Guest Column: Response to Taylor Grant on Iraq War

Taylor Grant’s Guest Column (June 27) makes some very bold and erroneous claims related to the Iraq war. I’d like to comment on each of the 10 points he gave in support of the war effort.

1) Mr. Grant states the military casualty rate in the peacetime period of 1993-1996 was greater than the casualty rate in four years of war in Iraq. This is not true. He says the Iraq casualty count is 3,498. Actually, that is the number of military personnel killed, which now stands at 3,576 as of June 29. The total casualty rate, which includes killed and wounded, is more than 25,000. It is absurd to say more American military personnel were killed or wounded in a time of peace than in a time of war. And don’t forget the “official” casualty rate does not include American paramilitary contract personnel, who represent a much larger portion of Americans in the theater of combat than in any previous war. To date, there is no reliable estimate of the number of contract personnel who have been killed or wounded in Iraq.

2) Whether or not the average Iraqi is better off now than under Saddam is open to dispute. Most opinion surveys of Iraqis would cast doubt on that claim. There is little doubt that basic services, such as utilities, are in worse shape today than under Saddam. It is true that parts of Iraq, such as the Shiite-dominated south, are faring better under the current Shiite government than under Saddam’s brutal regime. On the other hand, there is also little doubt that much of the country suffers from far more random violence and hardship than existed before the U.S. invasion. Mr. Grant says the level of violence and hardship in Iraq is less than that in most U.S. cities. I’d like to know how he makes that determination. Chicago had 448 murders in 2005 (2006 statistics are not yet public). There were 846 American military deaths in Iraq that year, and thousands of Iraqis killed. According to Mr. Grant, perhaps I should take my family to Baghdad on vacation rather than Chicago, New York, or Dallas.

3) Mr. Grant compares the $300 billion spent in the war with the $55 trillion cost of Medicare and Social Security. Without casting judgment on the accuracy of the $55 trillion figure, the comparison is a false one. The $55 trillion he cites for Medicare and Social Security is a projected amount that covers a period of time far in excess of the four years of war in Iraq. In addition, much of those expenses will be paid directly out of payroll taxes. In contrast, no one has been asked to pay for the war. It is being funded by borrowing, mainly from overseas, from governments whose values often contradict ours. The $300 billion spent for this war,+ not to mention the $300 billion increase in the non-war related budget of the Defense Department, will be paid by our children and grandchildren. I wonder how many war supporters would be as supportive if they paid for it themselves with an itemized tax levy.

4) Regarding war profiteering, I don’t know if it’s any worse in this war than any other. What is known, however, is that Halliburton (and others) have benefited from no-bid contracts, and there has been almost no congressional oversight. Compare this to WWII, when Sen. Truman, a Democrat, made his name by investigating corporations that had been involved in wartime profiteering while a fellow Democrat sat in the Oval Office.

5) The coalition, such as it existed, is much smaller now than at any time in the past four years. This was always predominantly an American war, and is more so now. Although the lack of significant allies doesn’t necessarily mean the war effort is unworthy, we should nevertheless take into consideration why so few other nations, most of whom are much closer to Iraq and the Middle East than us, did not, and do not, view Iraq as a threat. Perhaps their judgment is at least as sound as our own.

6) Mr. Grant acknowledges that al-Qaeda is growing. If one of the purposes of the war is to reduce the threat of al-Qaeda, and if al-Qaeda has actually increased its membership, as well as its sympathizers since the war began, then perhaps we should consider our efforts might be counter-productive. If they are, then let’s re-evaluate our tactics.

7) The supply of First Responders available to deal with domestic emergencies has unquestionably been depleted by this war, in which a large percentage of personnel have been taken from the ranks of reservists. The governor of Kansas made this point following the disastrous tornadoes that hit there this spring. The fallout from Katrina would have been bad whether or not there was a war in Iraq. But a few hundred more reservists might have alleviated the situation at least a little. And I think there is enough blame to share. Yes, Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco could have done a better job. So, too, could the Bush administration, which had far more resources on hand to deal with a major catastrophe than the city or state. FEMA, after all, is part of the president’s Executive Branch.

8) Torture. In no other war that I know of was “cruel” treatment of prisoners codified into official policy. Two dozen enlisted men and women have been scapegoated to pay for carrying out an immoral and illegal policy that was formulated in the highest reaches of our government. Senator Durbin and others should be congratulated for trying to restore our nation’s moral foundation.

9) I agree with Mr. Grant, that war is not popular, and that we should not run from it simply because it is unpopular. However, if this war is unpopular, then we need to understand why, and determine if the case against it is sound. This is especially true now, since this war was initiated by the U.S., and was not the result of an Iraqi attack against us. Additionally, a war cannot be effectively waged over the long term if the people are opposed to it. Our military is killing and destroying in the name of the people of the United States. We need to consider the will of the people when engaging in activities as consequential as that.

10) Yes, Iraq has some sovereignty. It has exactly as much sovereignty as our government has consented to give. No country the size of Iraq is truly sovereign when 150,000 foreign soldiers are on its territory. For better or worse, Iraq is an occupied country that the United States has granted a measure of self-government. Mr. Grant points to our own history, when it took six years to form an effective government following the British departure in 1783. There is one big difference: Imagine how Americans would have felt if the British left, only to be replaced with an occupying force of thousands of French or Spanish soldiers. Our history might have developed much differently.

Steven Vaughan is a resident of Rockford.

from the July 25-31, 2007, issue

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