When my daughter recently asked why our daily newspaper only updates the number of Americans killed in Iraq, at first I fumbled for an answer. Somehow managing an air of assuredness, I told her that no one really knows how many Iraqis have died, which, I suppose, is a half-truth. I could not admit the whole truth, that the countless Iraqi dead are only countless because America does not bother to count them.
Over the past four years, how many Americans have given thought, like my daughter, to how many Iraqis have been killed as a result of this profoundly misbegotten war? Truth is tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in the rubble of our misdeeds, along with nearly thirty-six hundred Americans. That America still seems unaware or simply unbothered, blithely evoking the memory of our own catastrophic loss almost six years ago as justification, has led the global community to conclude that to Americans, non-American life must be cheap.
Such a conclusion is understandable. Killing others for the sake of one’s own security does assume their lives have lesser value. As much as Americans might recoil at this suggestion, our collective oblivion to the toll this war has taken on everyday Iraqis only confirms its veracity.
No matter our intentions, when we kill the innocent, we become the enemy, and the ranks of those who wish to do us harm swell in turn. And with each civilian humiliated or killed, the intensity of their hatred and fervor grows. With every passing week the war in Iraq allows an elusive and inexhaustible counterinsurgency to claim further justification for its own inexcusable violence and crimes.
Throughout the Islamic and even the Western world, well-educated and thoughtful young Muslims now liken America to Nazi Germany. To many Muslims young and old, democracy and liberty have become synonymous with military occupation, the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, and the death of civilians. Since our invasion, extensive and repeated international polling in Muslim countries reveals that there has been a drastic increase in the number of people across the world convinced America is their enemy.
How does this make us more secure?
In military terms, this war has been a recruiting sergeant for the very forces of terror our leaders sought to destroy. Rather than controlling terrorism, this war has licensed it, and has endangered rather than enhanced our national security. Iraq itself has become the new Afghanistan, even as recent Taliban advances pointedly demonstrate that we have failed to completely secure the old Afghanistan.
The unprovoked and unwarranted invasion and conquest of Iraq diverted our attention and resources from our proper course: clearing out every terrorist haven – which Iraq was not – and capturing and bringing to justice every terrorist responsible for September 11. Common sense, that one should not start new wars when others are unfinished, was ignored. Rather than chase bin Laden and al-Qaeda to the ends of the earth, we have instead chased our nation’s fortune into the mouth of an omnivorous and never-ending war.
(Conspiracy theorists, spare me your invectives. An administration that with one breath you would curse as being more stupid than stone, the most incompetent in American history, with another breath you would congratulate as being so brilliantly devious as to pull off the greatest and most complex and sophisticated conspiracy in human history?).
Nothing of vital interest to the United States necessitated this misadventure. All justifications for going to war in Iraq save that Saddam was a brutal tyrant have proven vacuous. This war was not thrust upon us; we chose it.
Our continuing presence in Iraq is each day not only generating more terrorists, but also diverting resources from more urgent needs at home and elsewhere abroad. America is draining its Treasury of well over a billion dollars a week fighting every prospective terrorist to death in Iraq – a prescription for endless war – that might otherwise be spent here at home improving our national security by fortifying our cities and our ports, and protecting our people against poverty, ill-health, ill-education, and the threats of disaster natural and manmade.
It is long past time for this gigantic distortion in our national priorities to be called to an end. This war that our leaders have concocted has sapped our military strength, our credibility, our economy, our disaster preparedness, our morale, and our moral standing in the world. It has increased the threats America faces, and reduced the military, financial, and diplomatic tools with which we can respond. It is time to bring our troops home.
It’s getting too late to look ugly. Even our military leaders now admit that the insurgency cannot be defeated by force. Our military is strained to the breaking point, and is increasingly unable to meet its recruiting goals. It is time to bring our troops home.
Americans themselves have gone from thinking the war was not a mistake to thinking that it was. The most recent polls show a record 67 percent disapproving of the President’s handling of Iraq, while 63 percent said some or all U.S. troops should withdraw. And in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqis, even the majority Shiites, tell pollsters that they would like to see an end to the American occupation of their country. It is time to bring our troops home.
However, a massive American army occupying a nation half a world away cannot be withdrawn “immediately”. America must establish a clear and short timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and then immediately halt our construction of permanent military bases and begin to reduce our military presence.
And America should not be seen as withdrawing, wounded, into its emotional carapace. A withdrawal from Iraq must be coupled with new regional and international diplomatic initiatives that will, in addition to the withdrawal and to the reinvestment of resources here at home, make us stronger and more secure.