It seems that there have been too many milestones recently related to the war in Iraq. There was the fifth anniversary of the war on 19 March; the 4,000 death on Easter Sunday just 4 days later; and yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the most shameless spectacle ever seen in the history of the United States- President Bush declaring that the war in Iraq was essentially won and reconstruction was beginning on the deck of an aircraft carrier and under a banner that declared “Mission Accomplished”. He did this after he had his boyhood dream of being a fighter pilot fulfilled by flying onto the carrier in a fighter jet dressed in full fighter-pilot regalia. The president had his “Top Gun” moment. I have written extensively about this war and my piece written on the fifth anniversary summarizes those articles- Five Years in Iraq- A somber reflection
But as was true in the run up to the war, the President had an extremely effective accomplice- the press.
On May 1, 2003, Richard Perle advised, in a USA Today Op-Ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.” The same day, exactly five years ago, President Bush, dressed in a flight suit, landed on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and declared an end to major military operations in Iraq — with the now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner arrayed behind him in the war’s greatest photo op.
Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a “hero” and boomed, “He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.” He added: “Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple.” Mr. Matthews was shameless on his program yesterday where he was outraged by this “anniversary”.
PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.” On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, “The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a — on a carrier landing.”
When Bush’s jet landed on an aircraft carrier, American casualties stood at 139 killed and 542 wounded.
Five years after President George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier off San Diego, Iraq is in chaos, U.S. troops are mired in a sectarian war, and the entrenched conflict is dragging the nation into a recession.
Indeed, the only people for whom “the mission” has been accomplished are the many companies with lucrative military contracts. They have raked in over $100 billion so far from the Iraq War, enabling them to earn record profits. With Bush intent on staying the course until he leaves the White House, Sen. John McCain voicing his approval for the United States to stay in Iraq for another 100 years, the Democratic candidates unwilling to call for a complete withdrawal of all troops and contractors, and Congress ready to approve another $100-200 billion for the war, it is up to the American people to demand an end to the war.
• Mission Accomplished? 4,056 U.S. Soldiers, Over a Million Iraqis Dead: The Iraq War has cost the lives of over 4,000 U.S. soldiers, over a million Iraqi civilians, and over a thousand contractors. Nearly 30,000 U.S. soldiers have been injured. A recent report estimates that over 320,000 soldiers have suffered traumatic brain injuries and estimated 300,000 soldiers will sustain post-traumatic stress disorder. These afflictions will haunt these men and women for the rest of their lives.
• Mission Accomplished? $520 Billion Squandered Over the past five years, Congress has provided over $520 billion dollars for the Iraq War. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimate the long-term cost of the war will top $3 trillion, once you include the interest and debt service payments from this borrowed money, and the costs of rebuilding the military after the war and providing for veterans’ long-term health care.
• Mission Accomplished? $100 Billion Spent on Contractors: The mission has indeed been accomplished for corporations with military contracts. Since the war began, they have reaped large profits, while producing substandard work, putting our nation’s soldiers at risk on the battlefield time and time again. Military contractors have opened fire on Iraqi civilians and reconstruction contractors’ work has been fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse. While Congress has tried to mandate better oversight of companies such as Halliburton, CACI, Titan, and Bechtel, Bush has exempted contractors from any real accountability.
• Mission Accomplished? Fueling a Sectarian War: As the war has dragged on, the United States has tried many different approaches to bolstering security on the ground. Over the past five years, the United States has spent over $20 billion training the largely Shi’a Iraqi army and police, and also arming and training the Kurdish Peshmerga troops in Northern Iraq. But since the “surge” began, the U.S. has also been arming, training, and financing the largely Sunni “Awakening” councils. Further complicating the situation, the U.S. has backed the sectarian Iraqi government in their attacks on the forces loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, fueling the Shi’a-Shi’a conflict in Iraq’s South.
• Mission Accomplished? Majorities of Iraqis Want the U.S. to Withdraw: Since the war began, Iraqis have supported a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This still holds true five years later, latest polling indicates nearly 40% of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave immediately and less than 30% believe the United States is making Iraq safer.
• Mission Accomplished? No End in Sight: Over a year ago, Congress demanded that Bush produce a plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, Bush decided to send more troops into the battlefield. In recent hearings, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker indicated that no plans were being made for withdrawing additional U.S. troops. More importantly, they didn’t offer any new plans for how they could stabilize Iraq, promote reconciliation, reduce costs, and protect Iraqi and U.S. lives on the ground in Iraq. Over the past five years it has become crystal clear, continuing the war and occupation of Iraq only leads to greater death and destruction.
Standing on the deck of a ship and declaring “Mission Accomplished” doesn’t make it so. Since Bush’s ill-timed and now easily lampooned speech, Iraqis are no better off, U.S. soldiers continue to be put in harm’s way for an ill-defined and poorly executed mission, and our presence is only fueling the violence on all sides.
As we mark this fifth anniversary and Congress begins to deliberate spending an additional $100-200 billion to continue the war, we need to ask our nation what mission can be accomplished? By “staying the course” we only prolong the inevitable, doing more harm to both Iraqis and ourselves as we plunge deeper into economic crisis.
With 70% of Americans opposed to the war, and large majorities supporting a timeline for withdrawal, it’s time to demand the same from Bush and Congress. The most important mission to accomplish now is political — it’s time for our leaders to stop the funding, bring the troops home, and pledge our long-term support to Iraq.
It’s true that the nation’s focus has moved from the war to the economy because Americans are more concerned with their wallets than a war; a war where they were told to go shopping as a way to support the troops. But it is clear that this entire fiasco was the biggest disaster in American foreign policy and one of the presidential candidates fully supports the war- John McCain. It is also clear that Hillary Clinton was one of the Senators that gave Mr. Bush the green light for this farce. Only Barack Obama, of the three candidates, decried the war from the beginning.
While Indiana and North Carolina squabble over a bogus gas tax holiday, let’s also remember what Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton hath wrought in Iraq.
Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton have an ally in the press as Bush did in the run up to the war and on May 1, 2003. For the past week we have heard everything about Reverend Wright and nothing about the 52 troops who died in April.
This hasn’t been Mission Accomplished- it has become mission impossible and it will take someone who will change the landscape of our foreign policy and who has the willingness to engage in real diplomacy to extricate us from this quagmire.