Brokaw: debate about war conspicuously absent in midterms

October 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Aside from grumblings on the left about endless war in Afghanistan, Tom Brokaw is right:

Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?

How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.

In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.

So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?  The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.

Perhaps the way to bring it front and center is to put it in purely financial terms:

CostOfWar lets you measure the tradeoffs of the trillion+ spent on those two wars. You can spend hours on the site researching the cops, nurses, teachers and infrastructure we could have paid for with the billions spent on Iraq.

I’d like to focus on one particularly stunning number put forth by Arlen Specter. Granted, he wasn’t doing it in the context of the cost of war, but it’s a perfect example of why we need to be dubious about the growing consensus that Iraq was a success:

It is my opinion that it is scandalous in this country that we haven’t done more by way of combating these illnesses. I requested an estimate from the cancer community of what it would take to make a major attack to virtually cure cancer. We can’t talk about curing cancer, but the kind of a major attack which would reduce cancer vary materially. We got back a figure of $335 billion over 15 years. Well, those are big numbers, but they would pay off in very substantial rewards when you consider the cost of cancer is over $200 billion a year. The cost of heart disease is almost $450 billion a year. There are ways and economies within the Federal budget to deal with those issues.

Specter asked a fundamental question: what would it cost to cure cancer? The number he was given was less than half the cost of the Iraq war. To launch a frontal assault on cancer and save innumerable lives.

It is an unspeakable travesty that we can afford to go to war based on lies and deceptions, causing the death and injury of hundreds of thousands, but we can’t spend the money it takes to embark on an assault against a scourge like cancer.

Quick, flush this down America’s memory hole

September 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

One of the stupefying realities of our time is that there’s nothing that can’t be dumped down America’s memory hole. Whether it’s an epic oil spill or a war based on lies, America has an incredible capacity to make unpleasant facts vanish.

Does it matter what Iraq cost us in blood and treasure? Not anymore. The war is officially gone and forgotten and this inconvenient article will get flushed away in short order:

Writing in these pages in early 2008, we put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration’s 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war.

But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war’s broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.

Moreover, two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict’s most sobering expenses: those in the category of “might have beens,” or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only “what if” worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?

The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources — including both money and attention — are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere.

Quick, flush.

UPDATE: Twelve killed in suicide assault on Iraq army base.

UPDATE II: Frank Rich nails it:

In recent polls, 60 percent of those surveyed thought the war in Iraq was a mistake, 70 percent thought it wasn’t worth American lives, and only a quarter believed it made us safer from terrorism. This sour judgment is entirely reality-based. The war failed in all its stated missions except the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

While we were distracted searching for Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Iran began revving up its actual nuclear program and Osama bin Laden and his fanatics ran free to regroup in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We handed Al Qaeda a propaganda coup by sacrificing America’s signature values on the waterboard. We disseminated untold billions of taxpayers’ dollars from Baghdad’s Green Zone, much of it cycled corruptly through well-connected American companies on no-bid contracts, yet Iraq still doesn’t have reliable electricity or trustworthy security. Iraq’s “example of freedom,” as President Bush referred to his project in nation building and democracy promotion, did not inspire other states in the Middle East to emulate it. It only perpetuated the Israeli-Palestinian logjam it was supposed to help relieve.

For this sad record, more than 4,400 Americans and some 100,000 Iraqis (a conservative estimate) paid with their lives. Some 32,000 Americans were wounded, and at least two million Iraqis, representing much of the nation’s most valuable human capital, went into exile. The war’s official cost to U.S. taxpayers is now at $750 billion.

Of all the commentators on the debacle, few speak with more eloquence or credibility than Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University who as a West Point-trained officer served in Vietnam and the first gulf war and whose son, also an Army officer, was killed in Iraq in 2007. Writing in The New Republic after Obama’s speech, he decimated many of the war’s lingering myths, starting with the fallacy, reignited by the hawks taking a preposterous victory lap last week, that “the surge” did anything other than stanch the bleeding from the catastrophic American blundering that preceded it. As Bacevich concluded: “The surge, now remembered as an epic feat of arms, functions chiefly as a smokescreen, obscuring a vast panorama of recklessness, miscalculation and waste that politicians, generals, and sundry warmongers are keen to forget.”

Bacevich also wrote that “common decency demands that we reflect on all that has occurred in bringing us to this moment.” Americans’ common future demands it too.

Not a single mention of Iraqi civilian casualties in President Obama’s Iraq speech

August 31, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

George Bush and Dick Cheney invaded Iraq based on lies and deceptions. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives. Tonight, President Obama delivered a strong speech to mark the end of combat operations. One glaring omission: not a single mention of Iraqi civilian casualties. Only a line about sacrifices made by Iraqi fighters who fought alongside coalition troops.

Earlier I wrote the following:

When President Obama speaks to the nation about the end of combat operations in Iraq, he will avoid the elephant in the room: that America was deceived into war.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, and we won’t know it for years, an undeniable legacy of the Iraq war is that Bush and Cheney squandered America’s moral authority with the invasion and we’re still paying the price in blood and treasure.

We all know why Obama can’t talk about Iraq as a failure. It’s because we can’t tell the families of the dead that their loved ones died in vain.

But we don’t have to. They didn’t die in vain. Not if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s when we avoid the bitter and hard truths that we undermine their noble sacrifice.

Let’s pay tribute to the beautiful souls lost in Iraq by being brutally honest and by demanding the truth. Let’s learn from our terrible mistake. We owe it to the memory of those who gave their lives.

Obama has kept a campaign promise and has handled Iraq exceptionally well, but at the very least, one paragraph in his speech should have been devoted to the countless lives we destroyed, the families shattered, the babies and mothers slaughtered. It’s the least we can do.

There is no honest assessment of Iraq and no honoring the dead without admitting it was based on lies

August 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

When President Obama speaks to the nation about the end of combat operations in Iraq, he will avoid the elephant in the room: that America was deceived into war.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, and we won’t know it for years, an undeniable legacy of the Iraq war is that Bush and Cheney squandered America’s moral authority with the invasion and we’re still paying the price in blood and treasure.

So much ink was spilled over this topic that I won’t replay the debate in full. But here’s an excerpt of something I wrote in response to Karl Rove’s recent crowing about “success” in Iraq:

Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator, one of several across the globe. Seeing him brought to justice was an exceptional thing. We don’t focus enough attention on human rights violations across the globe – specifically the wholesale oppression of girls and women – and I wish Saddam’s fate on every other human being who brutalizes and slaughters innocent people.

However, the Bush administration did not put forth human rights as the primary rationale or justification for war. Instead, they lied, claiming at the time of the invasion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent, grave, growing threat to the United States. Countless articles, editorials, blog posts and reports have enumerated those falsehoods and exaggerations and I direct Mr. Rove to “the Google” to peruse them.

No amount of revisionist history will undo the immense and unfathomable death, pain, suffering, blood, gore, and torture unleashed by our ‘preemptive’ invasion, the shattered families, the psychological damage, among our veterans and the Iraqi people. The moral damage to America is deep. The resources spent in Iraq could have been allocated to millions of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, to education and medical research, to health care — saving thousands if not millions of lives rather than killing hundreds of thousands.

Nearly 400 Iraqis died in violence last month. The U.S. still maintains a massive troop presence there. Stability in Iraq is tenuous at best. By all measures in the preceding paragraphs, the Iraq fiasco was, is and always will be a failure. Perhaps less of an unmitigated failure than it could have been, but a failure nonetheless.

We all know why Obama can’t talk about Iraq as a failure. It’s because we can’t tell the families of the dead that their loved ones died in vain.

But we don’t have to. They didn’t die in vain. Not if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s when we avoid the bitter and hard truths that we undermine their noble sacrifice.

Let’s pay tribute to the beautiful souls lost in Iraq by being brutally honest and by demanding the truth. Let’s learn from our terrible mistake. We owe it to the memory of those who gave their lives.

UPDATE:  Katrina vanden Heuvel sums it up on Twitter:

7 years of fighting, 4400 US soldiers & countless Iraqis killed. $ 1 trillion & counting. Worth it? No.

Terrorist dry run: cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, box cutter and three large knives

August 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Today’s message is supposed to be about Iraq, but it looks like this story will suck up significant oxygen:

Several conservative blogs are highlighting the fact that the suspects, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi and Hezem al Murisi, are Muslim. In this super-charged atmosphere, it will add fuel to the mosque debate and to anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.

No doubt the TSA will get serious scrutiny:

The men had a number of cellphones and other items in their bags that made officials suspicious. They also, allegedly, were ticketed for flights that they did not board, sending their bags on flights they were not on.

Were the men allowed to board despite obvious warning signs? If so, why?

UPDATE: More from CNN.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

August 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

It feels like a lifetime ago when I was on the National Mall with hundreds of thousands of fellow anti-war protesters, opposing what we believed to be an immoral war.

We were called traitors and “un-American” and I won’t do the same to those who have gathered for the “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial (except for those who are there to express racist or other such hateful and intolerant sentiments). Rather, I welcome citizen action and activism, I urge more Americans to get involved in the political process, no matter how different their views from mine.

Seeing the relentless focus on the military and watching someone like Glenn Beck wrap himself in the glory of others, I wanted to post an excerpt of something I wrote five years ago:

The Ethics of Iraq: Moral Strength vs. Material Strength

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Mark 8:36

The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter. The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left’s protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader.

War hawks squeal about America-haters and traitors, heaping scorn on the ” blame America first ” crowd, but they fail to comprehend that the left reserves the deepest disdain for those who squander our moral authority. The scars of a terrorist attack heal and we are sadder but stronger for having lived through it. When our moral leadership is compromised by people draped in the American flag, America is weakened. The loss of our moral compass leaves us rudderless, open to attacks on our character and our basic decency. And nothing makes our enemies prouder. They can’t kill us all, but if they permanently stain our dignity, they’ve done irreparable harm to America.

That’s the lens through which I see today’s event. We may gain the world through military might, but what good does it do if we lose our soul? We may pay tribute to those who risk life for country — and they deserve our respect — but Dr. King’s moral authority was born of tolerance, compassion, dignity, honor, integrity, discipline, courage and those are not things we speak about, those are things we do. There’s a lot of talk, a lot of co-opting of Dr. King’s message at this rally, but it would be nice to see his example followed by the people attending.

Dozens killed in Iraq; Afghan girls poisoned; Marine general accuses Obama of “giving sustenance” to Taliban

August 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Here are the latest developments in the dual disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan:

Yesterday I wrote No justice on earth until girls are free from these horrors. Today the horrors continue unabated with a cowardly attack against schoolgirls:

About 40 schoolgirls became ill and were taken to hospital after a suspected gas poisoning in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, another apparent attack by hardline Islamists opposed to female education. The Taliban banned education for girls during their Afghan rule from 1996-2001, but have condemned similar attacks in the past. They have, however, set fire to dozens of schools, threatened teachers and even attacked schoolgirls in rural areas.

In Iraq, where “success” is now conventional wisdom, dozens of souls were snuffed out:

Suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in apparently coordinated attacks on Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and elsewhere on Wednesday, less than a week before U.S. troops formally end combat operations.

And incredibly, a top Marine general said the 2011 draw-down date is giving sustenance to the Taliban (note the ongoing campaign, spearheaded by Petraeus, to abolish that July deadline):

The top U.S. Marine general made a sharp departure from the White House’s talking points on Afghanistan, saying President Barack Obama’s promised July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing troops from the country had given “sustenance” to the Taliban.

We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Gen. James Conway told reporters on Tuesday. “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance….In fact, we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’”

Even a leading conservative blogger realizes how outrageous this is:

I’d be angrier about this than about what Team McChrystal pulled a few months ago. Not that what Conway’s saying is surprising — this has always been the chief hawkish criticism of the July 2011 timetable — but to have one of your own top brass question the strategy publicly, especially in terms this explosive, is mind-boggling.

Arlen Specter’s amazing number and the myth of “success” in Iraq

August 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Let me preface this by distinguishing the many sacrifices by our troops In Iraq and Afghanistan from an assessment of whether the wars are a success or failure. Put differently, putting your life on the line for your nation is noble whether or not the mission is ultimately deemed a success.

That said, I want to delve deeper into the opportunity-cost objection to the Iraq invasion and the Afghan surge.

CostOfWar lets you measure the tradeoffs of the trillion+ spent on those two wars. You can spend hours on the site researching the cops, nurses, teachers and infrastructure we could have paid for with the billions spent on Iraq.

I’d like to focus on one particularly stunning number put forth by Arlen Specter. Granted, he wasn’t doing it in the context of the cost of war, but it’s a perfect example of why we need to be dubious about the growing consensus that Iraq was a success:

It is my opinion that it is scandalous in this country that we haven’t done more by way of combating these illnesses. I requested an estimate from the cancer community of what it would take to make a major attack to virtually cure cancer. We can’t talk about curing cancer, but the kind of a major attack which would reduce cancer vary materially. We got back a figure of $335 billion over 15 years. Well, those are big numbers, but they would pay off in very substantial rewards when you consider the cost of cancer is over $200 billion a year. The cost of heart disease is almost $450 billion a year. There are ways and economies within the Federal budget to deal with those issues.

Specter asked a fundamental question: what would it cost to cure cancer? The number he was given was less than half the cost of the Iraq war. To launch a frontal assault on cancer and save innumerable lives.

It is an unspeakable travesty that we can afford to go to war based on lies and deceptions, causing the death and injury of hundreds of thousands, but we can’t spend the money it takes to embark on an assault against a scourge like cancer.

There are many reasons Iraq is anything but a success. I’ve listed a few here.  But Arlen Specter’s amazing number is one of the most compelling I’ve seen.