Long Burden of Iraq Mistake
This originally appeared as a response to a column published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.
In response to the column by Rep. Greg Steube on June 26: The carnage, death and destruction brought about by the Iraq invasion and occupation are heart-wrenching, not only for those who served, like Rep. Steube, but for all Americans.
Steube correctly recognizes that President Bush made a mistake in invading Iraq. The occupation was also a mistake. Although American troops occupied Iraq for eight years, the Iraqi political process never stabilized.
Steube nevertheless blames President Obama for the collapse of the Iraqi army and the fall of a large part of Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq.
He sets out President Obama’s mistakes as: failure to negotiate an Iraqi status-of-forces agreement and failure to help moderate Sunni insurgents fighting the al-Assad regime in Syria, thus letting al-Qaida take over the insurgency and decimate the moderates.
Steube further argues that Bush redeemed himself "when he green-lighted Gen. David Petraeus’ surge strategy and finally made victory for Americans and Iraqis a reality … and improving Iraqi forces knocked out the insurgency."
To reach the conclusion that America was victorious, Steube oversimplifies issues and overlooks critical facts and policy considerations.
A central fact is that America invaded Iraq, a weak country unable to defend itself from the most powerful country on earth. The invasion resulted in the death of Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands and massive physical devastation. Many, if not most Iraqis, viewed America as an aggressor.
Worse, the invasion and occupation have generated more enemies than friends. America may have won some hearts and minds, but most Iraqis learned to hate us and wanted us gone. A March 2008 ABC/BBC poll found that 46 percent of Iraqis said attacks on U.S. forces were acceptable. Tellingly, only 4 percent believed that U.S. forces were responsible for a drop in violence and 61 percent thought that the presence of U.S. troops worsened security.
In view of the Iraqi people’s attitude, is it surprising that their elected representative would not negotiate a status-of-forces agreement?
Other factors than the surge, such as ethnic cleansing and a tribal revolt, may have played a significant part in the insurgency’s abatement. In any event, pinpointing the cause for the decrease in violence is irrelevant because the Bush administration’s expectation for political progress as a result of the surge never happened.
As for supporting the moderate insurgents in Syria as Steube suggests, we need to ask who are the moderates and who are the extremists?
We should have learned from Iraq that a supposed friend one day is an enemy the next. Lest we forget, the insurgents we armed and financed to fight the Russians in Afghanistan attacked us on 9/11.
Another issue always looms large when considering aid to insurgents. What should be supplied: intelligence, money and material, weapons, air strikes or boots on the ground, and how much of each?
Steube states that we achieved victory in Iraq and then goes on to say that when we left Iraq, "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki predictably returned to the old ways." If his crackdown on Sunnis the day we left was predictable, what was won by the surge that was supposed to open space for political progress? How long would we have had to stay until a return to the old ways was not predictable?
The most important issue that Steube overlooks is the cost of unnecessary war and foreign occupation to America. Sadly, the Iraq folly has cost us over 4,000 brave troops. Hundreds of thousands more have been maimed, injured and damaged psychologically. According to Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the financial cost may end up to be $5 trillion. The current cost is a major contributor to our national debt.
When politicians want troops to fight in foreign lands, they should have the courage of their convictions and declare war. The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to make wars and to fund them. Since World War II, Congress has left these decisions to the executive branch, thereby abdicating its constitutional obligation. Nevertheless, when the wars and occupations fail, the politicians blame the executive.
We never declared war before we invaded Iraq and we borrowed trillions to fund the war instead of paying the cost, including care for the veterans, by raising taxes.
Apparently, Rep. Steube wants more of the same while he blames President Obama for the loss in Iraq.
Gene Jones is president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense Inc. a nonprofit/nonpartisan veterans group formed in opposition to the Iraq invasion.
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