Recently fired Army Secretary Thomas White said last week that senior defense officials "are unwilling to come to grips" with the scale of the postwar US obligation in Iraq. Similarly, in February, Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki brought the same message to Congress: occupation of Iraq would take "several hundred thousand" troops. Both men have been publicly admonished.
But as our commitment in Iraq continues to expand, how far off are these statements?
A recent Washington Post editorial suggests that, "The reality is that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will likely be in Iraq for years to come, and (that) country will not recover without extensive investment by the United States and other international donors." Of course, what this means is that American taxpayers are to be squeezed in every direction to pay to "fix" Iraq. And it is becoming increasingly obvious that the open-ended American military presence in Iraq is not welcome: in the past two weeks eight American soldiers have, tragically, been killed in Iraq.
This is not what the attack on Iraq was supposed to be about. It wasn’t supposed to be about nation-building. It wasn’t supposed to be about an indefinite US military occupation. "Regime change" was supposed to mean that once Saddam Hussein was overthrown the Iraqi people would run their own affairs. "Liberation" was supposed to mean that the Iraqi people would be free to form their own government and rebuild their own economy.
Yet the United States is spending tens of billions of dollars and more rebuilding Iraq. The US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, scheduled to return home after its success in Iraq, will remain "indefinitely" because securing Iraq is proving more difficult than defense planners envisioned. The US civilian authority controlling Iraq has cancelled plans to allow the Iraqis to form their own provisional government. American bureaucrats are even running the Iraqi media.
What are we getting ourselves into?
I see the real possibility of our government getting into an expensive, long-term entanglement in Iraq at exactly the time we are beginning to see financial troubles on the horizon. As our nation slinks further into debt and back into deficit, we are making decisions that will literally put our children and grandchildren on the line to pay interest payments for our current policy toward Iraq.
This policy threatens the long-term health not just of our economy but domestic spending on items like education and social security. While some of us in Congress raised these concerns prior to the beginning of the war with Iraq, our questions went unanswered. Instead of focusing on how this commitment would almost certainly drain our resources for years to come, the policy debate wrongly focused almost exclusively on whether we would have the "moral support" of our "allies" and international organizations such as NATO and the UN.
When American policymakers consider the wisdom of foreign entanglements it would be best that they first understand the long-term implications for the people we are elected to represent. We failed to do that with Iraq and the length, difficulty, and seriousness of the long-term commitment is only now coming to be realized by those who advocated this entanglement. Unfortunately, once a project such as this has begun it becomes extremely difficult to set the ship aright and change the course of policy to better reflect the interests of our nation and its citizens. One thing is clear: winning the military battle against Saddam Hussein may well prove the easiest and perhaps least costly part.