Ten years ago this week, the United States invaded Iraq based on false information and with the assurances of President George W. Bush that it would cost Americans almost nothing.
In one sense, he was right. There was no shared sacrifice for the vast majority of Americans. There was no draft, no rationing of food and gas, no coordinated homeland blackouts or curfews.
The average American lifestyle did not change as a direct result of the Iraq war.
But we now know that Americans have paid heavily in both human and monetary terms for that spectacular failure in leadership. The Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University has quantified both for us.
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Nearly 8,000 U.S. troops and private contractors have lost their lives. More than 100,000 other soldiers have suffered life-changing physical and mental disabilities, often with devastating effects on their families. More than 134,000 Iraqi civilians died from military actions, and perhaps two to three times that number will die from lack of medical services in a country we tore apart.
Taxpayers will eventually spend more than $6 trillion for this war. It’s a staggering number made worse by a president and Congress who led us into the war without a realistic assessment of its risks or cost.
The Cost of War Project estimates the war will cost $2.2 trillion, including the $490 billion in benefits to war veterans over the next several decades. We will pay another $3.9 trillion in interest on loans that financed the war, because Bush and Congress did not raise taxes to pay for the invasion.
This is our shared sacrifice.
The war did topple Saddam Hussein. But no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, and our nation-building efforts have failed. We triggered a civil war and, by most reports, have not improved the lives of Iraqi women.
On top of all that carnage, we must measure the war in terms of lost opportunity at home. If our focus had been on domestic issues, could we have avoided the Great Recession, or limited its severity? If we had spent a fraction of the cost of the Iraq war at home, could we have improved the lives of our own citizens and small businesses?
As with all wars, the events and decisions will be forever studied and reviewed, questioned and debated, and shape national and international policies.
There are war hawks in this country pressuring President Barack Obama to launch military efforts in support of rebel forces in Syria, and prodding him to step up the tough-guy talk with Iran and North Korea. The president has wisely ignored this ill advice and should continue to do so.
We have learned much from the Iraq war and this sad decade in American history. We should not be so foolish as to repeat it.