Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This evening I plan to attend a candlelight vigil observing that the U.S. war in Iraq began five years ago today, making this the second longest war in U.S. history, longer than World War II, longer than the Civil War, second only to the Vietnam War. It was not supposed to be; “Shock and Awe” was to insure quick and total victory.

I confess that I write this out of anger that borders on rage, but I trust that is an expression of hope. St. Augustine put it this way:
Hope has two lovely daughters, anger and courage: anger so that what cannot be, may not be; and courage, so that what must be, will be.
“Shock and Awe” was a production of the United States
National Defense University in 1996:
“Shock and Awe,” technically known as rapid dominance, is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming decisive force, dominant battlefield awareness, dominant maneuvers, and spectacular displays of power to paralyze an adversary's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.
The authors, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, of this doctrine identified four vital characteristics of “rapid dominance:”
1) near total or absolute knowledge and understanding of self, adversary, and environment;
2) rapidity and timeliness in application;
3) operational brilliance in execution;
4) and (near) total control and signature management of the entire operational environment.
By these criteria the U.S. military forces achieved “2” and “3”, but within weeks of the invasion it was equally clear that the U.S. had miserably failed in “1” and “4”.

Nowhere in this doctrine was any consideration of the legitimacy of its use for a pre-emptive war that was illegal by most any standard of international law or common morality. Illegality and immorality do not, in the short run anyway, presage failure of a military operation. But the ignorance of the war planners in “understanding self, adversary, and environment,” and massive incompetence in “management of the entire operational environment” have brought us where we are today, stalemated in the second longest war in U.S. history.

Iraq is also the second most expensive war in history, surpassed only by World War II. In their new book,
The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (March 3, 2008), Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes link war costs to the current economic crisis:
The spending on Iraq was a hidden cause of the current credit crunch because the US central bank responded to the massive financial drain of the war by flooding the American economy with cheap credit.

The regulators were looking the other way and money was being lent to anybody this side of a life-support system.

That led to a housing bubble and a consumption boom, and the fallout was plunging the US economy into recession and saddling the next US president with the biggest budget deficit in history.
The credentials of these two scholars are not too shabby. Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and former World Bank vice-president. Linda J. Blimes is a professor of public finance at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a former assistant secretary for management and budget in the U.S. Department of Commerce. After this week’s chilling economic news, it may be worth while to pay attention to their research.

In their calculations, they make no attempt to include the cost of the war to Iraq, but they speak clearly to another cost of the war:
One of the greatest discrepancies is that the official figures do not include the long-term healthcare and social benefits for injured servicemen, who are surviving previously fatal attacks because of improved body armour.

The ratio of injuries to fatalities in a normal war is 2:1. In this war they admitted to 7:1 but a true number is (something) like 15:1.

Some 100,000 servicemen have been diagnosed with serious psychological problems and the soldiers doing the most tours of duty have not yet returned.
When you talk about war deaths, any quantification seems to belittle the unimaginable horror and pain one death causes for any one circle of family and friends. I am grateful for the battlefield medical practices that have reduced the ratio of injuries to death in this war. But if we are to try to grasp the enormity of the human cost of this war and if the above ratios are accurate, the number of U.S. soldiers who have been wounded have been upwards of 60,000. That is not counting the 100,000 who have been diagnosed with serious psychological problems and the unknown number yet to come home or those here who have not yet been diagnosed. In comparison with earlier wars with a ratio of 2:1 our death rate would by now already have been over 30,000.

If you contemplate the number of deaths of Iraqis—and I certainly hope you do—and justifiably assume that the injury to death ratio is more like 2:1, how many deaths of Iraqis has this war caused? One
credible estimate is 1,189,173. Others have it much higher. Our government seems to have no interest in the number.

There is yet no way to calculate what the prosecution of this war has cost the democratic institutions of this country—the separation of powers and civil liberty.

Nor is yet no way to calculate the damage done to the morale of our soldiers and to our image in the world by the use of private military companies who are subject neither to the laws of the military, Iraq, or the United States. As Scott Horton puts it in a
recent article in Harpers,
The Bush Administration has crafted a culture of impunity for contractors in Iraq. This can be seen in a number of acts and in a policy of official indifference towards violent crime involving contractors. The victims of this policy are Iraqi civilians, coalition military, and members of the contractor force themselves. As a senior general in Iraq recently told one of my colleagues: “The three biggest threats faced by American soldiers in Iraq are IEDs, al Qaeda fighters, and unaccountable contractors.” Repeated hearings and demands for action from Congress are ignored by the Justice Department.
What rationale to implement “Shock and Awe” justifies these costs? Weapons of Mass Destruction, replacing a dictator, and democratic nation building in the Muslim world, have all been offered and have just as quickly discredited. The truth is the American public does not yet know the real reason why President Bush invaded Iraq. Oil, U.S. hegemony, a justfication for seizing unprecedented power for the executive branch and undermining civil liberties, are suspected, but as far as I know not proven. I believe that it is some combination of these. What we know is that the war in Iraq, in the words of the title of Frank Rich’s book, was
The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but for a while many of us bought the story. Even if at this point the president told us the truth, whatever it was, most would not believe him.

This administration has almost ten more months in office, and more if Senator McCain who seems to be running for a third term of this administration wins. We know that whoever wins the White House in November and takes office in January, getting out of Iraq will not be easy, or without its own costs. We will be paying for this war for generations. The people of Iraq will be paying for centuries.

If another country had attacked our country, as Japan did in 1941, and conducted itself as we have in Iraq, Abu Ghrib, Guantanamo, and other convenient prisons throughout the world disregarding the Geneva Conventions, when the war was over, we would try that country’s leaders as war criminals. If we can’t understand that, we do not understand how much of the world views what we have done in Iraq or the fundamental immorality of our action there.

When I lift my candle against the darkness of this war tomorrow night, I pledge that I will never rationalize the illegality and immorality of this war to my children, my friends, or anyone else. I will also be saying a prayer that Senator Barack Obama is elected in November. The wisdom and breadth of vision he demonstrated in his speech today in Philadelphia, “
A More Perfect Union,” confirmed why he is the person I want as president. He said that if we don’t address the problem of race in this election, there will be something else to distract us in the next one. There are issues, he said, that he must be addressed “this time,” including the war in Iraq:
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
Obama is right; this is “the time.” Now we need that other lovely daughter of Hope—Courage.

- Milo

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