On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, insurgents against the government in power there killed at least 65 people, and wounded more than 240, in the deadliest day in that strife-torn country this year. The attacks that killed the people were thought to have been led by al-Qaida’s Iraq arm.
It is yet again a stark reminder of the premature declaration of former President George W. Bush when he blustered on board a jet fighter off the coast of Iraq that the mission there had been accomplished. Far from it. In the decade since Bush had American troops invade Iraq and oust dictator Saddam Hussein, nearly 4,500 Americans have died in the conflict, while more than 100,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war and ongoing conflicts between Sunni and Shiite militants.
And for what? Today, the Shiite-led government is closer in its relationships to Iran than America, and many think al-Qaida is aiming to destablize the tenous government in Iraq as part of regional Islamic effort to spread its militant reach. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that the results of the war were not exactly what Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney had in mind (corporate partnerships for their big-business friends with that country’s oil supplies) when they committed American soldiers and the nation’s resources down that sinkhole.
The death of soldiers on both sides of the war, destruction of the country, and continued conflicts that may end up worse for American relations throughout the Middle East are all good reasons to reflect on the validity of entering that war, but there are significant ongoing costs to consider as well.
A recent Associated Press story noted that American taxpayers are shelling out more than $12 billion a year to compensate veterans and families involved in the Iraq, Afghanistan and 1991 Persian Gulf conflict — an amount that is expected to peak in years to come and linger for another lifetime.
The same study showed that taxpayers are still paying $22 billion annually in compensation to soldiers and their families for those involved in the Vietnam War — a war that ended 40 years ago in 1973. All told, America is spending $40 billion annually to compensate veterans and survivors from the Spanish-American War in 1898 (ten remaining beneficiaries), War War I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and the more recent Middle East conflicts. The compensation programs involved include: disabled veterans; survivors of those who died on active duty or from a service-related disability; low-income wartime vets who are older than 65 or disabled; and low-income survivors of wartime veterans or their disabled children.
No politician is suggesting any of these benefits be cut, but it’s important to recognize the enormous costs involved when the nation makes the decision to go to war. At an annual cost of $22 billion for Vietnam vets and their families, that’s twice the current annual budget of the FBI.
Mission accomplished? Hardly. There may be legitimate reasons to go to war, but each time we do, it takes generations to pay off the tab.
Angelo S. Lynn