Thirteen years ago today 2,977 innocent civilians died during the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Thirteen years later we are still fighting the wars we launched in response—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and now in Somalia, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. I’d like to take a moment to analyze the implications of our response, a response that has had political, military and economic consequences beyond what I think many of us realize or acknowledge.
Let’s start with some numbers:
– 4,489 – Number of American military casualties in Iraq (as of 9/5/14)
– 32,021 – Number of American military personnel wounded in action
– 129,624 – 145,316. Documented civilian deaths from violence in Iraq.
– 954,129 – Number of Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq (UNHCR)
– 246,298 – Iraqi refugees (UNHCR)
– 50 – The percentage of the “…$20 trillium in debt that, under current policies, the nation will owe by 2019” that is due to the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
Now I’d like to make several assertions:
1) Absent the Bush tax cuts and the war in Iraq, the Great Recession would have been far milder. Who can argue that a country that is less saddled with debt is more able to weather a financial storm? Or that a focus on running two wars will distract from other issues, such as a housing bubble, declining wages and crumbling infrastructure. Think of it like this: if you lose your job at a time when you are $100,000 in debt you are far more likely to be forced into bankruptcy than in you owe $50,000. The less indebted you are, the more liquidity you have, the more quickly you are able to take action; in this example, you might take classes to bolster your skillset, do some freelance work or move to a place with more jobs.
2) Absent the war in Iraq, Syria would not have descended into civil war–resulting in over 200,000 dead civilians and hundreds of thousands of refugees. As unpleasant as it may be to admit it, life under Saddam Husseim was infinitely better than it is now; Iraq had good hospitals, universities, infrastructure, and most importantly, the vast majority of citizens didn’t fear for their lives on a daily basis. Of course Saddam was a brutal dictator, but this should be so self-evident as to not merit mentioning: if we were to go to war with every country run by a dictator, we’d be bombing half the planet! As soon as we destabilized Iraq–a country that had served as a strong counterbalance to Iran–we scrambled the entire geopolitical chessboard. Iran went on a feeding frenzy, much as Pakistan did in Afghanistan, funding an insurgency and waging a proxy war againt the United States. Then, when protests turned violent in Syria, Iran began to support Bashar Al Assad, a move that blunted the protest movement, forced a stalement, and helped create a situation in which groups such as ISIS were able to take adantage of the chaos and lawlessness and establish a foothold in the country.
I bring all of this up because last night President Obama announced that we will once again be involved militarily in the region.