, Salem, MA

March 8, 2013

Our view: A decade later, Iraq tragedy at forefront

The Salem News

---- — Aeschylus is not exactly a household name, but the words that the Greek playwright penned some 2,500 years ago still ring true today.

“In war, truth is the first casualty,” he wrote. On this 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, we can certainly reflect on, and hopefully learn from, the wisdom of these words.

We all know how the story played out. As America reeled from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, our leaders set about a war strategy aimed at destroying the Islamic terrorist movement. The initial strategy of attacking Afghanistan — the known base of al-Qaida — was the correct strategy, though its execution was lacking.

Then, in March 2003, came the invasion of Iraq, based on “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction in that country. The invasion was controversial from the start, and based entirely on the false pretense that these weapons existed and that al-Qaida had made inroads into the Iraqi government. Those who questioned the White House’s direction and the flimsy evidence produced found themselves accused of being unpatriotic.

We now know the truth. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Al-Qaida was not using Iraq as a base — in fact, its presence there escalated only after the invasion took place.

The lies and faulty evidence cost us dearly. Nearly 4,500 American servicemen and servicewomen died, and another 32,000 were wounded. There are many veterans of the Iraq War who will live out the rest of their lives with severe disabilities, such as lost limbs and other long-term injuries. And for years after the invasion, Iraq became a dangerously destabilized state in a region of the world that didn’t need another powder keg. It evaporated the good will and cooperation that many nations had shown toward the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

This week, another shoe dropped on the folly of the Iraq War. A study by the Special U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction concluded that the $60 billion in U.S. taxpayer money spent on reconstruction of Iraq “underperformed.”

In plainer terms, it was siphoned away due to corruption, political patronage, waste and destruction. Spending that was meant to improve the lot of Iraqi citizens, and theoretically gain their enthusiasm for democracy, failed to deliver. The only bright spot was a much-improved Iraqi security force.

“The level of fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq was appalling,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in reaction to the report.

The Bush administration led this folly of a war, but it was joined by a long list of supporters — Congress, the media and, to a greater extent, the American people. The lack of compelling evidence for attacking Iraq is clear to us now and should have been clearer to us in 2003.

If there is any lesson to be learned, it is that a wisely led democracy can’t led its guard down when it comes to its core beliefs of open government and reasoned exchange of ideas. We were blindly led into a war that wasn’t necessary, and we paid a dear price for it.