Today marks the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, and as such it's as good a time as any to examine the controversial conflict through the eyes of 21st Century Jeffersonianism.
During his tenure as President, which ran from 1801 to 1809, the central tenant of Thomas Jefferson's foreign policy was the need to avoid war. Like any rational human being, Jefferson had an abhorrence of war and all the death and destruction it causes. Even when faced with massive provocation by Great Britain in 1807, including the impressment of American sailors and a bloody and unprovoked attack on an American warship, Jefferson successfully avoided war and sought to resolve the disputes between the two countries by diplomacy and economic measures rather than by force.
Had he lived to see the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jefferson would have been horrified by the decision of President George W. Bush to launch America into an unnecessary war of choice, as opposed to a war of necessity. Our country is still suffering the consequences.
Here are eight reasons that 21st Century Jeffersonians should consider the Iraq War to be an unmitigated disaster which never should have happened, and why we should strive to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again.
1. 4,400 Americans have been killed in the Iraq War. While some may point out that these losses are small in comparison to previous American wars (nearly 7,000 Americans died in the Battle of Iwo Jima alone), this doesn't change the fact that each one of these 4,400 lives was the totality of existence for the person in question, and that their loss was a source of infinite sorrow for their loved ones. And the loss of each one of these 4,400 American lives robbed the country of a person with as limitless a potential as any citizen. What might they have done with their lives, and how much might our country have gained. had they not been sacrificed?
And we would be remiss if we forgot the hundreds of British, Italian, Australian, and other troops who have died in Iraq since the commencement of the war.
2. At least 100,000 Iraqis, and possibly many more, have been killed as a direct result of the American invasion. Reread the above statement, and multiple it many times over.
3. The Iraq War has cost American taxpayers around $700 billion. While the financial cost of the war cannot be compared to the human cost, neither can it be ignored. Every single dollar poured into the conflict is taken from the pocket of a hard-working American, either alive today or yet to be born. The financial cost of the war is a significant contributing factor in the disastrous fiscal situation our country finds itself in. And when we factor in the cost America will continue paying for many decades in order to properly care for the tens of thousands of wounded soldiers, the financial price of the Iraq War will increase enormously.
4. The war was illegal under both American and international law. In 1945, the United States signed the Charter of the United Nations, perhaps the most important treaty in the history of international relations. Article 2 of the treaty clearly states that signatories are forbidden from taking military action against other nations except in self-defense, and Article 6 of the Constitution declares international treaties to which the United States is party are part of the supreme law of the land. By invading Iraq, which had not attacked the United States and had no plans to do so, our country was betraying the rule of law on which it was founded.
5. The war badly damaged the international standing of the United States. It may not matter much is the "usual suspects" in the Arab world or China are angry at the United States, but when we lose the respect of the people in countries like France, Germany, Japan, and Canada, we obviously have a very big problem. While President Obama is to be commended for his hard work at rebuilding America's international standing (his greatest achievement in office, from a Jeffersonian point of view), it is clear that the international standing of our nation is still much worse today than it was in the aftermath of 9/11. Unilaterally invading other nations is not the behavior of civilized nations.
6. The Iraq War distracted from the campaign in Afghanistan. The campaign in Afghanistan was undertaken in self-defense in response to a direct attack, and the need to eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda was clear. But the invasion of Iraq robbed the campaign in Afghanistan of the necessary troops and resources required the finish the job there. As a result, American soldiers are still dying in the mountains of Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden still remains at large.
7. The Iraq War inflamed Muslim public opinion against the United States. Undertaken ostensibly to help rid the world of terrorism, the Iraq War only made it worse. Episodes like the prisoner torture in Abu Ghraib and the occasional killings of civilians by American servicemen certainly don't reflect the U.S. military as a whole, but try telling that to the Iraqis and the rest of the Muslim world. And even under the best of circumstances, a foreign occupation of one's country is a humiliating and angering trauma. Every eight-year-old boy who was awoken in the middle of the night by American soldiers breaking down his door and dragging off his father or older brother is a potential suicide bomber in the coming years.
8. There was simply no reason to invade Iraq. The claims of weapons of mass destruction, which the Bush administration trotted out using words like "proof" and "certainty", was revealed to be absolutely false, showing them to be either complete fools or deliberate liars. After all, Iraq had let the U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country months before the invasion, and they were still at work when forced to leave when it became clear that the United States was going to attack anyway.
And assertions that Saddam Hussein was simply a brutal dictator who needed to be removed from power certainly raise eyebrows in view of the fact that the world is filled with such people: Saudi Arabia, China, Belarus, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Cuba, and others (many of them, we must shamefully admit, our allies). Shall we cover the world in blood by trying to invade and overthrow them all? As John Quincy Adams said in 1821, the United States "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."
It is far too soon for history to judge President George W. Bush. But if Thomas Jefferson could have watched his presidency unfold, he would certainly have shaken his head in shame at the Iraq War. 21st Century Jeffersonians must hold their elected leaders accountable and make sure that nothing of this sort ever happens again.