On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, the Costs of War Project of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University released a report on the casualties and expenditures of the Iraq war.
The preamble of the report states, "The United States invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003 on the false pretext that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The mass destruction of the invasion, occupation, and civil war followed, and amplified the societal and health disintegration caused by the previous decade of sanctions. Iraqi lives and communities remain war-devastated ten years on. American military and contractor families struggle with the loss of loved ones as well as the emotional and economic burdens of living with long-term injuries and illnesses. Total US federal spending associated with the Iraq war has been $1.7 trillion through FY2013. In addition, future health and disability payments for veterans will total $590 billion and interest accrued to pay for the war will add up to $3.9 trillion."
Indeed, a full stop may be put here. But further details are even more striking.
According to the report, the war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number. When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war's death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000. This number includes 4,488 U.S. military members and at least 3,400 U.S. contractors.
The report also contains an update of a 2011 report of the same Institute, which was produced ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and assessed the cost in dollars and lives from the resulting wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. If combined together, the total estimated death toll from the three wars presently stands at a range of 272,000 to 329,000, excluding indirect deaths caused by the mass exodus of doctors and a devastated infrastructure.
If an interest rate on the war expenses the U.S. is to pay within the next 40 years is added, that would amount to additional $4 trillion.
That's enough for the cost of war. But the big question is whether the human and financial losses were worth the whole endeavor.
The pretext for the war, as is well known, was the false accusations against Saddam Hussein that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. The then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell took a lot of effort to demonstrate to the world some obscure photos meant to prove the accusations. When the U.S. devastated the country by missile strikes and completed the devastation by invading Iraq, it turned out that there were no weapons of the kind. But by that time the job had been done – Saddam was successfully toppled and eventually hanged.
Now, Steven Bucci, the military assistant to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the run-up to the war and today a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think-tank, tried to justify the action taken 10 years ago.
"Action needed to be taken," he said in an interview with Reuters, adding that the toppling of Saddam and the results of an unforeseen conflict between U.S.-led forces and al-Qaeda militants drawn to Iraq were positive outcomes of the war.
"It was really in Iraq that 'al-Qaeda central' died," Bucci said. "They got waxed."
Indeed, sticking to principles is definitely a good thing, if it were not for just two small facts that clearly contradict Mr. Bucci's words.
One, prior to the invasion no one ever connected Saddam's regime with al-Qaeda – whatever the term might mean. Definitely, if we start labeling all anti-American insurgents as al-Qaeda militants, then it was the invasion as such that led to their emergence in Iraq. If "waxing" something created by yourselves is the basic motto of the U.S. foreign policy, then, Mr. Bucci, thou hast said it.
Second. Whatever is meant by "al-Qaeda central" that allegedly died in Iraq, this surely was not the end of anti-American insurgency globally. Looking at places as distant from each other as Nigeria and Mali on the one hand to Yemen to South-East Asia, we may clearly see that the wars waged by the U.S. in the "Great Middle East" have only given birth to radical Islamist militant movements farther and farther from the initial battlegrounds.
So, the only "positive" outcome of the war Mr. Bucci and the like are talking about was the toppling and hanging of the fallen dictator. But what about the price?
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies