Vail Daily columnis Jack Van Ens: Is Iraq worth the cost? |

Vail Daily columnis Jack Van Ens: Is Iraq worth the cost?

Jack R. Van Ens
Vail, CO, Colorado

Like a cat’s claws caught in a ball of snarled yarn, the war in Iraq binds our nation. The U.S. has spent more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars on this war. Over 4,400 men and women in uniform have died. Thirty-two thousand additional troops incurred wounds, some terribly inflicted when roadside bombs exploded.

For seven and one-half years this conflict has dragged on. Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis compete for power, leaving the government shaky. Before an Aug. 31 deadline, the last of our combat brigades crossed the border into Kuwait. Fifty thousand troops remain, as advisers to the Iraq military, ready to fight.

As war booster Max Boot admits, “U.S. forces still have a vital mission: To ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethnic-sectarian violence” (The Wall Street Journal, Aug.20, 2010, p. A15).

Is the cost of the war in Iraq worth it?

Remember how President George W. Bush seven years ago marched across an aircraft carrier’s deck. He wore the dress of combat aviators. Under a banner announcing “Mission Accomplished, “Bush assured the nation that we won the war, with the “end of combat operations” completed.

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But the war dragged on. Bush persevered with his military effort though 2006 and into early 2007. The cost escalated as tribes fought each other. Sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites convulsed Iraq. Insurgents blew themselves up, killing thousands of civilians and military.

Bush appointed a blue-ribbon panel that assessed the carnage and concluded the cost was too great. Our army should scale back and prepare to get out.

President Bush did the opposite. With a tight band of neo-conservatives rallying around their president, Bush sent more troops into battle. He approved a counter-terrorism strategy called “the surge,” which worked. It rescued victory from defeat.

Did this surge justify the cost? Is Iraq worth the bloodshed or massive debt incurred?

Is it worthwhile to honor Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari’s request, who is the Iraqi Joint Forces’ chief of staff? He wants our forces to remain indefinitely.

“If I were asked about the withdrawal,” he recently declared, “I would say to politicians: The U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.”

Is the cost worth it? Over 100,000 American and Iraqi lives have been lost. Costs keep spiraling out of control. When medical care is factored in for soldiers who need it round-the-clock until death, bills may reach three trillion dollars, some predict. That’s not counting the emotional costs of broken marriages, social instability and depression that afflict soldiers re-entering domestic life.

Is the cost too heavy?

President George W. Bush never publicly doubted the war. He believed God approved it. In major addresses, he often spoke of how freedom is “God’s gift to humanity.” When liberty is denied in Iraq, the United States must rush in to supply it with “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Such piety thrives because it’s simplistic. Assuming that God approves of war, this mentality shuns asking whether the cost is too great. Bush believed it was divinely appropriate to impose our freedom on a feudal country where tribes and factions haven’t known liberty for centuries.

Some Christians supported Bush’s war efforts because they saw the Iraq war as a replay of ancient battles recorded in the biblical book of Judges. War was taken for granted in the ancient world. Armies fought and marched over and back through Mesopotamia (Iraq), Canaan (Israel) and Egypt. In fact, conflict became so much the accepted way of life that biblical writers noted rare periods, when “the land enjoyed rest” for brief spells (Judges 3:11).

“So perish all your enemies, O Lord!” shouted bellicose warriors who linked their foes with God’s (Judges 5:31). No cost was too great because God, they assumed, wanted beaten adversaries. They titled their divine commander “Lord of hosts,” which means “Lord of armies.”

What happens when political leaders, in antiquity and today, align themselves with their warrior God? Few count the cost.

They don’t realize that winning against an enemy is the easiest part. Keeping conquests under control usually demand more troops, more money and more time. Victors, enamored with their conquests, don’t consider these important post-war dynamics.

The war goes on. Warriors don’t learn from their mistakes. They clutch flimsy victories that really aren’t wins at all. They duck the key question: Is the cost of war worth it?

Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.theliving, which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.

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