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Nov-01-2011 20:40printcomments

Did We Win the Iraq War?

Clearly, we cannot continue spending billions of dollars on the Iraq war, a figure that now exceeds $80 billion and climbing.

Cartoon by Mike Keefe, Denver Post
Cartoon by Mike Keefe, Denver Post

(SAN FRANCISCO) - President Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. Was the “mission accomplished?” Did we win the war?

I for one applaud President Obama's announcement. As of October 31, 2011, 4,482 Americans have died. We cannot continue to waste any more American lives.

Our economy is in a shambles. Our deficit is $14.9 trillion and climbing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the U.S. -- seasonally adjusted -- is 9.1 percent. This figure does not include 2.8 million persons wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

A record 2.87 million properties got notices of default, auction or repossession in 2010. About 3 million homes have been repossessed since the housing boom ended in 2006. That number could balloon to about 6 million by 2013, when the housing market might absorb the bulk of distressed properties.

As the final blow, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services announced that it lowered its long-term sovereign credit rating on the U.S. to "AA+" from "AAA". S&P lowered the rating because it does not believe the U.S., in the near term, will likely get its economic house in order. While S&P's downgrade is controversial, its assessment of the state of the U.S. economy and the lack of political will to act responsibly is accurate. This downgrade may effect credit card and mortgage rates and consumer loans.

Flag over a 'Sons of Iraq' checkpoint at Abu Sikur.
Photo by Tim King

And as part of the latest budget deal, a bi-partisan, 12-member Congressional deficit "Super Committee" was established, which is supposed to deliver at least $1.2 trillion in across the board cuts or increases in income by November 23, 2011. The Committee's proposals must be voted on by December 23. If the Committee fails to produce a debt reduction plan, as much as $1.2 trillion in across the board cuts kick in evenly divided between defense and non-defense spending.

Clearly, we cannot continue spending billions of dollars on the Iraq war, a figure that now exceeds $80 billion and climbing. Just think what the tradeoffs could have been in low-cost housing, education, healthcare, etc.

Why are we leaving Iraq? The troops aren't being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. or at least that's the company line. They're leaving because the Iraqi government refused to let them stay. Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, but recently tried to extend it. A 2008 security deal between Washington and Iraq called for all American forces to leave Iraq by the end of the year, but the Obama administration -- worried about growing Iranian influence and Iraq's continuing political and security instability -- tried without success to convince the Iraqi government to permit a troop extension.

Let's look at the beginnings of the Iraq war. To support our invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration duped the American people and the world by intentionally building a case for war with Iraq. They took advantage of the public's hysteria over the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to authorize an invasion and occupation of Iraq with no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda. Remember Scott Ritter, a chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, who publicly argued that Iraq possessed no significant WMDs. Similarly, Hans Martin Blix, the head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission from March 2000 to June 2003, searched Iraq for WMD, ultimately finding none.

Iraqi Special Forces in Baghdad with their U.S.-built HUMVEE.
Photo by Tim King

Who can forget Secretary of State Colin Powell's 2003, infamous presentation before the United Nations to "prove" the urgency to invade Iraq. Powell claimed that Iraq harbored an al Qaeda network, despite evidence to the contrary. He showed photos of an alleged poison and explosives training camp in northeast Iraq operated by the al Qaeda even though this area was outside Iraqi control and even though U.S. intelligence agencies found no substantive collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Later, Powell acknowledged that much of his 2003 UN presentation was inaccurate. Hopefully Colin Powell will set the record straight in a tell-all memoir.

In 2003, a draft of a so-called eighteenth UN resolution, which would have set a deadline to Iraq to comply with previous resolutions to account for all of Iraq's chemical and biological agents, even though the UN inspection teams found no evidence of such agents. The proposed resolution was withdrawn when the U.S. realized that it would be vetoed by the Security Council. Had that occurred, it would have become more difficult for the U.S. to invade Iraq and to then argue that the Security Council had authorized the invasion. On March 20, 2003, U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq. On September 16, 2004 Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan, speaking on the invasion, said, "I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it [the invasion] was illegal."

And remember the "Plame Affair," where Valerie Plame was outed as a covert CIA operative allegedly in retribution for her husband James C. Wilson's op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that, in his State of the Union Address, President Bush misrepresented intelligence leading up to the invasion by suggesting without evidence that the Iraqi regime sought uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons.

U.S. soldiers share a light moment on patrol in Iraq.
Photo by Tim King

No WMD were ever found in Iraq. and on April 29, 2007, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet admitted on 60 Minutes, "We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period."

By early 2004, when it was clear that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction and the links to Al Qaeda were bogus, the mission suddenly changed to "we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we won't have to fight them here." But there weren't any terrorists in Iraq before our invasion. Our invasion and continued occupation provided a magnet for terrorists from other countries and a fertile training ground for future terrorists.

After five years of being totally wrong, Bush changed the mission again. Now we were in Iraq to bring democracy to the Middle East. Did we sow the seeds of democracy? True, Iraq has had elections, but its lauded democracy is tenuous at best. Elections do not necessarily mean democracy. Iraq has three large ethnic groups: the Kurds in the north; the Sunnis in the middle; and the Shiites, the most populous group, in the south. Given the ethnic and religious rivalry among these three groups and the ever presence of al Qaeda, there is little evidence that an Iraq democracy would last very long without a permanent U.S. military presence.

Along the way, our moral compass went awry. Consider that on April 16, 2009, President Obama released four top secret memos that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Bush administration to torture al Qaeda and other suspects held at Guantánamo and secret detention centers round the world. Remember the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse?

And we all remember former Vice President Dick Cheney's comment that: "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a euphemism for torture) sanctioned by the Bush administration are not torture and dismissed criticism as "contrived indignation and phony moralizing."

Stranger than fiction Order Now

Regrettably, President Obama issued executive orders giving the CIA authority to continue what are known as renditions or extrajudicial, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere, where torture was used. Torture is torture whether it is done by Americans at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, or by proxy through our rendition program.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the Bush administration pushed through the restrictive Patriot Act. The Act provided sweeping powers to government agencies to monitor the personal habits of not only those who had been identified as suspected terrorists, but anyone residing in the U.S. as well as U,S. citizens residing abroad. On May 26, 2011, President Obama signed a four-year extension of three key provisions in the Patriot Act:: roving wiretaps; searches of business records (the "library records provision"); and conducting surveillance of "lone wolves" — individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups.

There are still 171 detainees at Guantánamo Bay being held without charges, many of whom have been held for years. In addition, 50 detainees are considered too dangerous to release, but cannot be tried because the evidence against them is too flimsy or was extracted from them by coercion, so would not hold up in court. Thus, these detainees will be held indefinitely without charges or trial. As Amnesty International declared, the U. S. has established a "a new gulag of prisons around the world beyond the reach of the law and decency."

The nearly decade-long U.S. occupation of Iraq has been in vain. Our misadventure did not serve our national interests We are in economic shambles partly because of the Iraq war and it is debatable the war made us any safer. Because of Iraq, the U.S. standing in the world has plummeted.

If we won the war, what did we win?

_______________________________________ writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address

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