Readings: Iraq's Moral Legacy

According to The Washington Post and The New York Times the Iraq War has ended—again. But we still have not come to terms with what it has  really meant.

Those with long memories remember that the first George Bush Gulf War ended as we slaughtered the helpless remnants of the Iraqi army fleeing from Kuwait, bombing their defenseless convoy. The Bush Junior phase of the war ended symbolically when American troops staged the yanking down of Saddam’s statue in a Baghdad square, and again when Bush landed on an aircraft carrier to declare victory, and again when Saddam was hanged. Today it is over again because all the American troops are coming home—except for those who are remaining and those who will be sent back  when the terms have been negotiated.


The Washington Post’s front page featured a photo of a wailing Iraqi widow at the discovery of a mass grave of Saddam’s victims. According to the caption, “Over the years thousands of people had disappeared into the dictator’s security apparatus.” The picture’s  message seems to be that the American troops have liberated Iraq from a dictator who was killing his own people, and that therefore the war was justified. Not counting those who died in wars and rebellions, Saddam’s regime, during his 30-plus years rule, killed an estimated 300-500,000 citizens.

The Post’s story by Scott Wilson recognizes the war’s ambiguity, considering the effect on the national debt from its trillion dollar cost, the 4,400 dead American troops and probably twice as many amputees, and the fragility of the war-torn country left behind. Wilson records but does not question what was perhaps the main reason for the war, the neoconservative theory that by removing Saddam we could establish a friendly democracy in the Middle East and make Israel safer.

Both papers carry standard stories of President Obama welcoming home and thanking the troops. On page one the Times takes a different approach.  It breaks the story of its reporter discovering  in a junkyard outside Baghdad 400 pages of  secret documents,  meant to be destroyed, the interrogations  from the investigation of the Haditha   war crime,   where Marines, enraged at the death of one of their buddies from a road bombs, killed 24 Iraqi civilians, including  a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, women, and children, some of whom just toddlers.   No one has been punished.

According to the documents, Marines had come to  consider   20 dead civilians, “not remarkable,” but as routine.  Maj. General Steve Johnson, commander of the forces in Anbar, described it as “the cost of doing business.”  He adds, “It happens all the time.”


Nothing in the papers, no editorials, about the real human  and moral costs of the war. The most conservative estimate of civilian deaths caused by the U.S. (Iraq Body Count, which considers only those reported by two media), is 113,125. Wikileaks adds another 15,000. And according to Joy Gordon’s Invisible War, on the sanctions between the two Gulf Wars, sanctions killed another 500,000 children. Questioned, Madeline Albright said it was “worth it.”

Today President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condolessa Rice publish memoirs and have no regrets. The U.N. inspectors had told us there were no “weapons of mass destruction.” That the war was fought under false pretenses does not bother them. All those dead are not people, they’re just numbers. They’re the cost of the way America does business.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.


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C Walter Mattingly
6 years 10 months ago
Concerning Fr Schroth's claim that President Bush et al based the war upon "false pretenses," anyone googling Annenberg's Factcheck, not a conservative source, on the question of whether such pretense or lie existed in the President's mind, they will find there extensive supporting evidence for Factcheck's conclusion that although President Bush may have been wrong about Saddam's WMD, he had very good reasons to believe Saddam possessed them. Without solid evidence to the contrary, why such an uncharitable statement of what was in the President's mind? Does Father Schroth possess such evidence that contradicts that of Factcheck? President Bush likely believed he freed Iraqis from the enslavement of a monster, with expressed hope fo the possibility of a nascent democracy born in the Middle East that would serve as catalyst for the Arab Spring. Christopher Hitchens, rest his soul, and many others largely agree, even while they may have thought the cost not worth it.

It may be fair and certain to state, for example, that the current president violated his word when he said he wouldn't accept the private campaign money to "buy" the election, and then did, or when he said he would put the health care debate on CSPAN for all the public to see and not craft it behind closed doors, and then did exactly what he stated he wouldn't do. Those statements and actions are parts of a factual record. That President Bush's agreement with both Clintons and the general consensus concerning WMD was "false pretense," Factcheck tells us, appears to be unwarranted.
Elaine Kelley
6 years 10 months ago
Indeed, GW Bush should have had "very good reasons to believe" that Saddam Hussein had WMD (according to Walter Mattingly above), since Iraq got them from the U.S. in previous decades when Iraq/U.S. were allies against Iran. In fact, most the of weapons in the Middle East come from the U.S., the superpower and primary source of WMD, including those horrible chemical weapons Hussein used against his own people in the 80s (at which time the U.S. made no complaint about them).  Source: "Tinderbox: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Roots of Terrorism" by Stephen Zunes.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 10 months ago
I doubt that the second Iraq War cost a trillion dollars.  I think the costs are much higher and probably hidden.  I'd love to see the spreadsheets.  How much R&D directed at fighting insurgent activity?  How much increased support activity and infrastructure improvement in the US' 800 bases worldwide?  How much vehicle and helicopter repair hidden under regular maintenance and improvement?  Then there's the benefits for the disabled, which will be paid over the years.  This war was begun while the populace was raised to a frenzy of fear and anger.  Now we're exhausted and suffering from the results of our collective stupidity, mired deep in this economic mess.  The only war we really need to wage is a domestic war against the ongoing de-democratization of our country's government, media, laws, economy.
Gabriel Marcella
6 years 10 months ago
There is a difference between "false" and erroneous pretenses. Historians and strategic analysts will record that the Iraq war was the result of a multitude of erroneous assumptions, to include that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. Indeed, Saddam's elaborate deception on the nukes helped confirm the grimmest forebodings of the neo-conservatives in power in Washington with respect to Saddam's capabilities and intentions. Even given this, the case for just recourse to war (jus ad bellum) was not there.

The neo-con belief that removal of a hideous dictatorship would help remake the geo-political map of the Middle East, that democracy would radiate from the new Iraq, was simply naive and ill-informed. Moreover, it overestimated what the United States could do in democratizing an Arab society, or any society short of total defeat, unconditional surrender, and occupation, such as Japan in 1945.

Another matter that needs to be discussed is the just war principle that once you make war you need to leave in place a better peace. However erroneous the invasion was is the United States leaving in place a better peace?

Correction: It's Condoleezza Rice


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