The Iraq War Is Ending, Our Work Is Not
By Matt Southworth on 10/22/2011 @ 12:45 AM
“As promised the rest of our troops will come home [from Iraq] by the end of the year” President Obama told reporters during an unceremonious press conference today. “After nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
“America’s war” in Iraq maybe ending, but the horrors the war represented for the Iraqi people, the memories that haunt me and so many other veterans, and the devastation inflicted will forever scar our national history. This war of choice, the premise of which was fixed around false pretense, has cost hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of lives, trillions of dollars ($823.2 billion in operational costs alone) in long term costs and, in my view, a loss in morality we may never regain. Where is the accountability; where is the justice?
U.S. military operations are coming to a close but this war is far from over for too many people. Hundreds of thousands of the two million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have filed claims with the Veterans Administration (VA) for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 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 life long.
What about the Iraqis? What about the Iraqis who were tortured to death in prisons in Iraq and around the world; what of the “collateral damage” the U.S. inflicted on innocent Iraqi civilians? I came home; I am one of the lucky ones. Iraqis who have lived the reality of war for the last nine years —some might say longer—are home. While the majority of Americans remain far from the conflict, Iraqis have suffered unconscionable horrors. There are 25 million Iraqis living in Iraq today. Every single one has been directly affected by the conflict; every single Iraqi has PTSD.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.” Right?
So what happens next? President Obama insisted U.S. troops would come home, but said nothing of contractors in Iraq. The fiscal year 2012 funding request (which runs from 01OCT11-30SEPT12) for Iraq operations was $17.7 billion, $6.2 billion of which covers the State Department. The rest of the $11.5 billion, the Pentagon’s portion, is likely for operations and withdrawal by the end of the year. What will the State Department do with $6.2 billion dollars? That’s not entirely clear yet. The U.S. embassy in Iraq is the largest in the world and could employ up to 18,000 people—most of whom would be contractors. Whether or not they’ll be security contractors or development contractors remains to be seen.
President Obama has invited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the White House in December to “continue discussion on how [the U.S.] might help Iraq train and equip its forces.” Continuing, the President said the U.S. “will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant.” I have a number of questions about what this will look like in the long term. Perhaps we should learn from the past: the U.S. has armed Iraq before and it did not end well (see: 1991 Gulf War). Moreover, the Obama administration should not make a habit of sending “military advisors” around the world, like the 100 that will go to Uganda. These policies will lead to positive outcomes in neither Uganda nor Iraq.
Ultimately, I am thankful that Iraq will now be left to Iraqis. This has been a long time coming, without doubt. This, of course, does not mean my work or the work of FCNL is done. The U.S. has an obligation to help Iraq non-militarily and take care of the veterans who served. We should stay vigilant to ensure these things happen. At FCNL, we seek a world free of war and the threat of war. We believe peace is possible through peaceful means. I intend to work tirelessly to contribute what I can to that ultimate end of a world without war.