Cost of the War in Iraq
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Opposing the war: how have the arguments stood up?

By Stephen Nathanson / Guest Commentary
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

On July 11, 2002, Newton Dialogues on Peace and War began a weekly vigil in Newton Centre to oppose a U.S. war against Iraq. We also wrote a brief statement explaining our reasons. I recently re-read the statement to see whether our views about the proposed war had been vindicated or refuted by the war itself. How accurately had we assessed the situation?

We gave five reasons for opposing the war:

1. An attack against Iraq will lead to huge loss of life ... civilians as well as combatants, Iraqis as well as Americans, will be killed or injured. Iraq will be devastated, making life difficult for years to come.

What has actually happened? More than 300 American soldiers have been killed; more than 1,500 wounded. Our government has not been interested in counting Iraqi casualties, but private groups estimate the number of Iraqi civilians killed at between 5,000 and 10,000. Iraqi military casualties are probably much higher but are unknown [Source:]. Much of Iraq's infrastructure has been destroyed, and it will take years to restore water, electricity, and security to Iraq. The oil industry that was supposed to pay for reconstruction has also been destroyed.

2. Attacking Iraq will make America less safe ... A U.S. attack could arouse intense opposition in many countries, possibly destabilizing the regimes that we currently support. It could provoke a biological or chemical attack by Saddam Hussein ... and inspire ... terrorist attacks against the United States and against Americans abroad.

Here, we were partly right and partly wrong. Hostility to the U.S. has increased, but so far no friendly governments have fallen. Fortunately, the invasion did not provoke a biological or chemical weapon attack by Saddam Hussein, but no evidence of such weapons has yet been found. The invasion and occupation have attracted militant opponents of the U.S. to Iraq from around the world. There have been numerous attacks, including terrorist attacks against the Jordanian embassy and the U.N. relief headquarters in Baghdad.

3. A war would violate the United Nations Charter....[which] limits military actions to circumstances in which "an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations." A preventive war would violate this provision.

The U.S. invasion is widely seen as a illegal, aggressive war. The lack of evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" has undermined the claim that the war was necessary for self-defense.

4. It will alienate friends and allies throughout the world....A "go it alone" strategy will undermine both our status in the world and our hopes to combat terrorism, since this can only be done with the cooperation of others.

This prediction was correct. A 44 nation poll by the Pew Research Center found that "opinions of the U.S. are markedly lower than they were a year ago. The war has widened the rift between Americans and Western Europeans, further inflamed the Muslim world, softened support for the war on terrorism, and significantly weakened global public support for the pillars of the post-World War II era - the U.N. and the North Atlantic alliance." []

5. A war will make us less able to meet the pressing needs of our society. We should be seeking a society in which all people have access to education, medical care, adequate food and shelter rather than spending our great national wealth on military action.

President Bush's request for an additional $87 billion has made it clear to everyone that the Iraq war carries a high price tag. Our economy is weak, and public programs are threatened. $87 billion is more than enough to pay off all of this year's state budget deficits for our entire country. This costly war weakens the security of all Americans.

Our July statement urged people to use our democratic rights to call on Congress and the president to "renounce the plan for a pre-emptive war and to adopt an internationalist, diplomatic approach that is based on U.N. policies." It was good advice then and remains good advice now. America needs a cooperative, internationalist approach to the problems that face us and people throughout the world. War was not the answer.

Steve Nathanson is a professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University and a member of Newton Dialogues on Peace and War.