Mission Accomplished, Five Years Later

Monday 5 May 2008, by Erik Leaver

Five years after President George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier off San Diego, Iraq is in chaos, U.S. troops are mired in a sectarian war, and the entrenched conflict is dragging the nation into a recession.

Indeed, the only people for whom "the mission" has been accomplished are the many companies with lucrative military contracts. They have raked in over $100 billion so far from the Iraq War, enabling them to earn record profits. With Bush intent on staying the course until he leaves the White House, Sen. John McCain voicing his approval for the United States to stay in Iraq for another 100 years, the Democratic candidates unwilling to call for a complete withdrawal of all troops and contractors, and Congress ready to approve another $100-200 billion for the war, it is up to the American people to demand an end to the war.

· Mission Accomplished? 4,056 U.S. Soldiers, Over a Million Iraqis Dead: The Iraq War has cost the lives of over 4,000 U.S. soldiers, over a million Iraqi civilians, and over a thousand contractors. Nearly 30,000 U.S. soldiers have been injured. A recent report estimates that over 320,000 soldiers have suffered traumatic brain injuries and estimated 300,000 soldiers will sustain post-traumatic stress disorder. These afflictions will haunt these men and women for the rest of their lives.

· Mission Accomplished? $520 Billion Squandered: Over the past five years, Congress has provided over $520 billion dollars for the Iraq War. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimate the long-term cost of the war will top $3 trillion, once you include the interest and debt service payments from this borrowed money, and the costs of rebuilding the military after the war and providing for veterans’ long-term health care. 

· Mission Accomplished? $100 Billion Spent on Contractors: The mission has indeed been accomplished for corporations with military contracts. Since the war began, they have reaped large profits, while producing substandard work, putting our nation’s soldiers at risk on the battlefield time and time again. Military contractors have opened fire on Iraqi civilians and reconstruction contractors’ work has been fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse. While Congress has tried to mandate better oversight of companies such as Halliburton, CACI, Titan, and Bechtel, Bush has exempted contractors from any real accountability.

· Mission Accomplished? Fueling a Sectarian War: As the war has dragged on, the United States has tried many different approaches to bolstering security on the ground. Over the past five years, the United States has spent over $20 billion training the largely Shi’a Iraqi army and police, and also arming and training the Kurdish Peshmerga troops in Northern Iraq. But since the "surge" began, the U.S. has also been arming, training, and financing the largely Sunni "Awakening" councils. Further complicating the situation, the U.S. has backed the sectarian Iraqi government in their attacks on the forces loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, fueling the Shi’a-Shi’a conflict in Iraq’s South.

· Mission Accomplished? Majorities of Iraqis Want the U.S. to Withdraw: Since the war began, Iraqis have supported a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This still holds true five years later, latest polling indicates nearly 40% of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave immediately and less than 30% believe the United States is making Iraq safer.

· Mission Accomplished? No End in Sight: Over a year ago, Congress demanded that Bush produce a plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, Bush decided to send more troops into the battlefield. In recent hearings, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker indicated that no plans were being made for withdrawing additional U.S. troops. More importantly, they didn’t offer any new plans for how they could stabilize Iraq, promote reconciliation, reduce costs, and protect Iraqi and U.S. lives on the ground in Iraq. Over the past five years it has become crystal clear, continuing the war and occupation of Iraq only leads to greater death and destruction.

Standing on the deck of a ship and declaring "Mission Accomplished" doesn’t make it so. Since Bush’s ill-timed and now easily lampooned speech, Iraqis are no better off, U.S. soldiers continue to be put in harm’s way for an ill-defined and poorly executed mission, and our presence is only fueling the violence on all sides.

As we mark this fifth anniversary and Congress begins to deliberate spending an additional $100-200 billion to continue the war, we need to ask our nation what mission can be accomplished? By "staying the course" we only prolong the inevitable, doing more harm to both Iraqis and ourselves as we plunge deeper into economic crisis. 

With 70% of Americans opposed to the war, and large majorities supporting a timeline for withdrawal, it’s time to demand the same from Bush and Congress. The most important mission to accomplish now is political — it’s time for our leaders to stop the funding, bring the troops home, and pledge our long-term support to Iraq.

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco

Erik Leaver is the policy outreach director for Foreign Policy In Focus and a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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