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Hostages to Policy: What We Know About Waste and War in Iraq

March 6, 2007

by guest blogger Tom Engelhardt

Let’s start with the obvious waste. We know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives since the Bush administration invaded their country in March 2003, that almost two million may have fled to other countries, and that possibly millions more have been displaced from their homes in ethnic-cleansing campaigns. We also know that an estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children are now malnourished and that this is but “the tip of the iceberg” in a country where diets are generally deteriorating, while children are dying of preventable diseases in significant numbers; that the Iraqi economy is in ruins and its oil industry functioning at levels significantly below its worst moments in Saddam Hussein’s day — and that there is no end in sight for any of this.

We know that, while the new crew of American military officials in Baghdad are starting to tout the “successes” of the President’s “surge” plan, they actually fear a collapse of support at home within the next half-year, believe they lack the forces necessary to carry out their own plan, and doubt its ultimate success. What a tragic waste.

We know that while the U.S. military focuses on the Iraqi capital and al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, taking casualties in both places, fleeing Iraqi refugees are claiming that jihadis have largely taken over the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, and renamed it “the Islamic Emirate of Samarra” — a grim sign indeed. (Here’s just one refugee’s assessment: “that large areas of the farms around Samarra have been transformed into camps like those of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.”)

We know that, as the U.S. military concentrates its limited forces and the minimal Iraqi units that fight with them, in a desperate battle to control the capital, for both Sunnis and Shia, the struggle simply spreads to less well-defended areas. We also know that the Sunni insurgents have been honing their tactics around Baghdad, their attacks growing deadlier on the ground and more accurate against the crucial helicopter support system which makes so much of the American occupation possible. Some of them have also begun to wield a new, potentially exceedingly deadly and indiscriminate weapon — trucks filled with chlorine gas, essentially homemade chemical weapons on wheels which can be blown up at any moment.

In other words, before the Bush administration is done two of its bogus prewar claims — that Saddam’s Iraq was linked to the Islamic extremists who launched the 9/11 attacks and that it had weapons of mass destruction — could indeed become realities. What a pathetic waste.

We know that, while Americans tend to talk about the “Iraq War,” with a few exceptions like the fierce battle with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in Najaf in 2004, it has actually been a remarkably unsuccessful pacification campaign against a Sunni insurgency alone; that is, a war against less than 20% of the Iraqi population (even if every Sunni supports some insurgent faction). We know that billions and billions of dollars have gone down the rat-hole of Iraqi “reconstruction” — with multimillions more simply stolen or utterly unaccounted for by American financial overseers — and that what reconstruction has been done is generally substandard and overpriced in the extreme. What a waste of resources.

We know, on the other hand, that a series of vast military bases have been built in Iraq of a permanency that is hard to grasp from thousands of miles away and that the largest embassy in the history of the universe has been going up on schedule on an almost Vatican-sized plot of land in Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone to represent the United States to a government whose powers don’t extend far beyond that zone. Talk about waste!

We know that we stand at the edge of a possible war with Iran. It could come about thanks to a Bush administration decision to launch a massive air attack on that country’s nuclear facilities; or it could simply happen, thanks to ever more provocative U.S. acts and Iranian responses, leading to a conflict which would undoubtedly play havoc with the global energy supply, threaten a massive global recession or depression, and create untold dangers for the American military in Iraq, which might then have to face something closer to an 80% Iraqi insurgency. What a ridiculous waste.

Hot-button Politics

We know that, since the moment President Bush stood under the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln in early May 2003 and declared “major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” American deaths have risen from relatively few into the range of nearly 100 a month or more. We know that these deaths have also grown steadier on a day-to-day basis like a dripping faucet that can’t be fixed. This February, for instance, there were only five days on which, according to the definitive Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, the Pentagon did not report at least one (and often multiple) American deaths.

It’s finally national news that Americans wounded in Iraq come home “on the cheap” (as Tomdispatch’s Judith Coburn reported back in April 2006). The crisis at the country’s premier military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is already proving to be another “Brownie-heck-of-a-job” privatization scandal (with the contract to run the place having gone to a company headed by two former Halliburton execs), and the nightly network news as well as major newspapers assure us that this is just “the tip of the iceberg.”

According to a Congressional staffer quoted in human-rights lawyer Scott Horton’s “No Comment” newsletter, “This is Hurricane Katrina all over again. Grossly incompetent management and sweetheart contracts given to contractors with tight GOP connections. There will be enough blame to go around, but the core of the problem is increasingly clear: it’s political appointees near the center of power in the Pentagon who have spun the system for partisan and personal benefit. But they’ll make a brigade of soldiers and officers walk the plank to try to throw us off the scent.”

As Juan Cole pointed out recently,

“The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here… The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of ‘privatization’ at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals.”

What a needless waste!

We know that the U.S. military has been …

READ THE FULL PIECE ON TOMDISPATCH.COM

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.

[Note: Though this subject has been on my mind for a while, this piece was inspired by Ira Chernus’s recent post at this site, “Will We Suffer from the Iraq Syndrome”; for other takes on the issue of “supporting the troops,” check out Tom Tomorrow’s latest cartoon; and an editorial at Buzzflash.com (also based on the Chernus piece). The always thoughtful Paul Woodward at the War in Context website offered this comment which might be considered the last word on the subject for the moment: “There is something utterly self-serving about ‘honoring’ the ‘sacrifice’ made by soldiers who lost their lives or were maimed in a war that should never have been fought.”]

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

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