Thursday, March 19, 2009
Our National Report Card on War
Today marks six years since the start of the Iraq War and six years and five months since troops invaded Afghanistan. These wars were presumably started in response to 9/11 in the attempt to stop terrorism and protect us from Saddam’s caches of WMD.
So, how are we doing? Let’s take a look.
Over the past six years in Iraq we have buried 4,261 Americans and 317 coalition troops and seen 31,102 Americans wounded.
The death rate for Iraqi civilians is a little more sketchy with estimates by the Iraq Body Count between 91,000–99,500. Projections from the 2006 Lancet Report count nearly one million Iraqi deaths and other sources believe that four million Iraqis have been affected by the war through loss of their homes, the destruction of infrastructure, the flight to other countries and residence in Middle Eastern refugee camps.
Fortunately, the death rate in Afghanistan is not as severe with 662 Americans and 436 coalition troops killed and 2,713 Americans wounded. If you are trying to calculate Afghan military or civilian deaths, good luck in finding it.
Government spending through FY 2009 is projected at $864 for all war-related costs since 9/11, according to the October 2008 Congressional Service Report. The war in Iraq will receive an estimated $657 billion (76 percent) while expenses for the war in Afghanistan and various counter-terrorism operations is about $173 billion (20 percent). The remaining monies are $28 billion (3 percent) for enhanced base security and about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1 percent). Of these funds, about $812 billion (94 percent) are under the Department of Defense (DOD), nearly $52 billion (6 percent) are for foreign aid programs and embassy operations, and $8 billion (less than 1 percent) for medical care for veterans. As of July 2008, DOD’s monthly obligations for contracts and pay averaged about $12.3 billion, including $9.9 billion for Iraq, and $2.4 billion for Afghanistan,
Our national debt is now $11 trillion, according to the U.S. National Debt Clock. That includes Bush’s $750 billion stimulus package of last fall and Obama’s $787 billion package in February.
Meanwhile, more and more Americans are losing their jobs: 12.5 million or 8.1 percent workers by February 2009 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) while Bloomberg reports a projected 9.4 percent will be unemployed by end of 2009. Gallup polls show 29 percent of workers fear they will be layed off.
George W. Bush left the nation with a stained reputation throughout the world where we are seen as practitioners of torture, extraordinary rendition, Gitmo prisoner camps, killers of civilians, and now purveyors of a spendthrift, corrupt banking system, which has affected recession in countries all over the world.
Fortunately, President Obama is trying to do something about that reputation. For example, he is fulfilling a campaign pledge of withdrawing troops from Iraq in 19 months. However, about 50,000 troops will remain there for an unknown period of time. Unfortunately, he authorized a surge of 17,000 troops sent to Afghanistan. This fulfills another campaign promise.
Last August Bush sent 12,000 to 15,000 more troops to Afghanistan to join the 34,000 U.S. troops already there, according to U.S. News and World Report.
In their new book titled Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, journalists Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, who have been on the beat in Afghanistan since the Russians were there in 1979, predict it will take 300,000 troops to quell Afghanistan.
Two days ago Admiral Eric Olson, former operational commander for coalition forces in Afghanistan, wrote an opinion piece indicating that U.S. troops are being sent to Afghanistan “without a clear strategy” in the belief that “the successful surge in Iraq can be replicated in Afghanistan.”
This surge won’t work, he said, because Afghanistan has mostly rural populations in mountainous regions with unpaved roads and bad weather. This will make troop movement and quick-response efforts very difficult.
The “growing unrest in the Pashtun territories that straddle the border with Pakistan” is another problem. Dealing with this area will take a “village-by-village, tribe-by-tribe approach,” which our troops know how to do. It will also take cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani government with the leaders of the United States and NATO.
If you recall last fall’s presidential campaign and the primary season preceding it, the candidates hardly ever referred to our two wars. Then in September as the economic crisis was upon us, what some people call our “financial 9/11,” war receded in our minds even further.
Then, three days after he took office, President Obama authorized unmanned Predator drones to fly into two Pakistani villages where 18 civilians were killed. (Last year 30 strikes killed more than 200 people.) In February, he decided to send 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. So we’re off to a good start with our new president with regard to war, a man in whom we placed so much hope that things would be different after the past eight years.
Well, there is a kernel of hope. Unlike his predecessor, Obama listens to the people. A recent ABC/Post poll shows that Americans divide by 50-47 percent on whether the conflict in Afghanistan is worth fighting even though nearly two-thirds support the president’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Perhaps, if we put enough pressure on him we might make a difference.
One way you can make a difference is by going to New York City on April 4 to march for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. In your local communities you can also call attention to these two wars, which we didn’t want….and which we as a nation cannot support financially, militarily, or morally. The power of change rests in your hands.
Peace Now! Peace Now! Peace Now!
This commentary appeared in Common Dreams on Thursday, March 19, 2009