America’s foremost humorist, Mark Twain, considered the Spanish-American War rather ironic. (Actually he considered it rather criminal.) Our forefathers had come to America to escape tyranny, and yet we became imperialists.
George Washington warned the country against “foreign entanglements,” but for over a century we’ve been tangling all over the globe. About every twenty years we wage pointless wars as the self-appointed world’s policeman, sacrificing our young and our treasury. (I can hear a right-winger say, “And your point is?”).
As opposed to the bogus rationales of “Remember the Maine,” or “WMDs,” we start these wars pursuing power, money and that hideous black crude called oil. (Which, I believe, is a lyric of the opening to “The Beverly Hillbillies”).
You could say we began with our treatment of the Indians. While the British Proclamation of 1763 forbade colonists from settling west of the Appalachians, after our independence we decimated the Indians. (Later we gave what’s left of them gambling casinos.)
According to University of Colorado studies, the North American Indian population went from an estimated 12 million in 1500 to 237,000 in 1900. I’d call that genocide, but I don’t want angry e-mails from John Wayne fans.
Our religious justification for these atrocities was “Manifest Destiny,” the 19th century belief that God had ordained it that we should expand across the continent. (As the Church Lady from “SNL” said many years ago, “How convenient.”)
I mention all of this because on December 17, after almost nine years, our combat troops finally came home from Iraq. (ABC news calculates the Afghan War is the longest in our history, Vietnam second, and Iraq a close third.) As if an omen of things to come, a few days after we left, 63 Iraqi civilians were blown to smithereens in terrorist bombings. Lovely.
So I thought I’d tally up the pluses and minuses of the Iraq War. But first please remember that we still have a significant presence there, our embassy. (And we somehow own the land, so it’s rent-free.)
Our Iraq embassy is the most expensive in the world ($750 million to build and $1.2 billion a year to operate). It’s bigger than the Vatican. It’s bigger than 80 football fields should we run out of venues to hold the Super Bowl. (I just hope that the embassy is fortified to withstand angry Iraqis when they eventually storm the gates.)
Some call the Iraq War among the worst foreign policy blunders in our history. (I’m not that charitable.) The total dollar cost is estimated between $3 trillion and $5 trillion by the time we treat the wounded soldiers, many of whom are permanently disabled. (4,487 GIs died and 32,226 were wounded.)
But the wounded statistics don’t include the 300,000 brain injuries, or the tens of thousands of PTSD cases. Meanwhile, 18 vets commit suicide daily and more than 135,000 are homeless. To say it’s shameful is a gross understatement.
I suppose on the plus side of the ledger we got rid of Saddam. But, then again, in so doing we made Iran part of Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” the dominant power in the region. Having feared Saddam for decades, the Iranians must thank Allah five times a day that we did them this “generous” favor.
Frankly, I don’t see any pluses from the Iraq War for U.S. citizens. But corporations like Halliburton, Blackwater and especially Exxon and BP (polluter of the Gulf Coast) with Iraqi oil refinery contracts worth trillions of dollars, made out like bandits. (A description that’s actually too kind.) For those who predicted invading Iraq would help with the price at the pump, when Clinton left office gas was $1.39. Now you need a second mortgage to fill your tank.
Vietnam was another sad chapter in American history. As early as 1965 LBJ admitted (revealed via taped phone calls) that he saw no way we could win the war. It took eight years and 58,000 GI deaths to get the same peace settlement that was on the table back in ‘66.
The parallels between Vietnam and Iraq are striking. In Vietnam we invaded a country whose culture and history we didn’t bother to understand.
In Iraq we seemingly had no awareness that Sunnis and Shias have been fighting each other since 632 A.D. As George W. Bush said in frustration, “I just don’t get it, they’re all Muslims, aren’t they?”
Another parallel can be drawn to the Roman Empire. It began as a democratic federation of independent farmers but, over time, the Senate wastefully sent Roman legions all over the world. The rich became even richer, but the Republic was replaced by an Empire doomed to fall. I suppose we’re following the adage, “When in Rome do as the Romans.”
Will we ever learn? It’s tough to do when you have amnesia.