Unless the United States withdraws its military forces from Iraq in the near future, a war that began as an unnecessary invasion based on deception and predictably grew into a disastrous occupation will go down in history as a terrible crime, if it hasn’t already. For Americans of conscience, Iraq has therefore become the paramount moral issue of our time.
Those of us who were against the war even before it began were often disdained, but now, after four years, only the most myopic or callous among its many well-placed supporters can deny the catastrophic consequences. By inspiring legions of anti-American terrorists where there were few, by straining the US military to its breaking point, by alienating traditional and potential allies abroad, by frightening other states into acquiring new weapons and by provoking popular revulsion around the world, the war has undermined our real national security, from Russia, Afghanistan and the Middle East to the “Homeland.” And by already spending more than $400 billion, suffocating other policy initiatives and polarizing the nation, it has prevented the domestic reforms this country urgently needs.
But it is the war’s human costs that must be emphasized above all else. The Bush Administration and its bipartisan enablers have already squandered more than 3,100 American lives and maimed tens of thousands more for an unworthy and unwinnable military adventure whose declared purpose has changed repeatedly–from capturing Iraq’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction, to fighting Al Qaeda, to deposing a tyrant, to spreading democracy and now to countering Iran. As a result, the families of those American victims have been left without even the solace of knowing their sacrifices were not in vain.
Still worse, all innocent life being equal, is the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe the US war and occupation have wrought in Iraq itself. Since 2003 that society has been decimated. Anywhere between 58,000 and 655,000 are estimated to have been killed, and a great many other bodies have been shattered, not to mention the thousands inhumanely imprisoned and mistreated; approximately 4 million have been driven in fear from their hometowns and villages, a figure increasing by 50,000 every month, about half of those out of the country; and much of its once modern social and economic infrastructures have been pounded into rubble. Among the major casualties is Iraq’s middle class, a prerequisite of stability, whose professions, prospects and notable religious tolerance have been all but destroyed, along with many mixed Shiite-Sunni marriages and extended families. “This,” lamented a young Iraqi, “is civilization gone backwards.” The US war is not solely responsible for these tragedies, but it made them possible.