On Dec. 17, the last U.S. soldier was photographed leaving Iraq and the media proclaimed an end to the war which began on March 19, 2003 – almost nine years ago. The war cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $800 billion and claimed 4,483 U.S. soldiers’ lives. At the war’s height, the war in Iraq was costing taxpayers $12 billion each month.
Additionally, more than 1 million Iraqi civilians died, and 4.5 million became refugees. And during the last two years, more U.S. soldiers died by their own hands than in combat. On average, we lose 18 veterans to suicide each day.
So while it is important to mark the “official end” to the Iraq War, it is difficult to muster many cheers. Instead, it is critical to conduct an honest assessment of what happened.
First, we must acknowledge that U.S. presence in Iraq has not ended. The Project On Government Oversight argues that taxpayers will now provide funding for 14,000 to 16,000 contractors in Iraq. According to POGO, some of the companies who will provide contractors in Iraq – KBR, DynCorp and Blackwater – are in the POGO Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (www.contractormisconduct.org). All three contractors have extensive misconduct histories, yet they continue to operate.
Second, U.S. presence in Afghanistan remains – and may extend past 2014. According to a Dec. 20 article in the New York Times, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, suggested that American forces could remain in the country beyond 2014, despite increasing public opinion to withdraw forces from Afghanistan at an accelerated pace.
Lastly, we need to acknowledge the role that “The Protester,” Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” played in changing the course of this war, and what these protesters would like to see in 2012.
Bloomfield-based New Jersey Peace Action opposed the war in Iraq starting in the summer of 2002, many months before the war began. More than 800 protesters marched in Newark in December 2002, drawing the connection between the tremendous costs for war and how each dollar spent on the war would be a dollar taken away from programs and services that cities like Newark require.
Hundreds participated in national marches in Washington, D.C., and millions rallied worldwide on Feb. 19, 2003, trying to prevent the war in Iraq from ever beginning. That anti-war movement continued even after the first bombs were dropped, in an effort to end the war as quickly as possible.
Bloomfield residents started a weekly peace vigil in front of the Bloomfield Public Library shortly after the war began and continued it for years, as part of this national and international effort to stop the war.
While the consistent activism did not stop the United States from starting a war against Iraq, the ongoing activism did influence public opinion to the point where, by 2006, the majority of those polled were against the war. The 2006 elections, when many pro-war elected officials were beaten by anti-war challengers, were seen as a reflection of this shift.
Public opinion against the Iraq war deterred decision-makers from authorizing an invasion of Iran.
Protests to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and to treat returning veterans well upon their return continue today. NJPA is part of a national “Move the Money” campaign to take at least 25 percent of the money from the military budget and move it into funding programs that address community needs.
According to the National Priorities Project, war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan for 2011 was $169.4 billion. This is more than enough money to erase every state’s budget deficit. No deficits mean more money for towns like Bloomfield and a lighter burden on local taxpayers.
NJPA, joined by Bloomfield residents, recently participated on day 170 of the People’s Organization for Progress’ Campaign for Jobs, Peace, Equality and Justice. The campaign honors the 381-day, 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., which led to the desegregation of city buses. POP’s call is for jobs – with the understanding that the overseas wars must end, so that money can be used to help create much-needed jobs.
All are invited to participate in the these efforts to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the war dollars home for our communities – for education, housing, jobs, health care and more.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
The author is executive director of Bloomfield-based New Jersey Peace Action.