|
|
|
Wayne Post
  • The invasion of Iraq: Was it worth it?

  • On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a Canandaigua Academy grad and others question whether the war was worth it — in lives and dollars.

    • email print
  • Charlie Becker vividly recalls that September morning in 2001 when he entered Mr. Piper’s homeroom at Red Jacket Central School.
    As usual, being able to turn on the TV was not a regular thing, but this particular morning, Mr. Piper said “yes.”
    What flashed on the screen was for Becker and everyone else watching, was a horrific and unbelievable sight: The Sept. 11 terror attacks.
    “I love my country, and after seeing that, you feel you have got to do something, you just can’t let it happen,” said Becker.
    In 2006, two years after graduating from Canandaigua Academy — after transferring from Red Jacket Central School — Becker joined the Army. While it wasn’t entirely for patriotic reasons — he was caught with marijuana, and realized it would jeopardize financial aid for college, and he didn’t want to go anyway — he did carry the pride of his grandfather, a Vietnam veteran.
    Becker signed on as a combat engineer, and it landed him in some of the most dangerous areas of the war. He spent most of his deployment from Dec. 1, 2007 to Feb. 11, 2009 in Sadr City, Iraq.
    Now, four years later and trying to put his life back together at home, Becker is filled with mixed emotions as the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion, which took place on March 19, 2003.
    He questions the war, battles the scars of his service and hopes for a better future. “We did a lot of things you don’t want to do,” said Becker, 27, of his deployment in Iraq.
    War experiences left him with post traumatic stress disorder. He fights anxiety, which robbed him of the easygoing, outgoing personality he had before he went to war.
    “I feel like I am always trying to get back to where I was before deployment,” he said.
    Help comes from professionals at places such as the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester, the city where Becker now lives, and from his passion for BMX bicycle motocross, and his work with Kink Bike Co.
    Becker said he is troubled by all the Americans and Iraqi citizens killed or hurt in the war and the billions of dollars spent. He thought of those things during his deployment as well, he said. “It goes through your mind, like ‘what are we doing here?’” Becker said.
    Ten years and $60 billion in American taxpayer money later, many government and military leaders have second thoughts as well. In his final report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen’s conclusion was clear: The U.S. spent too much money for too few results. Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.
    Page 2 of 3 - The reconstruction effort "grew to a size much larger than was ever anticipated," Bowen told The Associated Press in a preview of his last audit of U.S. funds spent in Iraq. "Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended."
    However, said Becker, there are things he looks back on with pride, such as rebuilding many playgrounds for the nation’s kids.
    “We did a lot of good,” he said, adding, however, that those projects don’t make up for the death and destruction the war caused.
    “I think we got into business there we didn’t need to get into. I think we made a big mistake. I think we made a big, generational mistake,” Becker said.
    Others concur.
    "The war has been a strategic failure when its costs are compared to its benefits," said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst and chairman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    A new study by the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University said the war “has cost $1.7 trillion, with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest."
    The death toll of Iraqi civilians, security forces, journalists and humanitarian workers is estimated at 189,000, according to the study.
    The report concluded the United States gained little from the war while Iraq was traumatized by it. The war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region, set back women’s rights and weakened an already precarious health care system, the report said.
    Meanwhile, the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure, with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud, it said.
    On the bright side, campaign posters once again line Iraqi streets, heralding a new round of voting coming up. In many places they hang alongside banners adorned with the image of revered Shiite saint Imam Hussein — a public display of faith rare during Saddam’s rule.
    Iraqi citizens today are unafraid to criticize their elected leaders in public — with some even going so far as to wish Saddam still ruled — and guests on TV talk shows boldly rail against corruption and other wrongdoing by their elected leaders.
    There are other signs of progress, too.
    Fresh investment in the oil sector has pushed Iraq into the No. 2 producer spot in OPEC, boosting the economy. New businesses are opening up, like a popular Baghdad shopping mall and swanky hotels in the capital, southern Shiite pilgrimage centers and the northern Kurdish city of Irbil.
    At the newly-opened Aroma restaurant in Baghdad, waiters take orders for spaghetti and pizza on iPads. Dalia Ayad, a college student eating there with friends, said the new businesses are a sign that Iraq is moving forward.
    Page 3 of 3 - “There is a change going on in the country,” she said. “But it’s not moving fast enough.”
    That is partly because Iraq remains a sharply divided society.
    Majority Shiites tend to see more reason for hope than Sunnis do.
    “Now people can hold protests against the government and criticize government officials,” said Haider Ali Hassan, a government employee in the southern city of Basra. “There are a lot of shortcomings and problems ... but it is still better than Saddam’s time.”
    Saddam’s Sunni-dominated government ruthlessly suppressed dissent, especially from the Shiite and Kurdish communities where opposition to his rule was more widespread.
    The U.S.-led invasion upset the Sunnis’ privileged position since Shiites and Kurds were more willing to support the new order.
    “The United States destroyed the last remaining good things in Iraq. The current situation is definitely not any better than under Saddam,” said Muhanad Majid, a Sunni coffee shop owner and father of two in the northern city of Mosul.
    For Charlie Becker, he is holding on, determined to heal. Maybe our leaders learned a lesson as well, he said. “I hope we use our resources the way we should, in a good way, and not for war,” he said.
    — The Associated Press contributed to this story.
     
     

        calendar