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Five Years of War

After five years of US military operations in Iraq the mission still remains unaccomplished. The war, besides the horrendous cost, has exposed the limits of American power, its army has started to crack under the strain and there is a growing public sentiment that the country should not meddle around the world.

LETTER FROM AMERICA

with about 4,000 American dead and Five Years of War 30,000 wounded and no end in sight. The abiding images of the war for many will not be American cruise missiles over Zia Mian Baghdad but torture at Abu Ghraib and

After five years of US military operations in Iraq the mission still remains unaccomplished. The war, besides the horrendous cost, has exposed the limits of American power, its army has started to crack under the strain and there is a growing public sentiment that the country should not meddle around the world.

Zia Mian (zia@princeton.edu) is at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, US.

I
t is five years since the United States attacked and occupied Iraq. It has spent over $ 500 billion on this war and is currently spending over $ 10 billion a month, about $ 275 million a day. The war was not supposed to be this long or so costly, and there is more to come.

Joseph Stiglitz, the American Nobellaureate economist, estimates that the Iraq war will eventually cost the US between $ 3,000 billion and $ 5,000 billion. This includes military spending, replacing destroyed and prematurely worn-out equipment, the increase in oil prices due to the war, the interest on debts incurred to pay for the war, the loss of economic productivity due to reservists (part-time soldiers) sent to Iraq, and the cost of many years of healthcare for returning wounded soldiers.

Immeasurable Costs

But there are more grievous costs. A national survey by the Iraqi government and the United Nation’s World Health Organisation released in January 2008 found that 1,51,000 Iraqis had died from violence between the March 2003 invasion and June 2006 (the range is between 1,04,000 and 2,23,000). There are no estimates for civilians injured by the conflict.

Along with the dead and injured are the displaced. The United Nation’s high commissioner for refugees reports that: “As of September 2007, there were believed to be well over 4 million displaced Iraqis around the world, including some 2.2 million inside Iraq and a similar number in neighbouring countries”. Three million of these were displaced after 2003. “An estimated 60,000 Iraqis are being forced to leave their homes every month by continuing violence”.

The war has exposed the limits of American military power. The promise of a hi-tech war of “shock and awe” has crumbled into a brutal counter-insurgency the massacre at Fallujah.

The US army has started to crack under the strain. It now has 1,60,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq – almost as many as at the time of the invasion – on extended tours of duty. Faced with home-made bombs and suicide bombers, the US has turned to aerial bombing. Reports show there were five times more US air strikes in Iraq in 2007 than in 2006. And, inevitably higher civilian casualties.

Public Opinion Discredits War

Five years on, the war has faded from the media. Stories about the war were about 3 per cent of the news in February 2008, down from 15 per cent in July 2007. Fading coverage has combined with weariness about what to do about the war, a looming economic crisis, and the presidential election campaign to dull public knowledge about the war. A recent Pew poll found only 28 per cent of Americans knew the current US death toll in Iraq, more people underestimated the actual casualties. Six months ago over half of the public had an accurate sense of American deaths in Iraq.

But public opinion remains resolutely opposed to the war. A recent poll by USA Today and Gallup News Service found almost 60 per cent believed that it was a mistake to have sent troops to Iraq in the first place. It found that over half of Americans now believe the Bush administration “deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction”.

The Iraq war has broken the Bush presidency, cost the Republicans control of the Congress, and may lose them the White House. But its most enduring consequence may be the growing sentiment among Americans that the US should mind its own business and not try to manage the affairs of the rest of the world. This popular will to turn away from empire may succeed in constraining future American leaders.

March 22, 2008

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

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