America’s war in Iraq is over. The last U.S. troops will leave by year’s end, “with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.” So sayeth President Obama.
A “sham of a mockery of a sham” is what Groucho would call Obama’s announcement, and he would be right.
For several reasons Mr. Marx would be much closer to the truth than Mr. Obama.
1) Even with “all” troops pulled out . . . well . . . who knows about Special Forces since their presence in a country never seems to really equal a “troop presence.” But even if all the “non-combat” combat troops leave and even if we don’t count the Marine Corps’ standard complement of guards at the world’s largest embassy, 5,000 armed mercenaries will remain indefinitely. The State Department, not the War Department, will be responsible for them, but a killer for hire is not likely to become a diplomat at the stroke of midnight on December 31.
2) Summing up nearly a decade of butchery, Obama chooses to hide behind the worn-out “support the troops” smokescreen by saying the last troops will hold their heads high, proud of their success, and the American people will be “united in our support for our troops.” How many will question nine years of war and $800 billion, when placed in that context?
3) In truth, if the administration actually got its way, we would never have heard this news. Washington wanted to stay well beyond the end of this year but the people of Iraq, through their parliament, forced the U.S. to get (mostly) out of Iraq, by saying, as of January 1, foreign troops will be prosecuted in Iraqi courts for crimes committed in their country. Given our lengthy criminal record in Iraq, the only viable choice for Obama was to get out.
Anybody who thinks the war will really be over has never been in one nor had a loved one in war. The American War in Iraq will never end for over 4,000 families of U.S. troops killed, tens of thousands of wounded and their families, and the hundreds — yes, hundreds — of thousands of young men and women who will suffer the terror of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury for the rest of their lives.
I lost my first friend to the U.S. war in Iraq by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in February 2004. I lost my most recent friend to the U.S. war in Iraq by suicide in September 2011. This war will never end for me. I will live with its scars and traumas from now until the end of my life whether I want to or not. This battle, for me and so many others, is lifelong.
Tragic indeed, but not quite on the order of magnitude for the millions who lived under our sanctions for 12 years and our bombs for nine years after that. It is impossible to comprehend the suffering we bought in Iraq, so let’s not even guess at the number of killed, wounded, and homeless Iraqis we’ve created.
Instead, let’s contemplate the scale of devastation that would occur in our country if a similar war had been visited on us. What would be the comparable impact? Based on reports from UNICEF, the UN, and studies carried out by Johns Hopkins University field researchers published in the British medical journal, Lancet, here are the figures as of five years ago.
If you’re not already sitting, you may want to take a seat.
In the former cities of Atlanta, Denver, Boston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Fort Worth, Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas and Philadelphia every single person is dead.
In Vermont, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, Kansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Oregon, South Carolina and Colorado every single person is wounded.
The entire populations of Ohio and New Jersey are homeless, surviving with friends, relatives or under bridges as they can.
The entire populations of Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky have fled to Canada or Mexico.
Over the past three years, one in four U.S. doctors left the country. Last year alone 3,000 doctors were kidnapped and 800 killed.
In short, nobody “out there” can come to save us. We are in hell.
4) And finally, there is one way in which the U.S. peace movement must simply not allow this war to be over. It’s spelled r-e-p-a-r-a-t-i-o-n-s. We have to pay a full measure of reparations to repair what we have destroyed of Iraq’s agriculture and infrastructure and leave a sizable trust fund to at least partially deal with the deformities and childhood cancers caused by our depleted uranium munitions.
In so many places, like Nicaragua two decades ago for example, we terrorized whole populations, laid waste to their society, destroyed their currency . . . and then just walked away. “That war is over,” we joyfully repeat after the President. Another country has been given freedom and democracy. We brush off the misery and stride forward to the next and the next and the . . . We cannot let this happen again to our brothers and sisters in Iraq.
Maybe in Obama’s dreams; maybe in the minds of his spin doctors prattling on Sunday morning talk shows; maybe in the minds of pundits comfortably opining from New York and Washington. Perhaps for them the American War in Iraq is over. But not to the millions living it out in reality.
Mike Ferner is a former Navy corpsman, acting director of Veterans For Peace and author of Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq.