The fable of Pandora's Box applies well to Iraq. War supporters wish us to judge the invasion and war on the removal of the brutal Saddam Hussein. A broad up-to-date analysis yields a disturbingly more negative assessment, with implications reaching far into the future.
Are the Iraqi people better off today? No. A 2004 Lancet study based on U.S. approved research methods puts the war's Iraqi death toll at 100,000. However, Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Les Roberts, who led the study, said that the results were based on "conservative assumptions." Deaths increased 1.5 times since the invasion, mostly among women and children, and caused by diverse factors, like U.S. air strikes and military interventions, devastated water and health care systems, and militia or death squad activities. International news sources cite studies pointing "to about 250,000 excess deaths since the outbreak of the U.S.-led war" when deaths in Fallujah are included.
Surviving Iraqis confront multiplying tragedies: Poverty rose to 20 percent; A year-old U.N. report shows childhood malnutrition doubled; Minority Rights Group International cites Iraq as the country where minority rights are most under threat; the brain-drain of professionals leaving Iraq takes away its future; a rampant "kidnap-and-ransom" industry complicates security; inflation is skyrocketing; the U.S. backed Iraqi constitution privatizes State industries, expatriating profits into Western pockets; and the budget for the highly touted U.S. Iraqi reconstruction has dried up. Iraq is a deadly mess.
Even if Iraq overcomes internal maladies, effects reaching beyond its borders make this war a disaster for the world and the U.S.
Is the world (including the U.S.) safer? No. Ethnic cleansing in Iraq is pushing the country closer to civil war, risking chaos in the region. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (London) stated "al-Qaeda's recruitment and fundraising was greatly boosted by the U.S. invasion of Iraq." Militants expanded their influence across the region, be it the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the growing militant threat on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan (New York Times), increased al-Qaeda influence in Afghanistan (noted by its Defense Minister), the recent success by Hamas in Palestine, and the hard-liners in Iran (now also influencing Iraq).
Iraq is now a breeding ground for terrorism. An embarrassed State Department discontinued its annual terrorism report because international terrorist attacks are at the highest level since the first report in 1984. The U.S. sponsored National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism counted 3,991 global terrorist attacks in 2005, up 51 percent from 2,639 in 2004. Ironically, a war intended to produce freedom has, according to Amnesty International, lead to an increase in worldwide human rights violations. Tyrants can legitimately argue that since the U.S. waged pre-emptive war, so can they. In 2003, North Korea stated "preemptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S."
U.S. foreign policy has also suffered, with our reputation at an all time low. We found no WMDs. We just heard from a former CIA chief for the Middle East that the Administration "cherry- picked" pre-war intelligence. Britain's Downing Street memo stated that U.S. "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of invasion. Western Alliances are in tatters, while our self-declared "New American Century" has us creating a world empire, with Iraq being the first step.
John McCain understands that torturing Iraqi prisoners puts our soldiers (and even vacationing citizens) at greater risk. Besides the hazards of combat, American military members are also at risk from health impacts caused by depleted uranium (a UN declared WMD) and mental health disorders (with 100,000 such diagnoses).
Domestically, the war has polarized the American public. Privacy and democracy have also suffered In this so-called "War on Terror," which the Administration irrelevantly centers In Iraq. President Bush's view of executive privilege makes Nixon's "Imperial Presidency" and COINTELPRO attacks on privacy and democracy appear quaint. Language has devolved into Orwellian lunacy with war opponents labeled traitors and the president and media calling spying on American citizens a "terrorist surveillance program." Apparently everyone who questions authority is a terrorist.
War expenses are diverting vast resources to corporate profits under "starve the beast" economic policies that harm the needy among us. Research by Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes puts the eventual costs of the war at around two trillion dollars. About 6,800 dollars for every U.S. citizen is going to corporations like Halliburton, whose stock and profits have doubled since the war began.
This Pandora's Box has spread destruction around the world, and the blowback will hit the U.S. We must demand our government close this box and never open it again. We must call our government, and ourselves, to account and understand that just as empires rise, they also fall, brought down by their own hubris. It is time to admit mistakes and ask the world to work with us to rectify them.
(Daniel Jordan, PhD; Instructor, Ventura College and research consultant. Neil Wollman; Ph. D.; Senior Fellow, Peace Studies Institute; Professor of Psychology; Manchester College, IN.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)