices of our military personnel are to be applauded; they gave their all when asked to serve. Yet, out of respect for them and future vets, we must be honest with ourselves. This was not a “good war.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicolas Burns, who initially supported the invasion of Iraq, writes that “any good from it was far outweighed by the sacrifices of our soldiers and the significant damage to our international credibility.”
We lost 4,484 young American men and women and an estimated 100,000 were wounded. Human rights groups estimate 114,000 Iraqis were killed and several million displaced.
The economic toll, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, was close to $6 trillion not counting the “opportunity costs.”
“If not for the war in Iraq”, he asks, “would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?” His answer is “probably not.”
But at least the war is over now, right? Probably not.
There remain 16,000 “contractors and embassy personnel,” and reinforcements are just across the border in Kuwait. As if to be reassuring, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared: “We still have a robust continuing presence throughout the region.”
Apparently the war has not ended. We’ve just ended a phase, the Iraq war … sort of.
We remain at war in Afghanistan, of course, which also tends to dampen the celebration, especially when one hears officials talk of extending that to 2024.
The war drums are now beating for Iran. And beyond the Middle East, the U.S. is expanding its military presence in the Pacific and Africa.
We are enmeshed in a state of permanent war. Theaters of war open and close, but are not won or lost. They are wars to maintain geopolitical domination and project power. We may not be used to thinking of America in this way, but these are the characteristics of an “empire.”
We all pay for this permanent war, euphemistically called “security.” The complex of “security related programs” consumes 60 percent of the federal discretionary budget. The cost since 2001 to North Carolina taxpayers of the wars alone has been $31.7 billion. Durham City taxpayers share of the wars amount to $794.4 million.
When Congress cuts payments to doctors serving Medicaid and Medicare patients, or raises the age of Social Security, or cuts community block grants, or refuses to fund job generating projects, or declines to invest in clean energy, but protects “security spending,” we are paying for permanent war and, it must be added, tax cuts to the wealthy.
When financially strapped state governments subsequently cut education services, libraries, environmental protection, universities and health services, we are paying the tab for war.
But our nation is not broke; it’s making bad choices. Such decisions to fund wars-without-end cost us our true security, i.e. a sustainable economy, a well-educated citizenry, and energy independence.
In President Eisenhower’s farewell address he issued a warning for us all: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Fortunately, we have some alert local leaders who are clearly stating that decisions about war spending have local consequences.
The Durham City Council recently passed a resolution calling upon the president and Congress “to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt.”
Similar resolutions were passed this fall by the Durham County Board of Commissioners and the Durham Board of Education.
Twenty General Assembly officials likewise asked Congress to “redirect tens of billions of dollars from excess military spending and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq toward meeting urgent domestic needs.”
It will take this kind of leadership, plus many citizens challenging the assumptions of empire, if we want to reset our priorities. Bringing the troops home from Iraq gives me hope that in the coming year we may also bring at least some of the war dollars home and restore our communities.
Betsy Crites is director of NC Peace Action.