As we leave, let's not forget the costs and lessons of Iraq
The president has ordered our troops home from Iraq by year's end, but it was President George Bush who first announced this withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011. President Obama is enforcing that timetable despite the opposition from some.
George W. Bush is the person who ordered us into the war in Iraq and now we need to consider the benefits and costs of that fateful decision.
First, Americans remember that we were led to war by falsehoods. Again and again President Bush and his top officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld mislead the American people about Iraq's supposed possession of "weapons of mass destruction." Why and how we got into this misbegotten war is critical and we must not forget the lies told from on high, which continue to eat away at our nation's body politic.
It is also important to remember the costs and casualties. As of the beginning of this year, the U.S. has spent and approved $900 billion on the Iraq War. Few can fathom that amount; so think about it this way: at the height of spending in Iraq, we were going through $5,000 each second. Yes, taxpayers' money.
According to our government's Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen, $6.5 billion for reconstruction of Iraq's buildings and infrastructure was reported stolen. Bowen calls it, "the largest theft of funds in national history." Certainly the money was stolen by people and companies in the private sector as well as by Iraqi officials.
As of now, the United States is the only nation left in Iraq — 40,000 troops. America's families have lost almost 4,500 of their loved ones. Of that number, 82 percent of the dead were active duty and 11 percent were members of their state's National Guard. The largest losses of any other country, what President Bush referred to as "the Coalition of the Willing," is 179 casualties among soldiers from England.
ABC News reports the people of Iraq lost more than 10,000 uniformed fighters and an astonishing 100,000 civilians. Other sources estimate as many as 600,000 civilians have been killed.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now refugees, the nation's roads, sewer and water systems destroyed and, although Saddam Hussein is gone and good riddance, the government is in shambles, and the country has collapsed into a dark abyss. Perhaps, with billions more from us, it will stabilize and recover.
Our country, let's face it, was too quick to the trigger and, following the terror of 9/11, attacked the wrong country. Hopefully, we and future generations will learn the costs and casualties brought to us by misinformation, outright lies, blatant theft and political skullduggery.
(Pat Williams, a Democrat, served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at the University of Montana.)