Who’s Better Off?

Whenever the administration is challenged regarding the success of the Iraq war, or regarding the false information used to justify the war, the retort is: "Aren’t the people of Iraq better off?" The insinuation is that anyone who expresses any reservations about supporting the war is an apologist for Saddam Hussein and every ruthless act he ever committed. The short answer to the question of whether the Iraqis are better off is that it’s too early to declare, "Mission Accomplished." But more importantly, we should be asking if the mission was ever justified or legitimate. Is it legitimate to justify an action that some claim yielded good results, if the means used to achieve them are illegitimate? Do the ends justify the means?

The information Congress was given prior to the war was false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; the Iraqis did not participate in the 9/11 attacks; Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were enemies and did not conspire against the United States; our security was not threatened; we were not welcomed by cheering Iraqi crowds as we were told; and Iraqi oil has not paid any of the bills. Congress failed to declare war, but instead passed a wishy-washy resolution citing UN resolutions as justification for our invasion. After the fact, we’re now told the real reason for the Iraq invasion was to spread democracy, and that the Iraqis are better off. Anyone who questions the war risks being accused of supporting Saddam Hussein, disapproving of democracy, or "supporting terrorists." It’s implied that lack of enthusiasm for the war means one is not patriotic and doesn’t support the troops. In other words, one must march lockstep with the consensus or be ostracized.

However, conceding that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein is a far cry from endorsing the foreign policy of our own government that led to the regime change. In time it will become clear to everyone that support for the policies of preemptive war and interventionist nation-building will have much greater significance than the removal of Saddam Hussein itself. The interventionist policy should be scrutinized more carefully than the purported benefits of Saddam Hussein’s removal from power. The real question ought to be: "Are we better off with a foreign policy that promotes regime change while justifying war with false information?" Shifting the stated goals as events unravel should not satisfy those who believe war must be a last resort used only when our national security is threatened.

How much better off are the Iraqi people? Hundreds of thousands of former inhabitants of Fallujah are not better off with their city flattened and their homes destroyed. Hundreds of thousands are not better off living with foreign soldiers patrolling their street, curfews, and the loss of basic utilities. One hundred thousand dead Iraqis, as estimated by the Lancet medical journal, certainly are not better off. Better to be alive under Saddam Hussein than lying in some cold grave.

Praise for the recent election in Iraq has silenced many critics of the war. Yet the election was held under martial law implemented by a foreign power, mirroring conditions we rightfully condemned as a farce when carried out in the old Soviet system and more recently in Lebanon. Why is it that what is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander?

Our government fails to recognize that legitimate elections are the consequence of freedom, and that an artificial election does not create freedom. In our own history we note that freedom was achieved first and elections followed – not the other way around.

One news report claimed that the Sh’iites actually received 56 percent of the vote, but such an outcome couldn’t be allowed for fear of a theocracy forming. This reminds us of the statement made months ago by Secretary Rumsfeld when asked about a Shi’ite theocracy emerging from a majority democratic vote, and he assured us that would not happen. Democracy, we know, is messy and needs tidying up a bit when we don’t like the results.

Some have described Baghdad, and especially the Green Zone, as being surrounded by unmanageable territory. The highways in and out of Baghdad are not yet secured. Many anticipate a civil war will break out sometime soon in Iraq; some claim it’s already underway.

We have seen none of the promised oil production that was supposed to provide grateful Iraqis with the means to repay us for the hundreds of billions that American taxpayers have spent on the war. Some have justified our continuous presence in the Persian Gulf since 1990 because of a need to protect "our" oil. Yet now that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the occupation supposedly is a great success, gasoline at the pumps is reaching record highs approaching $3 per gallon.

Though the Iraqi election has come and gone, there still is no government in place, and the next election– supposedly the real one– is not likely to take place on time. Do the American people have any idea who really won the dubious election at all?

The oil-for-food scandal under Saddam Hussein has been replaced by corruption in the distribution of U.S. funds to rebuild Iraq. Already there is an admitted $9 billion discrepancy in the accounting of these funds. The over-billing by Halliburton is no secret, but the process has not changed.

The whole process is corrupt. It just doesn’t make sense to most Americans to see their tax dollars used to fight an unnecessary and unjustified war. First they see American bombs destroying a country, and then American taxpayers are required to rebuild it. Today, it’s easier to get funding to rebuild infrastructure in Iraq than to build a bridge in the United States. Indeed, we cut the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget and operate on the cheap with our veterans as the expenditures in Iraq skyrocket.

One question the war promoters don’t want to hear asked, because they don’t want to face up to the answer, is this: "Are Christian Iraqis better off today since we decided to build a new Iraq through force of arms?" The answer is plainly no.

Sure, there are only 800,000 Christians living in Iraq, but under Saddam Hussein they were free to practice their religion. Tariq Aziz, a Christian, served in Saddam Hussein’s cabinet as foreign minister– something that would never happen in Saudi Arabia, Israel, or any other Middle Eastern country. Today, the Christian churches in Iraq are under attack and Christians are no longer safe. Many Christians have been forced to flee Iraq and migrate to Syria. It’s strange that the human rights advocates in the U.S. Congress have expressed no concern for the persecution now going on against Christians in Iraq. Both the Sunni and the Shi’ite Muslims support the attacks on Christians. In fact, persecuting Christians is one of the few areas in which they agree – the other being the removal of all foreign forces from Iraqi soil.

Considering the death, destruction, and continual chaos in Iraq, it’s difficult to accept the blanket statement that the Iraqis all feel much better off with the U.S. in control rather than Saddam Hussein. Security in the streets and criminal violence are not anywhere near being under control.

But there’s another question that is equally important: "Are the American people better off because of the Iraq war?"

One thing’s for sure: the 1,500-plus dead American soldiers aren’t better off. The nearly 20,000 severely injured or sickened American troops are not better off. The families, the wives, the husbands, children, parents, and friends of those who lost so much are not better off.

The families and the 40,000 troops who were forced to reenlist against their will – a de facto draft – are not feeling better off. They believe they have been deceived by their enlistment agreements.

The American taxpayers are not better off having spent over $200 billion to pursue this war, with billions yet to be spent. The victims of the inflation that always accompanies a guns-and-butter policy are already getting a dose of what will become much worse.

Are our relationships with the rest of the world better off? I’d say no. Because of the war, our alliances with the Europeans are weaker than ever. The anti-American hatred among a growing number of Muslims around the world is greater than ever. This makes terrorist attacks more likely than they were before the invasion. Al-Qaeda recruiting has accelerated. Iraq is being used as a training ground for al-Qaeda terrorists, which it never was under Hussein’s rule. So, as our military recruitment efforts suffer, Osama bin Laden benefits by attracting more terrorist volunteers.

Oil was approximately $27 a barrel before the war, now it’s more than twice that. I wonder who benefits from this?

Because of the war, fewer dollars are available for real national security and the defense of this country. Military spending is up, but the way the money is spent distracts from true national defense and further undermines our credibility around the world.

The ongoing war’s lack of success has played a key role in diminishing morale in our military services. Recruitment is sharply down, and most branches face shortages of troops. Many young Americans rightly fear a coming draft – which will be required if we do not reassess and change the unrealistic goals of our foreign policy.

The appropriations for the war are essentially off-budget and obscured, but contribute nonetheless to the runaway deficit and increase in the national debt. If these trends persist, inflation with economic stagnation will be the inevitable consequences of a misdirected policy.

One of the most significant consequences in times of war that we ought to be concerned about is the inevitable loss of personal liberty. Too often in the patriotic nationalism that accompanies armed conflict, regardless of the cause, there is a willingness to sacrifice personal freedoms in pursuit of victory. The real irony is that we are told we go hither and yon to fight for freedom and our Constitution, while carelessly sacrificing the very freedoms here at home we’re supposed to be fighting for. It makes no sense.

This willingness to give up hard-fought personal liberties has been especially noticeable in the atmosphere of the post-September 11th war on terrorism. Security has replaced liberty as our main political goal, damaging the American spirit. Sadly, the whole process is done in the name of patriotism and in a spirit of growing militant nationalism.

These attitudes and fears surrounding the 9/11 tragedy, and our eagerness to go to war in the Middle East against countries not responsible for the attacks, have allowed a callousness to develop in our national psyche that justifies torture and rejects due process of law for those who are suspects and not convicted criminals.

We have come to accept preemptive war as necessary, Constitutional, and morally justifiable. Starting a war without a proper declaration is now of no concern to most Americans or the U.S. Congress. Let’s hope and pray the rumors of an attack on Iran in June by U.S. Armed Forces are wrong.

A large segment of the Christian community and its leadership think nothing of rationalizing war in the name of a religion that prides itself on the teachings of the Prince of Peace, who instructed us that blessed are the peacemakers – not the warmongers.

We casually accept our role as world policeman, and believe we have a moral obligation to practice nation building in our image regardless of the number of people who die in the process.

We have lost our way by rejecting the beliefs that made our country great. We no longer trust in trade, friendship, peace, the Constitution, and the principle of neutrality while avoiding entangling alliances with the rest of the world. Spreading the message of hope and freedom by setting an example for the world has been replaced by a belief that use of armed might is the only practical tool to influence the world – and we have accepted, as the only superpower, the principle of initiating war against others.

In the process, Congress and the people have endorsed a usurpation of their own authority, generously delivered to the executive and judicial branches – not to mention international government bodies. The concept of national sovereignty is now seen as an issue that concerns only the fringe in our society.

Protection of life and liberty must once again become the issue that drives political thought in this country. If this goal is replaced by an effort to promote world government, use force to plan the economy, regulate the people, and police the world, against the voluntary desires of the people, it can be done only with the establishment of a totalitarian state. There’s no need for that. It’s up to Congress and the American people to decide our fate, and there is still time to correct our mistakes.

Author: Ron Paul

Ron PaulRon Paul is a former Republican congressman from Texas. He was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for president.