Vail Valley Voices: American tsunami of hubris |

Vail Valley Voices: American tsunami of hubris

Walt Bujaryn
Vail, CO, Colorado

Hubris: Excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis. Also extreme arrogance or insolence; haughtiness; indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Does anyone remember how the Iraq War started, other than as an ongoing consequence of the 9/11 attacks?

A devastated and deeply angry American public was told repeatedly and in great detail by the Republican administration of George Bush and Dick Cheney in 2002-03 that a) Iraq had amassed weapons of mass destruction which posed a clear and present danger to our republic, and b) that the terrorist group al Qaeda had gained a foothold in Iraq and would absolutely be using their new sanctuary to further threaten American soil.

In addition to harboring personal vendettas against Saddam Hussein, the Republicans were relying on at least one forced (and false) confession obtained through torture, lies from known liars with transparent personal agendas and an utter contempt for and disregard of the mass of intelligence they were receiving from their own and Saddam Hussein’s people. This information stated that neither of the propositions they were presenting to the American public as the basis of their effort to go to war as quickly as possible were true.

The details of this deception have been thoroughly and irrefutably documented in the book “Hubris,” by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, which was also the subject of an MSNBC documentary. “Hubris” is a masterwork of investigative journalism.

I have no intention of going into the details of “Hubris” here, as the effort would, of necessity, be far too abbreviated, and there is no need. The facts are not in question. “Hubris” is a prime example of why rightwing mud slingers despise “liberal” media.

As this catastrophe continues to unfold we need to look at the war numbers, both in human and financial terms. These come from a variety of reliable sources. If you want different numbers, go find your own. It makes absolutely no difference.

No counts are attempted for Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 187 million, which has also been devastated by the Iraq and Afghan wars and is now often called the most dangerous nation on earth.

Roughly 2 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly twice that many actual (i.e., repeat) deployments.

U.S. service members and coalition war deaths in Iraq: 4,804.

U.S. and coalition war deaths in Afghanistan: 3,153.

U.S. troops wounded in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan: 50,010.

According to the U.S. Army surgeon general, 253,330 servicemen and women have suffered a traumatic brain injury on the battlefield or elsewhere, including 3,949 with a penetrating head wounds and 44,610 with a severe or moderate brain injury.

Iraq war veterans are subject to lifelong medical conditions due to exposure to open-air burn pits, infectious diseases, depleted uranium, toxic shrapnel, cold and heat injuries and chemical agent resistant paint, among others.

Iraq war veterans are subject to post traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia, hearing difficulties such as life- long tinnitus, hepatitis A, B and C, leishmaniasis (also known as the “Baghdad boil”), malaria, memory loss, migraines, sleep disorders and tuberculosis, to name a few.

Both the Army and U.S. Central Command in Iraq have lost or failed to keep adequate military field records in both Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving entire brigades with little to no history of where they had been or what they had done on the battlefields. This was especially bad from 2003 to 2008, but the issue continues.

Because so many of the wounded are in their early 20s, they and their families face a lifetime of medical care, which may be costly, intense and constant.

More than 1,500 Americans have lost a leg or arm in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, and hundreds have suffered the amputation of multiple limbs. Servicemen and women have suffered 2,542 traumatic burns, 142 have lost at least one eye and five lost both eyes in combat.

Among the wounded are some 16,000 severely injured. These are servicemen who would have died on the battlefield just a generation ago.

The wounded also include the growing number of American troops whose genitals were damaged or destroyed by roadside bomb blasts. Since 2005, almost 1,900 have suffered genital wounds, according to Defense Department data through July 2012.

At present, the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking in 4,000 new cases of veterans with PTSD each month.

The Veterans Administration estimates that 22 war veterans commit suicide each day. The VA reported that 1,868 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans committed suicides in 2009 alone.

There were 34,000 physicians in Iraq in 2003 before the war and about 20,000 fled after the invasion. While some have returned, in 2008 there were about 16,000 physicians to care for about 30 million people or one physician working in utterly deplorable conditions for every 1,875 people in a deeply war-torn country.

people. This ratio comes out to one physician working in utterly deplorable conditions for every 1,875.

Contractor war deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently totaled at 3,000, and but likely are much higher. Contractor war injuries in Iraq: 10,569.

Deaths of uniformed Afghanis, Iraqis and other allies: 23,000 since 2001.

Iraqi insurgent deaths: 26,405 since 2003.

Afghani insurgent deaths: no reliable count.

Iraqi civilian war deaths: 123,000 to 134,000, possibly higher.

Iraqi civilian war injuries: 250,000, possibly higher.

Afghani civilian war deaths: 16,725 to 19,013.

Afghani civilian war injuries: “many times” the number dead.

Journalists killed in Iraq War: 348; academics killed: 448.

Approximately 2.8 million Iraqis remain either internally displaced or have fled the country due to the war and sectarian violence. This means that one in 12 Iraqis are still displaced from their homes.

An estimated 500,000 Afghanis are estimated to be internally displaced due to the war, with the crisis now growing increasingly desperate as coalition forces prepare to leave.

Of course, there are more, lots more. We can’t even come close to imagining what daily life must be like in Iraq or Afghanistan since the American war efforts were launched in 2001 and 2003.

Words like “utter heartbreak” and “total devastation” are just too pathetically understated to convey how we have ripped the very souls out of these nations.

Yesterday we looked at the human carnage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Today we look at the financial side. Waging war is not cheap. According to, the total cost of these wars to date is $1.4 trillion, or $813 billion for Iraq and $628 billion for Afghanistan. But since those numbers are rapidly escalating, they will be higher if you check them, and will continue to escalate before your eyes because the site sets them to accumulate in real time with no end date in sight.

It’s not like we just have that cash lying around. According to the site, we borrow about 43 cents of every dollar we spend, so around $600 billion and more of that escalating $1.4 trillion must come from lenders like China.

But $1.4 trillion is nothing. That number jumps to $2 trillion if you add in immediate benefits due to war veterans and potentially goes as high as $6 trillion when you add in long-term war benefits, ongoing war expenses and potential interest charges, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

In late 2002, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Larry Lindsey estimated that the war was going to cost between $100 billion and $200 billion, and told Bush that he needed to plan for paying for it.

Bush was already well on the way to massive deficits and had been hacking away at the nation’s balance sheet with an insane series of tax cuts to placate rightwing Republicans.

He had no intention of looking for a way to pay for the war and simply fired Lindsey for his supposed incompetence. The administration preferred the more “manageable” fantasy figure of $50-60 billion that was being floated by people like Mitch Daniels and Donald Rumsfeld. This would be covered with deficit spending, not a tax increase. Firing Lindsey was the same way Bush had treated every other red flag warning he had received about lighting the fires of war in the Middle East.

What have we as a nation received for our $1.4 trillion to $2 trillion and more? Debt that we cannot possibly pay, enormous moral and financial liabilities to our veterans, an expanding downward domestic social spiral, hatred of the United States throughout the Muslim world, weakening of our national influence and military, a severe and possibly disastrous curtailment of our future options as a nation.

Al Qaida and Iran are both ascendant in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein once kept them out.

The Taliban, who have sacrificed tens of thousands killed and injured on the battlefield, are awaiting their Afghan rise once the Americans are gone.

The entire Middle East has been destabilized because of war. We are far less secure and far less wealthy than we were at the outset of this unspeakable mess.

Even the staunchest early supporters of the Bushian war effort admit that this has been a descent into the madness of the Republican hell hole into which we should never have gone, although Bush and Cheney (and I suppose Butch Mazzuca) continue to live in denial.

Nor have Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan benefited in any positive way from the wars we have waged on their soil. According to the U.S. government, we have wasted $60 billion on reconstruction in Iraq alone, with most of that money being siphoned off by abysmally poor planning, corruption and security expenditures, and we are obligated to waste even more.

One ongoing study I have come across by the Department of Economics at University of Southern California states the following: “The economy of Iraq lost 27 years of economic progress (as a direct result of the war). The decline in lost Iraqi GDP caused by the war is estimated at $309.5 billion. Societal loss creating social discords including sectarian strife is not quantified.”

Those ongoing “unquantified social discords” include, but are not limited to, internal dislocation of indigent citizens on a massive scale, complete lack of security, suicide bombings, car bombings and other acts of war, sectarian violence, extremist threats on all sides, extreme and pervasive crime, universal corruption, badly broken health and education systems, decay and destruction of infrastructure at all levels, including water, electric, roads, bridges and petroleum production, joblessness, homelessness, hunger and complete despair and hopelessness at the individual and familial levels.

As for our own soil, this really is the end game. When you add the Republican war catastrophe to the ongoing costs associated with the 2008 financial meltdown and our future unfunded liabilities, it’s a done deal.

We do not have the money to pay this debt, we are not going to have the money, and the Chinese are not going to keep lending it to us.

Other than printing more paper currency, which we are now doing at the rate of $50 billion per month in an endeavor that must soon end, we are flat out of options.

The nursery rhyme “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again” exhibits a profound understanding of the nature of war.

George Bush had no such understanding. Working on the flimsiest of pretexts he got us into war with a ferocious enemy that he clearly did not understand and was too arrogant to have even admitted to exist. When he smashed Iraq into little pieces, ostensibly to evict the dictator Saddam Hussein, he unleashed predictable sectarian violence and gave rise to the power of 10,000 little Saddam Husseins.

He obviously anticipated none of this, although there were plenty of sources around him who would have warned him of that likelihood, had he been willing to listen.

He had no plan and no willingness to develop a plan to pay for the war, other than deficit spending, and he underestimated the staggering cost of the war for ideological reasons by a minimum factor of 40, which may ultimately be refactored to as high as 120.

He had no coherent strategy as to what to do once he was inside the country and no convincing exit strategy. He fantasized we would be in Iraq for 18 months and leave as heroic victors. Nine years later we left with a vast swath of destruction and hatred behind us and the squandering of our warrior youth and national treasury to deal with for many years to come.

Pollyanna Republicans want to just hand the bills for these wars off to the republic so that they can make plans for lunch and plot strategy for the next elections.

But as the numbers accumulate and the magnitude of Republican war catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to sink in, rage and fury in the blogs and comment sections is growing. Words like “outrage,” “fraud,” “liars,” “extreme incompetence,” “war crimes” and so on have been popping up and, well, you get my point.

Bottom line: There are a lot of us, myself included, who see the Republican party as no longer qualified or fit to govern this nation under any circumstances. Mitt Romney was just one more incarnation of the dark side, and frankly, I would have given my left arm and voted for Donald Duck against Mitt Romney if that would have kept the Republicans out of power.

Walt Bujaryn is a Vail resident.

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