Ten years ago today, despite heroic, massive protests by peace forces around the world, President Bush launched a war that defied international and U.S. law; a war based on lies, a war that directly killed nearly 4,500 U.S. troops and at least 121,000 Iraqis, wounded over 33,000 U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqis, and left hundreds of thousands more Iraqis dead of sickness, hardship and starvation.
If that isn't horrifying enough, it is a war that has presently cost $1.7 trillion, with another half trillion in benefits owed to war veterans. These are figures from a Brown University report, which also estimates that the costs could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades. Talk about saddling generations to come with an unpayable debt! That is money that could have been spent in so many more productive ways starting with education, job creation and clean energy development.
A decade after it began, the Iraq war has urgent lessons for today.
One is that it is perilously easy to start a conflagration based on lies. The highest levels of the Bush administration repeatedly claimed that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed nuclear weapons, that it had ties with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, that it posed a direct threat to the United States - all of which later proved to be completely false.
Another lesson is that launching a war sets off a host of unintended consequences. Despite all the propaganda about bringing freedom and democracy, the war has left that country with a devastated infrastructure and economy, sectarian strife, an impoverished population and vast numbers of refugees both within and outside the country.
And hundreds of thousands of U.S. families will continue to feel the war's impact for the rest of their lives, as returning veterans struggle to cope with physical and psychological injuries, and with joblessness and other issues of readjustment to civilian life.
Though President Barack Obama officially ended the war and most of the U.S. troops are gone, Washington still keeps a big footprint. Some 16,000 State Department contractors and civilian employees, along with CIA and Special Forces operatives and others, are staffing the huge U.S. embassy and two consulates.
As efforts to wind down the even longer war in Afghanistan continue, new drumbeats about Iran are growing in strength. Among these, the claim that Iran is driving toward building a nuclear weapon has an eerie similarity to the allegations about Iraq a decade ago.
Despite growing concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is for power and not for arms, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress Jan. 31 that the U.S. intelligence community believes Iran has not yet decided whether to restart a program to design a nuclear warhead.
Meanwhile, danger signs are popping up. Among them: a growing and bipartisan group of senators is backing Senate Resolution 65, which declares U.S. support for an Israeli military action against Iran in "self-defense," thus tying the U.S. to a future attack by Israel against Iran.
The most significant lesson of the Iraq war is to make sure history does not repeat itself.
Photo: Coffins draped in the American flag, representing U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq, surround the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., as part of a 2004 antiwar protest. (kevinthoule/CC)