Yesterday was March 19. Until 2003, my associations with this date were positive. It’s my son’s birthday. And it’s the day the swallows return to Capistrano, harbingers of the spring that comes in the week of March 19, a season of renewal and rebirth.
But on March 19, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, a sovereign nation. The Bush administration claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and posed a terrorist threat to our national security and to the world. They invented a preposterous link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.
It was all a bunch of lies.
Congress – Democrats as well as Republicans – bought these lies, as did the American press and the majority of the American people. There was no stopping the tragedy that was about to unfold. Those of us who opposed this war, who never bought the lies, felt powerless. And public opinion was against us.
Since 9/11, there had been an American flag sticker pasted on the ashtray of my car, a reflection of the sense of patriotism we all felt in the wake of 9/11, and the sense of community engendered by that terrible attack on our country. But with the American invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, I removed the sticker.
We were squandering all the goodwill that followed 9/11. We were embarking on what would undoubtedly be judged as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in United States history. We were about to set into motion a process of death and destruction for which there was no justification. And all I could do to protest was remove an American flag sticker from the ashtray in my car, although I did talk against the war every chance I could.
In those early days, this viewpoint was a minority one. Now, polls show, a clear majority of Americans agree that the war was a mistake.
Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the invasion that began a destructive, death-filled, tragic occupation that lasted nearly nine years and accomplished nothing good, all of which was predictable from the outset. None of this needed to happen.
The Brown University Costs of War Project results, released last week, illustrate the tragedy of this ill conceived war. U.S. military personnel killed number 4,500, with another 3,400 U.S. private contractors dead. More than 30,000 Americans were wounded. The true number wounded, including the psychologically wounded, is perhaps tens of thousands more.
And often overlooked – as if we don’t count the Iraqis as people – are 134,000 Iraqi civilians killed. CIVILIANS. And that number could be hundreds of thousands more, if deaths caused by war related hardships are included, not to mention the numbers of displaced Iraqis who became refugees.
The human costs are enormous – one conservative estimate is 290,000 dead. So are the dollar costs. The Brown University study finds the direct war related costs to be $2.2 trillion.
The Iraq war, like the war in Afghanistan, was fought off budget, as an emergency that was never included in the annual budget, never paid for. This cost, coupled with the Bush tax cuts, is the major contributing factor in the size of our national debt.
The dollar costs and the human costs of the Iraq war will be with us far into the future. And what do we have to show for this enormous expenditure of resources?
As we marked the tenth anniversary of this invasion yesterday, bomb blasts tore through Baghdad. At least 56 people were killed, and more than 200 were wounded in protests against Iraq’s Shiite-led government. After a decade, Iraq remains violent and unstable.
U.S. involvement destabilized not only Iraq, but contributed to a destabilizing of the region and strengthened Iran. And our involvement brought Al Qaeda into Iraq,where it never existed under Saddam Hussein. During the war, thanks to us, Iraq became a hotbed for terrorists.
But the architects of this terrible war – some would call them war criminals, with justification – remain unrepentant.
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld marks the anniversary with this tweet: “10 years ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Former vice president Dick Cheney said in a television interview: “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.”
And former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says he still believes it was the right thing to do.
The architects of the war now rely on feeble justifications like ‘ending Saddam Hussein’s reign of tyranny’ and the ‘liberation of 25 million Iraqis.’
But toppling a dictator (there are other dictators and many distasteful regimes) is not justification for invading a sovereign nation (and that was not our stated reason for the invasion). Moreover, there’s a strong argument to be made that our so-called ‘liberation’ of Iraq created far more hardship, death and destruction for the people of Iraq than the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
March 19, once a date I associated with birth and renewal, the return of the swallows and the coming of spring, is now associated with violence and death in my mind.
But I’m still left with the hope that the swallows continue returning to Capistrano in this week of spring. I’m hoping that centuries old patterns of migration will not be disrupted by the destructive human environmental impact that’s affecting so many creatures, from frogs to polar bears. I’m hoping that our leaders will heed the environmental warnings and not snuff out the promise of spring.
On this tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, as we remember and honor those brave members of our armed services who gave their lives, or suffered wounds, in service to their country, let us soberly reflect on the awesome sacrifices they’ve made and the difficult lessons we’ve learned.
On this first day of spring, may we remember and draw strength from the forces of life.