Friday, 24 September 2010

The Great Mistake

There was a pub in Wexford that wives called the “honey pot” – for once in the door husbands were reluctant to leave.

Such may well prove to be the case with Iraq but with combat operations finally over, let us examine this dismal chapter of American history before the inevitable tide of revisionism rolls in.

Can there be any doubt now that the invasion was a grievous mistake, one whose price will be paid for generations to come? And why do I mention revisionism? Surely, that comes much later – as in Vietnam when it took decades to soften the image of US helicopters lifting off roofs during the fall of Saigon.

But already we have “the surge.” Yet, despite how well the 30,000 US troops performed, they would have made little difference if 100,000 Sons of Iraq had not already been placed on the US payroll.

Money well spent. I say, as it saved American lives; though one could argue that this federal handout could have been better used for Americans ravaged by an economic downturn partly caused by huge government borrowing to finance the Iraq adventure.

But let us stick to cold figures. Over 4400 Americans died for a neo-conservative notion that if we created a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq we could change that region’s balance of power. These think-tank boys were only slightly off the mark. We dismantled a horrid secular dictatorship that had been a bulwark against the mullahs in Iran and handed them a theocratic democracy on a plate. Well we did shake up the status quo, there’s no denying that.

But at what a cost! 35,000 Americans were seriously injured – not counting perhaps 100,000 more afflicted with post-traumatic stress.

Over two million Iraqis have fled the country; while millions more were displaced because of sectarian violence unleashed as a result of the invasion.

At least one hundred thousand Iraqis have been killed – though the figure is more likely two or even three times higher.

The infrastructure of the country was destroyed – open sewers are common, electricity is rarely guaranteed for more than four hours daily despite billions of US aid. Of course, much of this “stimulus” has gone to the coffers of various security firms and civilian providers who “won” no-bid contracts. And that’s before the remains trickled down to corrupt Iraqi officials.

There is a democracy, however, although six months after the last election a government has yet to be formed. Not surprising, since if the Allawi led Sunni coalition is not included, then the insurgency is likely to flare up again. Yet who can blame the Shite parties for wanting their day in the sun after a century of Sunni dominance? What a nest of hornets we stirred up.

And what of us? We were never asked to pay for this war – it was charged to the Chinese credit card that we’re still paying interest on. Most of us were never asked to do anything but wave flags and spout jingoistic sound bites. Most shameful of all, the bodies of our fallen were smuggled in at night so that our delicate sensibilities might not be offended.

The really sad part is that the idealism and blood of a generation inspired by 9/11 has been wasted in the sands of Fallujah and the alleyways of Sadr City.

Could the invasion have been stopped – certainly, had there even been a remote possibility of a draft; or if Hilary Clinton and Colin Powell had acted with their hearts rather than their heads. In such an unlikely scenario one or the other might well be president.

We have planted bitter seeds. The fruit will be with us a long time in the shape of huge deficits, a distrust of government, and thousands of young veterans with broken bodies and damaged spirits returning to a country and economy unable or unwilling to provide for them.

The only upside is that we can learn from this colossal mistake and resolve never again to embark on any more such foreign adventures or wars of choice.

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