The US military announced Monday that the death toll of US soldiers in the five year Iraq conflict reached 4,000, after four soldiers were killed in a Baghdad bombing. According to icasualties.org, the conflict has also wounded more than 29,000 US soldiers, and counting.
The financial cost of the war is also growing. The direct costs are about $600 billion. Joseph Stiglitz, a winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, has added up the indirect costs—the cost of supporting the veterans, the wounded, and the deceased, the cost of replacing the weapons, the cost of the interest on the debt racked up in a war that is entirely funded by adding to our national (and largely foreign) indebtedness—and he comes up with an estimate of $3 trillion.
These tragic costs might be bearable if the war were making America more secure—but it is not. It has alienated our allies across the world, and emboldened our enemies. Now our own intelligence agencies report that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself and posesa greater threat than ever. The occupation of Iraq has left America more isolated and less respected across the world, particularly among the 2 billion Moslems. It has stretched our own military to a breaking point. It has disgraced our own sense of decency, sacrificing our honor, with revelations about torture, rendition and secret prisons.
Senator John McCain doesn’t really disagree with above, none of which is disputable. Although he voted for the war, he doesn’t strongly defend the decision to go in, or the misleading fear campaign about Iraq’s non-existant weapons of mass destruction. He accepts that the occupation has been disastrously mismanaged. He agrees that the mission has stretched the military to its limits. He agrees that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself, and that the US has lost honor and support across the world.
No, McCain argues that as bad as all this is, we have no choice but to dedicate more years, more lives and another trillion dollars or so to this occupation. Why? Because he argues leaving would unleash a civil war in Iraq, destabilize the region and leave us less safe. But while the costs and lives lost are inevitable if we stay, what happens if we were to leave Iraq is unknown. History shows that occupation itself generates division and violence. Perhaps, the only hope for the internal political solution is for the US to begin the process of withdrawal, making it clear that our soldiers will no longer be hall monitors in a civil war.
This war is costing $12.5 billion a month, even as our economy heads into a recession. Economists Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier report that the $138 billion spent on Iraq in 2007 alone could have provided health insurance for all 45 million uninsured Americans, plus paid for 30,000 school teachers and the building of 400 schools, plus weatherized 1.6 million homes, reducing energy use and costs by about 30 percent. It would also have produced an estimated 1 million more jobs. If we spend another five years and another $1-2 trillion in Iraq, we will have squandered our future for an occupation that is undermining our security abroad and our economic security at home.
We’re headed into a major debate about our course in Iraq in the presidential campaign. Americans will have to decide—more of the same or a commitment to get our soldiers out of harm’s way, change our priorities and start making America strong from the inside out. It will be a fateful choice.
Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. n can be contacted by e-mail at