The last combat troops have left Iraq, as a convoy of the 4th Stryker Brigade rumbled in the wee hours of August 19, 2010, from Iraq toward U.S. bases in Kuwait. At the end of August, Operation Iraqi Freedom will end and 50,000 advisory and security troops will remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 for a new phase to be known as Operation New Dawn. (May we have a new dawn in the United States, please?—or is it not “morning in America” anymore?)
Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports here on how the U.S. State Department, with about 2,400 civilian employees protected by up to 7,000 private security guards, will continue the training of Iraqi police and assist with political stabilization and other functions—including counterterrorism—in an effort to help Iraq rebuild without the presence of U.S. combat troops. The 2,400 civilian State Department employees will work at the Baghdad embassy and regional outposts in Mosul, Kirkuk, and at consulates in Erbil and Basra. Gordon writes:
The startup cost of building and sustaining two embassy branch offices—one in Kirkuk and the other in Mosul—and of hiring security contractors, buying new equipment and setting up two consulates in Basra and Erbil is about $1 billion. It will cost another $500 million or so to make the two consulates permanent. And getting the police training program under way will cost about $800 million.
So, the combat forces are withdrawing, returning to the Homeland. Some soldiers will get to rejoin their families after a long time away—we wish them well—and others will have to redeploy in maybe six months to Afghanistan, where Obama’s surge continues.
Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?
It is surely a good thing that the combat forces are withdrawing from Iraq, but why don’t we feel any pleasure or pride? What has been accomplished, aside from doubling the price of a gallon of gas and making Iran the main power in the region? The soldiers themselves surely feel some pride and relief, and after all their hard work they deserve more than a good cigar. But what have we gained? Where is the security? The United States is immeasurably poorer, more weak and divided than when this war began—economically, socially, politically. As of this writing, 4,415 American soldiers are dead; tens of thousands are wounded, many critically, missing limbs, and some with unimaginable brain and neurological injuries, and alarming numbers have committed suicide: 27 in July alone, 32 in June. (In addition to all the Iraqi dead—estimates are around 100,000—there have been 179 British dead and 139 from other Coalition nations.) And then there’s the psychological, soul damage the soldiers suffer, and the broken marriages, the frayed family relationships, the children who have grown from infants to eight- and ten-year-olds hardly even knowing their fathers or mothers who have been away on multiple deployments and come home virtually strangers with scant job prospects here in the Homeland. But Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, so maybe it’s all worthwhile.
Meanwhile the war in Afghanistan—the one that began in October 2001—goes on and on, with 2,005 dead and casualties increasing in frequency, while General David Petraeus with tacit administration backing begins a P.R. campaign to tamp down expectations of withdrawal from that war despite the president’s promise—or strong suggestion, sort of—that U.S. forces would begin pulling out of that interminable war by July 2011. (At the same time, Aug. 17, professional alarmist and provocateur John Bolton—whom George W. Bush’s appointed as U.N. ambassador—warns ominously that Israel has “only eight days left” in which to strike Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility to stop Iran from acquiring the capacity to build a nuclear plant. This neocon campaign will go on . . .)
The wars since 2001 have cost over $1 trillion, with over $740 billion spent in Iraq and $325 billion in Afghanistan. Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the Iraq War will ultimately cost $3 trillion when all health care costs over the soldiers’ lifetimes are factored in. The continuing cost of the State Department’s mission in Iraq was hinted at above, but how much more will the U.S. spend on that nation? How many more lives will be lost, and how much more national wealth that could be spent on jobs programs for the millions of unemployed and the rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure?
One positive sign of increasing congressional unwillingness to continue funding the wars was seen in the recent vote on $59 billion in appropriations for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. On July 27 the House of Representatives voted 308 to 114 (148 Democrats and 160 Republicans in favor, and 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans opposing). Last year the “no” votes came from 32 Democrats, so opposition has increased by 82 votes and is becoming bipartisan. Please go to our Political Action page and contact your members of Congress to urge them to wind down the wars and appropriate your tax dollars for use here at home for the public good. National security begins at home.
We welcome the troops back from Iraq, and hope that most of them will get to stay home and build good relations with their families and communities. We hope the U.S. government—through a functioning, better-funded Veterans Administration—will give them the health care and psychological counseling they need and deserve. And we hope a good many of them will join us in the anti-war movement to bring the Afghanistan war to a close so we can begin to rebuild our own war-torn land. As President Obama said at West Point last December when he announced the 30,000-troop increase, “we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”
Let’s hold him to that pledge—and his promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in mid-2011.
Frayed flag photograph by Geneviève Hafner: Bushwick, Brooklyn, 2002.