The Real Cost of the Iraq War

President Obama announced at the end of August that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended." Watching the speech and listening to the commentary, I was gripped by a deep sadness. Even now, more than seven years after it began, the goal of the Iraq war still isn't clear.

The war started on a false pretext -- that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them or hand them off to terrorists. The Bush administration's fearful predictions of "mushroom clouds" went along with insinuations that Iraq was somehow involved in 9/11, despite the fact that it was not. Saddam Hussein was certainly a terrible and brutal dictator, but bombing his people wasn't the only way to deal with him, as many church leaders pointed out at the time. And, of course, the U.S. hadn't made war on the countries of every other dictator who was as bad, or worse, than Hussein. But those dictators weren't sitting on deserts full of oil -- always the unspoken reality of our foreign policy in the Middle East.

The "shock and awe" of America's military easily defeated Hussein's army, but the post-invasion strategy was horribly botched. A complete misunderstanding of Iraq’s religious and ethnic conflicts was soon revealed, and incidents of prisoner abuse and torture shamed our image around the world. The decision to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq caused the U.S. to lose the moral high ground we had after the 9/11 attacks.

That's all history, and the president asked the nation to "turn the page." But what makes me so sad is the enormous human cost of the war, and the massive number of people -- in America and Iraq -- who have had their lives ended or changed forever; they will have a hard time turning the page.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2010
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