Ten years later, I’m pleased and proud to remind my readers that I opposed the Iraq War before it started. “It would be a terrible mistake to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq,” I wrote shortly before the bombs began falling on Baghdad in March 2003.
Iraq was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and turned out to be a very costly — in lives and taxpayer dollars — exercise in foreign policy failure and futility.
Nearly 4,500 young Americans were killed in Iraq, and ex-President George W. Bush’s “war of choice” cost taxpayers at least $820 billion and added more than $ 1 trillion to our national debt. The average annual operational cost per U.S. soldier in Iraq was $462,000 between 2005 and 2009, and the Defense Department’s special inspector for Iraq reconstruction estimated that the U.S. lost to corruption and/or waste at least $8 billion of the $60 billion earmarked by Congress for the reconstruction of Iraq.
In other words, crooked Iraqis and U.S. contractors stole at least $8 billion from American taxpayers during the war. As Michael Boyle of London’s respected Guardian newspaper wrote, “Private companies acted like pigs at the trough, wasting taxpayer dollars ... while the insurgency raged around them.”
Washington Post Associate Editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a veteran Middle East correspondent and author of a best-selling book about the early years of the Iraq War, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” recently wrote a column titled “Five Myths About Iraq.” His myths are as follows:
1. The troop surge succeeded. Although the surge helped to reduce the level of violence in Iraq, it was a “flop” when it came to political compromise because “the majority Shiites didn’t want to give the Sunnis and Kurds a greater role in the government and security forces,” Chandrasekaran wrote.
2. Iraq today is relatively peaceful. No way! On the 10th anniversary of the war early this month, bombs exploded throughout the country, killing at least 60 people and wounding many more.
3. Iraq is a democracy. “It is, on paper. In practice, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is exercising authority and centralizing power in ways that remind many Iraqis of Saddam Hussein.”
4. Iraq is in Iran’s pocket. Not really, because even though Iran is Iraq’s most important strategic ally, “Tehran’s love and money don’t guarantee that Iraqi Shiites will do its bidding.”
5. The Americans have all left. No we haven’t, because 220 U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq along with more than 10,000 American diplomats at the biggest U.S. embassy in the world, in Baghdad.
So we continue to pour hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into Iraq with negligible results in terms of our national security. I think it’s time to cut way back on our presence in that violent and unstable part of the world and reduce the amount of money that we’re spending on development assistance in Iraq and elsewhere in the troubled Middle East. As the old song goes, money can’t buy us friends. Witness the situation in Afghanistan, where we’re supposed to be “helping” the corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai, who wants to kick us out of his country. We should take him up on his offer sooner rather than later.
Guy W. Farmer is a retired American diplomat.