Sep 22, Editorial Column: Casualties and Costs Rise as Iraq and Afghanistan Remain Mired in Brutal Wars

On September 17, 2008, an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper declared, “Amid Election Noise, a Quiet Victory.”  The editorial concluded that, “After more than five years of bloodshed and the expenditure of billions of dollars, the U.S. involvement in Iraq has entered a new, thankfully quieter, phase.  There are still great challenges and Iraq can fall apart at any time, but at least there is hope now for a successful resolution.”

Rubbish.  There is no current “victory” or “success” in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The newspaper used one statistic, the average number of bombings in Baghdad, to imply the U.S. won the Iraq War.  The number of bombings did fall from 180 per day to 25.  However, that’s still 9,125 bombings per year in Baghdad alone.  That’s a violent, deadly, brutal war by any common sense measure.

I want to add to several recent articles that have debunked the myth of an Iraq War surge victory.  On September 21, 2008, Dennis Jett, a former U.S. Ambassador, wrote, “Despite ‘the surge is working’ mantra, the increase of American troops in Iraq was one of the least important factors in the decrease of violence.”  He then lists several factors, such as placing 100,000 former Iraqi insurgents on the U.S. payroll, as far more important.

Instead of publishing a misleading and incomplete editorial, the Austin American-Statesman should be reporting facts about the wars and then analyzing the combined impact of those facts.  If one knows where to look, an enormous mountain of evidence shows there is no victory or success in President George W. Bush’s Iraq War.  For starters, the war’s financial costs are in the trillions, not the billions, and U.S. casualties are in the hundreds of thousands when combining battlefield casualties of service members plus post-war medical needs of veterans.

Here’s a challenge to the Austin American-Statesman editorial writers as well as reporters nationwide.  Read these salient facts, and you will reach the logical conclusion that Iraq and Afghanistan remain mired in war and anarchy, with massive and escalating human and financial costs for both countries as well as the United States.  

U.S. Battlefield Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan Hit 79,000

First, the U.S. Department of Defense officially reports more than 79,000 battlefield casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, when casualty is defined as killed, wounded, injured, or ill.  For the injured and ill, their conditions were so serious they required medical evacuation from Iraq or Afghanistan.  Last month, there were more than 1,000 battlefield casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This week, seven more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq when a Chinook helicopter crashed. 

Other statistics also point toward a long-term disaster, including a record numbers of completed suicides, attempted suicides, rapes, and soaring drug abuse among soldiers and veterans.  These are signs our military is breaking.  That’s not victory. 

347,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Flood into VA

Second, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officially reports more than 347,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were already treated at VA hospitals after returning home from the two wars.  VA reports more than 147,000 of those veterans were diagnosed with a mental health condition, including 75,000 for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The RAND corporation estimates 300,000 PTSD cases and 300,000 traumatic brain injury cases among the 1.7 million U.S. service members deployed so far to the two wars.

Seven years after 9/11, VA still has no national plan of caring for the flood of wounded war veterans.  In 2007, VCS was forced to sue VA after press reports revealed a pattern of refusals to provide emergency mental healthcare for suicidal veterans.  During our lawsuit, we discovered VA intentionally concealed a serious veteran suicide epidemic.  We discovered a pattern of delay and denial by VA to hide the consequences of the two wars.

The Three Trillion Dollar War

Third, Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University Professor who earned the Nobel Prize in Economics, and Linda Bilmes, a Harvard University Professor and former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, estimated that VA will eventually treat 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at a staggering cost of up to $700 billion over the next 40 years.  These two eminent authors estimate the total cost of President Bush’s Iraq War fiasco will be $3 trillion dollars when spending on the war, our veterans, and oil are included.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Veterans for Common Sense assisted the authors for nearly two years gathering official government documents to make these estimates for their book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War.”  At one point during the data collection process, the Bush Administration went so far as to deny the existence of any VA reports describing a tidal wave of nearly 300,000 unexpected new claims from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  After legal action was threatened, VA coughed up the statistics.

The U.S. Economic Recession

Fourth, the U.S. economy continues falling into a vicious tailspin worsened by the massive governmet debt from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  As long as the two wars continue, their adverse impact on the already weakened U.S. economy will increase.  Unemployment is up, home foreclosures are up, the stock market careens on an unpredictable roller coaster, and serious financial anxiety abounds in America.

Ironically, the Austin American-Statesman’s front-page headline on September 18 said it all – “Stocks Sink: People are Scared to Death.”  President Bush remains largely absent from the scene, just as President Herbert Hoover failed to address the causes and consequences of the Great Depression.  Instead of everyone sacrificing for the war effort, President Bush gave enormous tax breaks to the rich.  The only ones sacrificing for President Bush’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan are our service members, veterans, and their families.

Forty Presidential Briefings About al Queda Before 9/11

Fifth, let’s consider lost U.S. credibility.  President George W. Bush was briefed dozens of times about Osama bin Laden and al Queda attacks before September 11, 2001.   For a detailed list of the titles and dates of President Bush’s briefings, please read “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” by New York Times reporter Phil Shenon.  On pages 151 and 152 of his book, Shenon writes about “more than forty PDBs [Presidential Daily Briefings] presented to Bush from January 2001 through September 10, 2001.”  That’s evidence of a catastrophic failure of leadership by President Bush when dealing with a real threat against America.

Mushroom Clouds and Other Lies About Iraq

Sixth, let’s consider the false claims by President Bush and his top aides in 2002 and 2003 about imminent “mushroom clouds,” about links between Iraq and 9/11, and about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.  We all know these were lies.  On March 10, 2003, one thousand members of Veterans for Common Sense wrote to President Bush, insisting that, “Our own intelligence agencies have consistently noted both the absence of an imminent threat from Iraq and reliable evidence of cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Again, we question whether this is the right time and the right war.”   The President never responded.  The veterans were correct, and the President was absolutely wrong.

Iraq Mired in Violent Anarchy

Seventh, when combined, the disturbing facts about Iraq show the Iraq War remains a fiasco.  For example, the Iraqi government does not control their own laws or military.  U.S. contractors have free reign to commit murder without fear of arrest or prosecution, as shown by the repeated reckless shootings by Blackwater mercenaries.  For more details about how guns for hire run amok in Iraq, read Jeremy Scahill’s “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”

In addition, the U.S. military, not the Iraqi military, controls large sections of Iraq, clearly showing that U.S. occupation forces run Iraq, not the Iraqi government or the Iraqi people.  Iraq itself remains engulfed in violent bloody anarchy, starting with thousands of bomb attacks each year.  Estimates of the number of dead range from the tens of thousands to one million.  Without an official census, no one will ever know.  International aid groups estimate two million refugees have fled Iraq, mostly to neighboring countries.  Other estimates put the number of internally displaced persons at two million. 

The adverse financial consequences for Iraqis continue escalating.  The Iraqi domestic economy crashed and burned, as millions of Iraqis remain unemployed, without electricity, without water, without sewer, without garbage collection, enduring 25 bombing attacks every day.  Imagine New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or Galveston after Hurricane Ike in order to understand the harsh conditions faced by millions of Iraqis every single day for more than five years as a result of President Bush’s failed Iraq War.

Afghanistan War Worsens

Eighth, a close look at the Afghanistan war and occupation also shows an increase in violence.  U.S. service member deaths reached a record this year.  Furthering inflaming the region are large numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as secret incursions ordered by President Bush into sovereign Pakistan – a nation with nuclear arms filled with thousands of Taliban and al Queda soldiers.

American people and businesses, such as the Mariott Hotel, become targets for an endless series of retaliatory strikes as Pakistan desperately tries to inch toward democracy and away from the recently deposed Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf who had suspended the nation’s constitution.

President Bush’s myopic obsession with invading Iraq after 9/11 allowed the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate significantly.  On September 10, 2008, our top uniformed officer admitted that Afghanistan remains in chaos.  Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress, “I’m not convinced we are winning in Afghanistan.”  In the ultimate failure of President George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden remains at large.

Failures to Protect Freedom and Security in the United States

Ninth, there is the issue of continued security vulnerabilities at home.  The most bitter irony of all is that the Austin American-Statesman editorial was published on the 221st Anniversary of the signing of our Constitution.  Our nation is strong because we are free.  The more freedoms we lose, the more fearful and insecure we become.  In a reckless knee-jerk reaction, President Bush and Congress enacted the so-called “Patriot Act” and began illegally spying upon innocent Americans and torturing enemy prisoners of war.   Brutal torture inflicted by Americans that jeopardizes our soldiers captured on the battlefield is not a victory.

The current administration still fails to protect our borders and our cities.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued scores of reports criticizing the Bush Administration’s failure to protect Americans.  In one example, the GAO reported earlier this year that “First Responders’ Ability to Detect and Model Hazardous Releases in Urban Areas Is Significantly Limited.”  After seven years, that’s inexcusable incompetence by the Bush Administration.

Conclusion – The Iraq War was Lost Before it Began

The war in Iraq was lost well before it began because, in early 2001, the President failed in his responsibility to listen to experts warn him about imminent terrorist attacks.  After 9/11, the President failed to follow domestic and international law to seek justice.  Instead, he lied and attacked Iraq when he should have focused on Afghanistan.  Thomas Ricks’ book, “Fiasco,” details mistake after mistake that still haunt the U.S. occupation of Iraq.  After the insurgency in Iraq began, drawing terrorists from all over the globe to kill and maim our service members, the President failed to plan for a long occupation with massive U.S. casualties – 79,000 on the battlefield, and 347,000 in VA hospitals – a tragic number that keeps rising on average nearly one thousand every month.

Much credit goes to our military doctors who valiantly save tens of thousands of lives on the battlefield that would have been lost in prior wars.  However, the forward deployment of medical care meant there were not enough healthcare providers back in the U.S. to provide long-term care to the tens of thousands of unexpected non-fatal casualties. This incompetent oversight by the Bush Administration caused the infamous Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal.

Staffed with highly dedicated healthcare providers and claims processing staff, VA continues sinking under a deluge of hundreds of thousands of unexpected patients and disability claims.  Tragically, after seven years, President Bush still has no plan to care for the 1.7 million American service members he sent off to war.   That number, too, keeps rising, with multiple deployments increasing the risk of serious mental health consequences.  Last week, VA formed an internal commission to review their broken claims processing system only after repeated Congressional hearings, passage of reform legislation, and the Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth lawsuit against VA.

Sadly, the Austin American-Statesman regurgitated Administration rubbish sold to gullible reporters and uninformed editorial writers.  Americans are tired of misleading and incomplete facts from the government.  And we expect better from a prominent newspaper.  Instead, what newspapers around the nation should do is promptly and aggressively investigate the facts about the Bush Administration failures, incompetence, and hubris.  Then the newspaper should share the facts with the people, as is their protected role under our Constitution.

Finally, So Far There is no Victory in Iraq

Let’s put a stake through the heart of that government propaganda myth.  Given the string of failures, incompetence, and outright lies told by the Bush Administration since taking office in 2001, we should judge our leaders based on their performance of making sure Iraq and the region becomes stable, having our troops return home with a responsible plan that includes medical care for them and our veterans, plus making sure that those who started the Iraq War are held accountable for the domestic and international destruction they caused.

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