This is the nineteenth Blog in a weekly series regarding the state of leadership in America. On the tenth anniversary of US involvement in Iraq I believe that it is appropriate to look back and assess US leadership during this period in our history. Let’s first look at the numbers:
• Number of US soldiers Killed: 4487.
• Number of US soldiers wounded: 32,221.
• Percent of US casualties under the age of 25: 54 percent.
• Number of US soldiers who committed suicide: 349 in 2012 and 301 in 2011.
• Average wait time for veterans to receive benefits: 273 days.
• Number of veterans who waited one year or more for benefits: 245,000.
• Cost of the war: $810 Billion with some estimates much higher.
• Additional cost of reconstruction projects in Iraq: $60 Billion.
• Cost of deploying one US soldier for one year: $390,000.
• Number of Iraq’s killed: 134,000 and could be higher.
• Original estimate by the Bush Administration of the cost of the war: $60 Billion.
• Number of Americans who now say in the latest polls that the war was a mistake: 53 percent.
No matter how you assess these numbers, what’s clear is that our nation paid a high price in blood and money to topple a regime that did not possess the weapons of mass destruction as proclaimed by the Bush Administration. Further, with a mixture of ignorance and arrogance, our leadership dismantled Saddam Hussein’s regime and the government structure so completely that we could not leave Iraq in such a weakened state in a hostile region. Our invasion had destroyed a tyrant, but it also left us without an exit strategy. We did not fully understand the Iraqi culture and the age-old hatreds bubbling beneath the surface. The Administration had expected that the people of Iraq would see the US as the liberating force that ousted the tyrant and brought them freedom and democracy. What our leaders failed to realize is that you cannot create freedom and democracy with elections. Freedom must be won by a people willing to die for it and democracy cannot be granted by an outside power, it must be forged from within a people. Consequently, after ten years where do we stand and was it worth it?
• Iraq is not the stable strategic US ally in the region as planned.
• Sectarian violence continues between two rival branches of Islam: Shiites and Sunnis for political dominance.
• Unrest and a desire for independence or autonomy remains among Iraq’s Kurdish population.
• Outside terrorists groups persist in infiltrating the country and adding to the violence and insecurity.
• Tribal infighting continues to fracture the peace process.
• The Iraqi police force and army are still not capable of maintaining the peace.
• The Iraqi government is accused of corruption and is often unable to manage its own affairs.
• The war remains a primary cause of our skyrocketing debt.
• Our veterans have not received the assistance they need in a timely manner to effectively deal with physical and mental issues, and suicidal tendencies.
Based on this, I do not know how any leader who authorized this second Iraq War can look in the eyes of any parent, spouse, son or daughter of a service member who died in this war and say that their sacrifice was worth it. However, I believe that we need more time to pass before we can say with any certainty if this war was worth it. If the people of Iraq can maintain internal order and develop into a viable democratic nation, then it may well have been worth it. For the sake of all those who died and for the living they left behind, I sincerely hope and pray that one day perhaps four to five years hence that we will be able to agree that our brave men and women did not die in vain. As a Vietnam Era veteran, enough time has passed for me to be sadly certain that the Vietnam War was not worth the 58,000 deaths.
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