The Wreckless, Heavy Toll of the Iraq War

Mar 19, 2013 | By ThinkProgress War Room

imageToday is one anniversary that is definitely not cause for celebration. Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush made the fateful decision to launch the unnecessary Iraq War.

The consequences of this decision have been overwhelming. A new report estimates that the Iraq War will end up costing American taxpayers at least $2.2 TRILLION, but perhaps as much as $4 TRILLION with interest since Bush put the war on the national credit card at the same he slashed taxes on the wealthy.

(Incidentally, $4 TRILLION is the total amount of deficit reduction that President Obama is seeking, including about $2 TRILLION in the current round of negotiations in order to replace the sequester and stabilize our long-term debt.)

The bill for the war may be large, but the human cost of the Iraq War is even more staggering. It’s estimated that 200,000 people, civilians and soldiers alike, were killed as a result of the war. A million other Iraqis were displaced by the conflict.

These topline figures are just the beginning. Our ThinkProgress colleagues outline five ways the U.S. is worse off because of the Iraq War:

1. The debt

At the start of the war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost around $50-60 billion in total. They were wrong by more than a factor of ten, sending the U.S.’ debt soaring, a condition that has yet to be rectified. According to a recent study, the war is set to have cost the U.S $2.2 trillion, though that number may reach up to $4 trillion thanks to interest payments on the loans taken out to finance the conflict. Of that staggering amount, at least $10 billion of it was completely wasted in rebuilding efforts.

2. The physical and psychological strain on U.S. troops.

The soldiers charged with fighting the war were stretched to their limits, put through multiple tours, with increasing length of time overseas as the war stretched on and shrinking downtime in between each. All-told, over 4,000 U.S. troops died during the country’s time in Iraq, with another 31,000 wounded in action. In the aftermath, the cost of providing medical care to veterans has doubled, adding to the difficulties faced by those who served. Up to 35 percent of Iraq War veterans will suffer from PTSD according to a 2009 study, while the suicide rate among veterans has jumped to 22 per day.

3. The forgotten war in Afghanistan.

Even worse, the war in Iraq caused the U.S. to take its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Rather than following through, the Bush administration allowed the country to stagnate, prompting a Taliban resurgence beginning in 2004. As the West focused almost exclusively on Iraq, Taliban fighters imported tactics seen in Iraq to great effect, keeping the Afghan government weak and U.S.-led NATO forces on their heels. The result: the United States is still attempting to tamp down on Taliban momentum today.

4. The opportunity costs.

Aside from missed opportunities in Afghanistan, the Iraq War-effort was all-consuming, pulling resources from all other areas of U.S. defense policy. Relationships with key allies were allowed to grow stale and U.S. prestige around the world plummeted. Fighting in Iraq was realized to be a diversion from combating al Qaeda, drawing funding that could have gone towards a litany of other efforts to effectively counter terrorism.

5. The strengthening of Iran and al Qaeda.

The power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam and the lack of adequate U.S. forces left room for U.S. adversaries to fill the void. Counter to what some still believe, Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq prior to 2003. Instead, it was only in the post-Saddam climate that they gained a foothold in the form of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group continues to carry out attacks against civilians to this day, keeping the Iraqi government on edge.

In the end, it was not the United States that gained the most strategically from invading Iraq, but the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. In removing Saddam Hussein’s predominantly Sunni regime from power, the U.S. opened the door to a greater Iranian influence in the region. That influence has been seen playing out counter to U.S. interests in situations such as allowing Iranian planes bearing weapons for Syria to cross Iraqi airspace.

Given that we know now that the war was launched on false premises and have witnessed what has happened since, you’d think the architects of the war would at least admit they wrong or express some regret. You’d be wrong.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took to Twitter today to pat himself on back:

“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”

Richard Perle argued in an opinion piece earlier this week that it was still right to have removed Saddam Hussein, even though he had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Top war architect Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that things “spiraled out of control,” but blamed others and argued that things would’ve been different if the war had been prosecuted his way (it was, incidentally).

Astonishingly, the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka even went so far this week as to argue that the mess in Iraq is really President Obama’s fault. This view was echoed yesterday by Fouad Ajami, a conservative intellectual close to Wolfowitz and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also criticized Obama for ending “an honorable war.”

It appears that the American people are smarter, or at least more honest, than the neocons who led us into perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Polls out this week show that a majority of Americans believe the Iraq War was not worth fighting.

Check out our complete timeline of the Iraq War. For more on the true costs of the Iraq War, please see our updated Iraq War Ledger.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed

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The “Fiscal” Cliff

Right now, President Obama is working with leaders of both parties in Washington to reduce the deficit in a balanced way so we can lay the foundation for long-term middle-class job growth and prevent your taxes from going up.

We want to keep you informed about how the President is fighting for you so you can continue to talk to your friends, family, and neighbors. So here’s the deal:

Graphic: Reducing the deficit in a balanced wayThe President's plan extends tax cuts for 98 percent of AmericansEliminates tax cuts for the wealthiest AmericansCuts spending by more than $3 trillionThe Results

That’s the President’s plan, but he’s not wedded to every detail. He is determined to work with Congress to find compromise and common ground. His guiding principle throughout this debate will be what’s best for the middle class. He’ll be fighting for you.

These problems are challenging, but they’re solvable. In fact, the Senate has already passed a bill to keep your taxes low. The House needs to pass it, and Congress should get it to the President as soon as possible.
There’s a lot at stake. With your help we’ll continue to move this country forward.

Even House Republicans Can’t Stomach Spending $17,000 on a Helicopter Drip Pan.

— By Miriam Pemberton and Gabriel I. Rossman

Miriam PembertonGabriel I. Rossman

Here’s a milestone of sorts. In July, for the first time since 1998, the House of Representatives voted to maintain the current military budget rather than increase Pentagon spending. It’s the first step toward bringing the budget down.

Within the bill, which included more than $600 billion for the military, the House embedded a few gestures toward fiscal sanity. Most important was the decision of 89 Republicans to join most Democrats in shaving a billion bucks off the budget that House Republican leaders had proposed. That’s mostly a symbolic move in a budget of this size, but worth celebrating nevertheless.

Less publicized was a much smaller gesture. Congress voted to block Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the chair of the House committee in charge of spending, from steering a contract to his district in Kentucky to buy $17,000 drip pans for Black Hawk helicopters.

$17,000 whats? You know, pans that catch leaking transmission fluid. As The New York Times reported in May, other Army helicopters do fine with a $2,500 model. Congress ruled that the chair of the spending committee couldn’t reward a frequent campaign contributor with a contract that somebody else could fulfill at 1/8th the cost to the taxpayer.

Rogers’ drip pans deal would have cost about $5 million over three years — chump change in the budget Congress was voting on. So why did they axe this particular sweet deal? Maybe they were a little worried that it would become the next $800 toilet seat.

Back in the 1980s, this fixture on a Navy plane — we’re not talking the price of a toilet mind you, just the seat — epitomized military waste. As a symbol the public could really visualize, its discovery expedited contracting reform. Other egregious examples emerged: a $436 claw hammer that looked like the kind you could pick up at the hardware store for $15, and a $7,622 coffee maker before espresso bars became commonplace, to name a few.

A pan that catches transmission fluid might not trigger the same outrage as that pricey toilet seat. But with the nation careening toward the edge of a fiscal cliff, the timing is right. As conservative lawmakers make speeches in the coming months about their belief that Pentagon spending must be preserved at the expense of everything else, the $17,000 drip pan offers a handy rebuttal.

So Congress tried to head this particular program off before it got too much publicity. Of course, at the same time it rejected other modest, sane, cost-cutting gestures, such as nixing the Pentagon’s $72 million advertising budget for NASCAR races.

We won’t get too carried away with this glimmer of hope that a sane approach to military spending is around the corner. Still, 89 Republicans and most Democrats did say no to Rep. Rogers, the “Prince of Pork.” And for the first time since before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress voted to trim its leaders’ aspirations for the overall military budget. It’s a start.


Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Gabriel Rossman is a student at Wesleyan University. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)