by Robert C. Koehler
Iraq isn't Vietnam, exactly.
No helicopter whisking the last remaining Americans off the roof of the embassy. A contingent of 16,000
But there's little doubt we lost this war -- by every rational measure. Everyone lost, except those who profited from (and continue to profit from) the trillions we bled into the invasion and occupation; and those who planned it, most of whom remain in positions to plan or at least promote the wars we're still fighting and the wars to come.
But in a certain profound sense, the war in Iraq, as we have come to know it, is shutting down. The Obama team couldn't get "Iraq's inspiring but fragile democracy" (in the immortal words of
I find myself reflecting on this the way I might reflect on a berserk car alarm that finally shuts off -- with the ringing still in my ears, with anger and frustration still wracking my body. Something that shouldn't be happening has finally ceased happening, or soon will, but I hardly feel like celebrating.
"If any good comes of the Iraq war,"
I agree, but I don't think this goes far enough. "No more Vietnams" is still operative: The public still hates war; even neocons acknowledge that Nam was a disaster. Because of it, the war interests spent a generation retooling their agenda, and ultimately American society, to work around this fact. Elimination of the draft, for instance, while seemingly a progressive step, took self-interest out of the antiwar movement.
And war propaganda became savvy and benign. Our post-Vietnam military adventures, while still fear-driven, also had "humanitarian" components, like spreading democracy or defending women's rights. We developed "smart bombs," which only destroyed, you know, infrastructure. And as
Whatever "syndrome" does coalesce around this disastrous mistake must develop an intelligence that transcends the machinations that brought it on. For this to happen, we must stare deeply into the heart of the war's consequences.
Most commentary has focused on the two most glaring failures from the point of view of national interest: strategic and economic. Strategically, we "lost" in that the war failed to turn Iraq into a stable, subservient ally. Instead, as
Economically, the Iraq adventure cost more than World War II, as
Then there's the death toll. Officially, almost 5,000 U.S. troops have died, with another 32,000 wounded. These numbers hardly begin to measure the extent to which vets' lives have been shattered; most of them return from extended duty with some form of PTSD.
But the numbers go wild, and Iraq Syndrome swells into a raging antiwar movement, when we consider the war's consequences from the Iraqi point of view. We don't do body counts, but some years ago the British medical journal Lancet calculated the civilian death toll at more than 650,000. Other estimates go beyond a million dead. In addition, 4.7 million Iraqis were displaced from their homes. And what about the "inspiring democracy" we've created? According to
Finally, Iraq Syndrome must include awareness of our toxic legacy, in particular the radioactive fallout resulting from exploding several thousand tons of depleted uranium munitions. Last year, the
The failure of the Iraq war is the failure of all wars, past and future: national policy grounded the dehumanization of a people. A military-industrial economy requires such policy to continue, and so it does. Iraq Syndrome may be our best hope in thwarting the power of the war consensus, especially if it includes the awareness that what we do to others we eventually do to ourselves.
"United States: Iraq Syndrome "