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Thursday, Mar 19, 2009, 1:34 pm

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: Happy Birthday, Iraq War

By Jeremy Gantz
Exactly six years ago today, I sat watching American bombs fall on Iraq, orange explosions breaking through the dark sky above Baghdad. I was in shock, having been stupid enough to think my country would not invade and mostly destroy a country which had not attacked or even threatened American soil.

I was watching CNN, of course, like millions of other Americans. But I was actually in Europe that day, having taken a break from college that month to visit friends studying abroad. U.S.-"Old Europe" relations were at their lowest in decades. Massive protests filled public squares. In Florence and elsewhere, I repeatedly saw "U.S.=Nazi" spray-painted onto walls.

While that sort of incendiary rhetoric still strikes me as ridiculous, I agreed totally with everyone who protested the war in early 2003, and still do. Although the folly of the Iraq War seems less tangible now that day-to-day violence in Iraq has been tamped down, and President Obama has been lauded for his plan to bring two-thirds of U.S. troops home by August 2010 (with 50,000 remaining until the end of 2011), the war continues to be a disaster in almost every respect.

A quiet(er) Iraq does not mean a successful Iraq, or a successful U.S. venture. I've never thought that the U.S. government's aims in Iraq could find success, and still don't. The neoconservative dream of a beacon of Democracy in the heart of the Middle East remains just that: a dream. The best thing we can hope for is that we've allowed Iraqis to define their own future. That's it. Anything else – securing the U.S., dealing a major blow to international terrorism – is fanciful.

That process of self-definition, pockmarked by violence and atomized by chaos and fear, has already begun. But it cannot occur naturally, and thus optimally, because of the continued U.S. presence throughout the country. Our continued presence generates its own consequences and negative, violent feedback loops.

But enough from me. Here are some stunning stats from the Associated Press today:

U.S. TROOP LEVELS IN IRAQ

--March 31, 2003: 90,000.
--Current troop level, on March 13, 2009: 138,000.
--Month with highest level of troops in Iraq: October 2007, at 166,000.

U.S. CASUALTIES

--Total number of U.S. troops who have died as of March 17, 2009: at least 4,259.
--Total number of U.S. troops wounded in action as of Feb. 28, 2009: at least 31,102.
--Total number of U.S. troops wounded, injured or sickened (non-hostile, using medical air transport) as of Feb. 28, 2009: at least 36,106.

IRAQI CIVILIAN CASUALTIES:

--More than 91,121 killed since the 2003 invasion, according to the Iraq Body Count database.

Of course, that last Iraq Body Count figure should almost certainly be higher. A January 2008 U.N. study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that between 104,000 and 223,000 Iraqi civilians had died, as of June 2006. That was nearly three years ago. The AP stats continue...

OVERALL COST:

--Over $605 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has approved more than $657 billion so far for the Iraq war.
--Total tab for Iraq war, accounting for continued military operations, growing debt and interest payments and continuing health care and counseling costs for veterans: At least $3 trillion, according to economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.

NATIONWIDE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE:

--January 2004: 30-45 percent
--January 2009: 23-38 percent

REFUGEES AND EMIGRANTS: INTERNAL REFUGEES AND EMIGRANTS:

--2008: Some 195,000 internally displaced Iraqis were able to return home. However, as of November 2008, there were at least 2.8 million people still displaced inside Iraq.
--Prewar: 500,000 Iraqis living abroad.
--January 2009: Close to 2 million, mainly in Syria and Jordan.
--2008: Some 25,000 refugees were able to return home.

Like most Americans, I rarely dwell on the still unfolding political, military and cultural disaster that is the Iraq War. Especially with Bush out of the White House, the whole venture has become even more of a distant imperial nightmare, barely visible beyond the day-to-day madness of domestic U.S. political and economic news.

That's why the Winter Soldier Hearings have been such a crucial way to remind oneself of the enormity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the nightmare that has been Guantanamo.

On Saturday, nine American, British and German veterans met in Germany to talk about their respective military experiences in those three places. Called "Winter Soldier Europe," the hearing was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War and held close to where NATO's annual summit will occur in two weeks – the idea being to offer alternative perspectives to the politicians, generals and pundits who are generally happy to let the wars remain nothing more than background noise for most Americans and Europeans.

Here's Zack Baddorf, one of the organizers of the event, speaking about his role in producing Pentagon propaganda during his five years in the U.S. military, beginning on Sept. 13th, 2001:



Today, no front-page New York Times story marked today's anniversary. Most Americans are likely unaware of it, more concerned about the collapse of the U.S. economy and their government's colossally bungled response to this new challenge.

But an editorial in today's San Jose Mercury News, written by the executive director of Antiwar.com, does look back at the Iraq war. And forward to Afghanistan, with trepidation:

[W]hat is waiting in the wings so clearly — so painfully — is the escalation of the Afghanistan/Pakistan crisis. The Obama administration will push this escalation, just as President Bush pushed Iraq. Such is the purview of the party in power. So, let us reflect on Iraq as a prequel to what surely is pending in this next theater of conflict.

As Gore Vidal wrote just after September 11th, the United States is at "perpetual war for perpetual peace." The election of Barack Obama has not changed that simple, insane truth.

UPDATE: In January 2003, two months before tanks rolled on Baghdad, Rashid Khalidi offered this prescient essay on the real (as opposed to stated) reasons why the U.S. would invade Iraq, and why that action would be thoroughly self-defeating. The true tragedy of the war, aside from all the lives lost, is that so many could see exactly why it was a terrible, terrible idea. For all In These Times articles about the war, go here.

Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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