Peace activists take little solace in knowing they were right about Afghanistan and Iraq
By John Grula 05/02/2013
Pardon the language, but this is one pissed off hippie over our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This article briefly examines why that is by looking at three aspects of these long and bloody conflicts: The human costs, what good (if any) these wars have actually accomplished and the monetary costs to our nation — up to this point and far into the future.
The Afghanistan War is in its 12th year, which makes it America’s longest war. It has claimed nearly 2,100 American lives and more than 18,000 Americans have been wounded — many with debilitating injuries, such as lost limbs. Thousands of others are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious mental health problems. Approximately 66,000 American troops currently remain in Afghanistan, and although about half are supposed to come home this year, in the meantime they remain in harm’s way.
In addition, more than 850 troops from non-US NATO members have been killed, with the United Kingdom and Canada taking the biggest hits (441 and 158, respectively). And last, but certainly not least, what about the Afghan people? Afghan civilian casualties have been difficult to tabulate, but military violence has certainly caused many thousands of civilian deaths and probably tens of thousands have died as a result of displacement, disease, starvation and exposure. Many Afghan women and children have been killed by American airstrikes, and as recently as April 7 The New York Times reported that 10 children died in a US bombing aimed at a senior Taliban commander.
The Iraq War, if anything, has been even bloodier. Nearly 4,500 American troops died there and about 30,000 were seriously wounded. PTSD is also rampant among Iraq War veterans. In addition, according to the Web site “Iraq Body Count,” well over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of military violence have been documented since the US-led invasion began 10 years ago, and some estimates of the total civilian casualties go much higher. The surge in violence in Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003 has continued even after the departure in 2011 of the last US combat troops. On April 7 the Los Angeles Times reported that a suicide bomber killed 20 people at a lunch hosted by a Sunni candidate in Iraq’s regional elections. Such mayhem is still common in Iraq.
What good has come from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Next to nothing, and in the case of Iraq, America and the world may be worse off. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim and an arch-enemy of Shiite Iran, and having him replaced by the current Shiite prime minister, Nouri Maliki, means “Iran appears the victor in postwar Iraq,” according to a March 29 LA Times headline. So, our Iraq War only elevated the power and influence of our current “Public Enemy No. 1,” Iran, and now Iraq is, in many ways, a client state of the Islamic Republic. When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Maliki in late March, he was unable to persuade him to stop Iranian flights (thought to be carrying weapons to the besieged Assad regime in Syria) from crossing Iraqi airspace. According to the Times article, “Iraqi officials say Washington’s political influence in Baghdad is now virtually nonexistent.”
In Afghanistan, the Taliban remains a potent force and it is by no means certain that President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan army we’ve trained and equipped will be able to stave off the Taliban and remain in power after our troops leave. When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, in early March, two deadly suicide bombings occurred minutes apart, one just a half-mile from a US facility where Hagel was being briefed. According to the LA Times, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack closest to Hagel.
The monetary costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are already huge, with the bill to taxpayers standing at about $2.3 trillion so far. According to a new study by Linda Bilmes, a public policy expert at Harvard University, the costs of the wars will continue to grow and could ultimately climb to between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, making them together the most expensive in US history. They are, without a doubt, a major cause of our current federal budget deficits. According to Bilmes, the costs will continue to mount over the next 30 to 40 years, primarily because of medical care and disability benefits for our veterans.
These wars were started and disastrously prosecuted by a Republican administration and received almost unanimous support from Republicans in Congress. Of course, now it’s congressional Republicans who are screaming the loudest about our current budget deficits. They need only look in a mirror to see who is at fault.
Finally, it is tragic that these wars were also supported by many Democrats, including local Congressman Adam Schiff. Let’s hope some lessons have been learned. Meanwhile, to all of those people who opposed these wars from the very beginning: You were right! Keep on working for peace.
John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists