The High Cost of War

By Joseph Mulkerin

461,000 civilians were killed in the Iraq war and that’s not even counting those who have died as an indirect result of the conflict since the “official” end of U.S. military operations.  Add to that 28,000 Afghanis in a war which will seemingly never end. In addition, four million were internally displaced from both countries. Hundreds more have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The endless and perpetually amorphous “war on terror” has now gone on so long that an entire generation has grown up never knowing a time when our nation was at peace. As American citizens, nay, as decent human beings we would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge these cold brutal facts

What has this war gotten us? In addition to the millions of corpses, an entire region has been destabilized, ISIS has risen to power and we have a new heroin epidemic. All for the price tag of 1.7 trillion dollars. Just remember that the next time anybody asks you how you propose to pay for free college and universal health care. What’s really tragic is that if the candidates in this general election are any indication, this war shows no sign of weakening. Unless Bernie Sanders manages to pull off a miraculous upset, or Hillary Clinton is indicted and forced out of the race, we will be reduced to a choice between two candidates who would make anyone desirous of a more peaceful world shiver. Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness is well-documented – her much vaunted Iraq War vote, her call for an increase in sanctions against Iran, her warm relationship with Henry Kissinger and her typically bellicose speech to AIPAC this past March – all speak volumes as to what her foreign policy would be like as president. Meanwhile Donald Trump’s foreign policy is as sociopathic as one would expect from the orange-faced fascist. From advocating the resumption of waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” to calling for reprisal killings against the family members of terrorists, the presumptive GOP nominee has repeatedly made clear that he has absolutely no qualms about committing war crimes. He also claimed recently with zero evidence that the Egypt Air crash was the result of terrorism. That kind of knee-jerk impulsivity in foreign policy decision-making as president could be deadly.

This bleak choice virtually guarantees that war will continue beyond 2016. The longer this conflict endures and the more civilians are killed, the more it benefits groups like ISIS, who are bequeathed fresh propaganda victories. The more terrorist attacks that ISIS launches, the more that hatred against Muslims increases and the likelihood that xenophobic demagogues like Donald Trump in both the U.S. and Europe will benefit. Thus endless war only benefits the forces of reaction. The sad thing is that Obama triumphed over Hillary in 2008 largely because of her Iraq War vote which she would not even apologize for until 2014. Over the course of his presidency, however, he has repeatedly delayed withdrawal to the point that the U.S. will now maintain a permanent troop presence beyond 2017. This is despite Vice-President Biden’s insistence in his 2012 debate that we would be “totally out” by 2014. He has also launched 370 drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, vastly expanding the program begun under Bush. According to studies, the vast majority of victims have been civilians. Although the level of support among liberals has decreased somewhat from a high of 77% in February, 2012, to just 52% in May, 2015, a majority still approve of the program. Some have vocally defended it in terms which one would expect to hear from Donald Trump.  As revolting as Trump’s support for torture is the sad fact is that Obama himself gave tacit approval to the program. In 2008, Obama campaigned on a promise to “immediately review” all evidence of criminality in the torture program. In April, 2009, however, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that CIA officials would be shielded from immunity while simultaneously releasing a series of memos which detailed brutal and gruesome torture techniques. If some of the officials who perpetuated these heinous acts had simply been brought up on trial and made an example of we could have set a precedent against future wrongdoing. Instead Obama affirmed a much more grim precedent, one set with Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, which effectively implies that elected officials have carte blanche privilege to break the law. Thus Trump is now able to openly advocate a return to the same barbaric tactics for which the U.S. tried Japanese officers after World War II. 

It is imperative for those of us on the left to make opposition to war a priority. We must make the point that it is immoral and damaging to our own security to wantonly murder civilians in the drone program at a ratio of fifty to one. All this does is create potential recruits for ISIS from people who might not necessarily even agree with their ideology, but just want to avenge the death of loved ones. Already in 2010 Faisal Shahzad, the thwarted Times Square bomber, explicitly stated at his arraignment that opposition to the drone war was one of his motivations. Farea Al-Muslimi is a Yemeni activist who studied in the U.S. and returned to his home village of Wessab where he shared “the friendships and experiences that I described to the Villagers which helped them to understand the America that I know and that I love.” Unfortunately Wessab was struck by a drone which killed 4 victims on April 17, 2013. In congressional testimony he gave a week after the drone attack, Al-Muslimi described the harrowing effect it had on the village’s residents. “What violent extremists previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab.”

Opposition to war can be tied to other domestic issues as well. If we actually implemented Bernie Sanders’s tuition-free college plan fewer incentives would exist for young men and women to join the military for GI benefits. Above all, a concerted grassroots effort has to be made to bring this endless war into the public consciousness. Recently legislation introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) to repeal the AUMF was rejected. We should call upon her to reintroduce this legislation and call upon our representatives to vote in favor of it. We should also pressure them to reject the routine defense appropriations bills which fund the military, and engage in direct action against military contractors. A concerted grassroots effort to break the bipartisan consensus in favor of endless war is absolutely vital to ensuring the success of every other movement we care about and arguably to the future of humanity as well.

Joseph Mulkerin is a  DSA member, a freelance journalist and musician. Although he has resided in numerous locales he likes to think of his main home base as Brooklyn.


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