July 5, 2004


Bush has tried to keep Americans from contemplating the war's human cost, but he cannot hide the fact that more than 800 U.S. soldiers lost their lives in an unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq

Derrick Z. Jackson, New York Times News Service. Derrick Z. Jackson is a syndicated columnist based in Boston

Upon the handing of power to his handpicked Iraqi government last week, President Bush said, "The Iraqi people have their country back." He said nothing about how long it will take for us to get our country back.

There are more than 800 U.S. soldiers we will never get back, who died in an unprovoked invasion and occupation that was based on Bush's fraudulent claim that Iraq was prepared to attack us with weapons of mass destruction.

We lost global credibility for years to come because by invading on false pretenses, Bush made America a remorseless killer. Bush's rallying cry in his so-called war on terrorism has been the 3,000 innocents who died on Sept. 11, 2001. The estimates of Iraqi civilians killed by us, from human-rights groups, wire services and defense policy think tanks, range from 3,200 up to 11,300, nearly four times as many civilians who died on Sept. 11.

Even though Bush admitted that Iraq had no tie to Sept. 11, he has barely acknowledged the civilian carnage, let alone apologized. With no tie to Sept. 11 and no weapons of mass destruction, Bush's final excuse for his invasion was, "Iraq was ruled by a regime that brutalized and tortured its own people, murdered hundreds of thousands, and buried them in mass graves."

With his silence on civilian slaughter, Bush behaved as if two wrongs could make a right. He said last week, "I think people are beginning to see that we were in fact liberators." We were in fact liberators who turned villages into mass graves.

Bush tried at every turn to keep Americans from contemplating the war's human cost. In Iraq, the military refused to make any estimates of civilian deaths, even as it issued specific, spectacular weekly numbers of "insurgents" killed, gallons of oil that were flowing, restored megawatts, reconnected telephone lines, reopened schools and rehired doctors. "Health-care expenditures are up 30 times over what they were under Saddam," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said recently. Wolfowitz neglected to add how much of those "health-care expenditures" were made necessary by our bombs.

At home, the administration has maintained a media ban on covering the arrival of coffins from Iraq at Dover Air Force Base. The ban was established during the first Gulf war. The administration was so maniacal about fogging our view of the fatal finality that until very recently, even some families of deceased soldiers said they were blocked from the base. The Senate, in a primarily Republican vote, last month defeated a Democrat-led proposal to allow media coverage of the coffins being lowered from military aircraft.

Confident that nothing could cut through the fog, the administration stopped counting the coffins. In a House hearing in April, Wolfowitz was asked how many U.S. soldiers had died. He said, "It's approximately 500, of which, I can get the exact numbers, approximately 350 are combat deaths." At the time, 722 soldiers had died, 521 in combat.

By erasing nearly a third of fallen Americans from his consciousness, Wolfowitz symbolized how the lying wormed a hole right through what little remained of Bush's conscience. Treating Iraqi civilians as if they did not exist begat a chain of dehumanization that ended with American soldiers ceasing to exist. Along the way, there was chump change thrown at surviving families of American attacks, prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib, and holding prisoners in the war on terror without trial at Guantanamo Bay (a policy that was overturned last week by the U.S. Supreme Court). There are many instances of individual bravery and humanity toward Iraqis by American soldiers. Overall, Iraq tragically proved that you cannot dehumanize the other without diminishing yourself.

Iraq also proved that you cannot conduct the most wasteful war since Vietnam without diminishing opportunity at home. In celebrating the hand-over of power, the administration boasted that during the occupation 33,000 teachers were trained, 77,000 public works jobs were created, and 2,200 schools and 240 hospitals were rehabilitated. The Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive Washington think tank, calculated that the money spent on the war or about to be approved by Congress could have instead paid for in the U.S.:

- About 3 million new elementary school teachers.

- Or health care for 27 million Americans currently without insurance.

- Or more than 20 million slots for Head Start.

- Or nearly 23 million housing vouchers.

The cost of the war will go past $200 billion sometime next year. That will be nine times more than what the federal government spends in job training and employment. The study projected that the war will cost each American household an average of $3,415.

The financial costs, of course, are only an addendum to the human costs. Bush boasted that the hand-over "marks a proud moral achievement." The invasion was one of the most immoral acts in U.S. history. With 138,000 troops still there, the occupation is a long way from over. We all know the Iraqi people really don't have their country back. As long as that is true, we will never get ours back either.



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