The Tin Anniversary of the Iraq War

by Bob Schwartz

Tin CupTin is the traditional gift to mark a 10th wedding anniversary, just as it is silver for the 25th and gold for the 50th. There is no tradition about the anniversaries of wars, so tin will have to do.

All wars are controversial, whatever the split in support (80/20, 20/80, 50/50, rarely true 100% support), whatever the rationale, whatever the price. Every American war has had its naysayers, contemporary with combat and in the rear view mirror of history. World War II came close to consensus, although even there questions are still raised about whether we were late getting in and whether the unprecedented brutal way we got out was necessary.

This paragraph was going to include a bunch of numbers about the Iraq War. But you are going to find those numbers everywhere: how many of our personnel served, how many were killed and wounded, how many civilians were killed and wounded, how much it cost in dollars. Those numbers are meant to demonstrate the price paid, in, as they say, blood and treasure. Here it is in brief: the price was staggeringly high.

And next is something surprisingly good to say about the Vietnam War. If we learned nothing else from that nation-dividing conflict, we learned this: whatever we believe about a war, we can never, ever, ever take anything away from the service of those who fight.

Some people miss an important point when they argue that we have to justify a war after the fact so that those who suffered won’t have suffered “in vain”. It is the exact opposite. When a war turns out in hindsight to present real questions about why, those who fought are maybe more our most loyal heroes, especially in a volunteer army. They didn’t answer a call to defeat some cosmic embodiment of evil (e.g., Hitler); they just loyally answered a call to serve. They deserve all we can give them (which, by the way, includes world-class medical care).

In August 2002 I sent an e-mail to some U.S. Senators, including Bob Graham of Florida and Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Both of them were skeptical about the rush to war, and both—particularly Byrd—believed that the role of Congress was being ignored.

This is an excerpt from that e-mail It is not here to reveal some astute analysis or prescience. Lots of people knew or suspected that something was wrong. It is just here as an artifact of a moment that led us to the anniversary today.

Sent August 29, 2002

Congress has the constitutional power to make war, which includes careful deliberation and action if necessary.

In the case of Iraq, you and Congress should assert that power immediately and clearly. Congress has previously allowed that power to erode in the face of political pressure, and now faces an administration that is using an atmosphere of fear (that it has intentionally or inadvertently helped create) to dare Congress to defy its claimed authority.

When you do exercise that power, as I hope you will, it should be more than a rubber stamp. The President seems to have a simplistic and maybe, with all due respect, a simple-minded view of world affairs. The role he is carving out for the U.S. as the world’s sheriff may be right in a moral sense, but is possibly disastrous in the world of the 21st century. Which evildoer is next on the list; which town is he planning to clean up?

This isn’t High Noon or The Magnificent Seven. We have been lucky in Afghanistan, though I expect things will fall apart there within the next year or so. The destabilization of Iraq, especially in the face of global disdain for our actions, could be much more costly.

Finally, I believe that the President’s strange game of hide-the-ball regarding his plans for Iraq (in the guise of not telegraphing our strategy) is wreaking havoc with our economic confidence. Anybody with any economic insight knows that things are much worse than anyone is willing to talk about, restraining such talk in the hope that consumers and businesses will regain lost faith in the future. There is no way that an attack on Iraq can help that situation, and a thousand ways it can and will hurt.

For the record, when the Iraq War Resolution did pass Congress in October 2002, Byrd, Graham and a total of 23 Senators (21 Democrats, 1 Republican, 1 Independent) voted against it. Of those, only a handful are still in the Senate: Barbara Boxer, Dick Durbin, Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Debbie Stabenow and Ron Wyden. It has been more than ten years, so choice and death have taken the rest of them. One who did vote for it who is no longer in the Senate is John Kerry, who became Secretary of State after the “official” end of the Iraq War, and who, between the vote for the war and the end of it, ran for President.

It’s a funny old world.