What do we owe our soldiers?
Memorial Day made me sick this year. While I was moved by many of the parades and events held coast to coast and deeply respect those willing souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation, I fear we’ve done a grave disservice to those soldiers eternally resting beneath those white headstones.
Last week saw Ramadi, Iraq fall to ISIS forces shortly after media reports claimed ISIS controls half of neighboring Syria. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told CNN: “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.” The comment ignited a firestorm of protest from Iraqi officials but he didn’t lie.
The ISIS presence in Iraq along with the continuing fighting and corruption in Afghanistan are a slap in the face to the families of the 6,840 U.S. soldiers that have been killed in both conflicts.
But the Iraq war was probably the biggest foreign policy debacle in American history.
By almost every measure the Iraq war has been a disaster. In lives, 4,488 American troops have been killed. Another 32,226 have been wounded (with some saying that number is conservative.) Over 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed with the number easily rocketing past 200,000 when combatants are included.
Iraq war costs are north of $2 trillion, with Iraq and Afghanistan combining for between $4 trillion and $6 trillion by some estimates.
The Iraq war squandered goodwill towards the U.S. after 9/11, removed Iran’s biggest regional threat enabling them to focus on their nuclear program, harmed our prestige with the Abu Ghraib scandal and torture protocols, created the Al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist group, helped form and nourish ISIS and radicalize lone wolf terrorists around the globe. We are no safer because of it.
In light of all of this, it’s important that we remember that this was a war of choice brought about by an administration that lied and manipulated evidence to facilitate it. Don’t be fooled by recent obfuscation attempts by Republican presidential candidates, chickenhawk neocons or New York Times reporter Judith Miller hawking a book with a feeble attempt to justify her war cheerleading. Don’t fall for the excuse that the Iraq war came about due to bad intel.
Don’t listen to their entreaties that other countries had the same flawed intelligence. The crucial difference is those countries’ leaders did not make the repeated false statements ours did and those countries did not lead us to war. Our administration did that. Remember that most of the world was opposed to the Iraq invasion which is why the Bush Administration went in with a “coalition of the willing.” If “everyone knew” Iraq had WMD, why did so many nations oppose the invasion?
The Phase II Senate Intelligence Committee report released on June 5, 2008 says that President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney made statements unsupported by the evidence they had in order to bolster support for war.
Readers may read the press release for the report here that summarizes the findings. http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/press/record.cfm?id=298775
And just last week, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, the man who briefed President George W. Bush every morning, admitted that Dick Cheney lied when he said that Saddam Hussein had “reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
This isn’t a matter of partisan scorekeeping. Governments have often engaged in lies, distortions and manipulation to justify their actions. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident under Democratic President Lyndon Johnson?
And lest anyone think my purpose is to bash a previous administration, let’s remember that a majority of Senate Democrats also voted for the Iraq war resolution. Were they misled? It’s possible some were. But what is more likely is they voted for the resolution to cover their backsides for reelection. The Democrats, that voted for the resolution, like then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, were not exactly profiles in courage.
There is no question that the intelligence services had bad information on Iraq WMD. But there is also no question that the Bush Administration lied, cherry-picked and manipulated intelligence to take the nation to a war that was preordained by neo-cons even before George W. Bush assumed the presidency.
The point is when we commit forces to war it should be a last resort and it shouldn’t be on trumped up grounds. It’s a bitter pill to reflect on our national warriors’ sacrifice on Memorial Day and know that their leadership let them down.
It’s sickening that we have 22 veterans committing suicide every day and a VA hospital system in need of a major overhaul, all while watching Iraq and Afghanistan circle the drain after such an enormous commitment of personnel, treasure and prestige. It’s sickening that thousands lie in their graves over something that didn’t need to happen.
It matters because if we don’t come to terms with the fact that an American administration, along with the acquiescence of a spineless bipartisan Congress, sold a bill of goods to the American people and the world in order to fight a war of choice, then it will happen again. We will prove George Santayana right.
Ultimately, we the American people are responsible. We are the ones who need to hold our leaders’ balls to the fire. Yes, we owe our soldiers support before, during and after a conflict. But don’t we also owe them the truth?
It comes down to whether the truth matters. It comes down to asking what a soldier’s life is worth. If we want to continue to indulge this fiction of an administration making a mistake, then stop pretending to pay tribute to the fallen on Memorial Days in the future. Keep endorsing using our best and brightest to risk their lives for lies. After all, America has a lot more rolling green hills to line with white headstones, right?