Iraq has once again fallen apart as ISIS has made further gains in destabilizing the US-backed Iraqi government. Meanwhile, neoconservatives have not surprisingly been blaming this whole mess on the withdrawal of American soldiers instead of the original intervention. Dick Cheney has accused Obama of having “…abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.” William Kristol writes that what is necessary is “a willingness to send American forces back to Iraq.” Because after all, that worked so well the last time.
The war in Iraq may be fading from memory, so it’s worth refreshing our memories on the total cost of the war. Otherwise, Obama’s limited action may actually seem like “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” rather than further American meddling in an area of the world the American government simply doesn’t understand.
Officially, 4489 soldiers have died in Iraq. This is an accurate statistic, however, it is very misleading because soldiers are not the only ones to have died and Iraq is not the only place they have died.
If the War in Iraq was truly a “War on Terror” than each theater should be counted as one whole. During World War II, the United States fought two separate enemies: Germany and Japan. Yet, it was considered a war against fascism and the total deaths from both theaters—just over 400,000—were given as a whole. Given that, the 2337 who died in Afghanistan should also be counted, which brings the total to 6826.
Furthermore, many non-military personnel have died and it makes little sense not to include them in the overall count. Add in the 1487 contractors, 348 journalists and 448 academics that have lost their lives and we arrive at a total of And this doesn’t count the 1444 other coalition troops have died in the two wars.
This still doesn’t represent the total human cost, unfortunately. While the Pentagon officially counts any soldier who dies from their wounds as a war casualty, regardless of when and where, in practice, it doesn’t always work out that way. If a soldier is wounded, comes home, has a brain hemorrhage and dies; did the injuries he sustained in the war cause his death? In spite of the inherent difficulties in measuring this, it appears Pentagon tallies have been done sloppily or possibly dishonestly.
In 2004, GlobalSecurity.org issued a report that revealed that in the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense defined a war death as “all those occurring within the designated combat areas and those deaths occurring anywhere as the result or aftermath of an initial casualty occurring in a combat area.” However, the current DOD Instructions (1300.18) are silent about this. The report discussed the situation in Iraq as follows:
It is somewhat difficult to imagine that nearly 15,000 people were sufficiently sick or injured to require evacuation from the theater, but that only ten of them subsequently succumbed to the condition that required their evacuation. Overall, the ratio between wounded to killed-in-action is running about ten to one — about 7,000 wounded in action with over 700 killed in action. The ratio of those evacuated due to combat wounds [over 1,500 as of 01 August 2004] to those who died subsequent to evacuation [eight reported], presents a ratio on the order of two-hundred to one, which is puzzling. It is also puzzling that over 4,000 were evacuated due to non-battle injuries, but only two subsequently died and that over 7,000 were evacuated due to disease, but that none of them died.
John Rutherford of NBC News asked the Pentagon why five particular deaths were not counted as war causalities, to which the Pentagon responded: “The Army has reviewed the deaths of these soldiers and determined that they did not die as the result of wounds suffered supporting OIF [Iraq] or OEF [Afghanistan].” Here’s one example, what do you think?
Army Sgt. Gerald Cassidy of Indiana suffered brain injuries in a roadside bombing in Iraq in June 2006. He arrived at Fort Knox, Ky., with blinding headaches, memory and hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was found dead in his room on Sept. 21, 2007. He may have been unconscious for days before his body was discovered.
So far the official tally of wounded soldiers from Iraq alone is 32,021 (although some estimates place it at over 100,000). Many of their wounds are extremely serious, including some so severe that they are brain dead. These men and women are also not included in the death figures, despite, for all intents and purposes, their lives being over. Many of the wounded who have fared better, but they will still live the rest of their lives with brain damage, skin grafts, amputated arms or legs, lost eyes or ears, as well as an assortment of other terrible and debilitating injuries. And many of those who don’t count as having been wounded still have to face the terrible psychological impacts of combat, which have also been understated.
In 2004, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found that while 5-9.4% of U.S. veterans had post-traumatic stress disorder, (depending on the strictness of the definition), before deployment, 6.2-19.9% had PTSD after deployment; a difference of 10.5% under the broad definition of PTSD. This has likely led to a disturbingly large number of suicides among U.S. military veterans.
In 2007, CBS News investigated suicide among U.S. military veterans and determined that in 2005 alone, 6256 committed suicide. The war has now been going for almost eleven years; assuming that number were held constant, the total would now be just under 70,000. Overall, the investigation showed the suicide rate for veterans, adjusted for age and gender, was about twice as high as for non-veterans. A study by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health corroborated these findings.
Needless to say, given the high rates of PTSD among veterans and the despicably poor care veterans have received through the scandal-plagued Veterans Administration and its scandal-plagued military hospitals, such as Walter Reed, it is highly probable that many of these suicides can be traced right back to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of this doesn’t even include the massive number of civilian casualties. In Iraq alone, according to Iraq Body Count, there are between 126,976 and 141,997 confirmed civilian deaths. However, in a war zone, confirmation of each individual death is all but impossible. A study by The Lancet in June, 2006 estimated a total of 654,865 deaths and in August 2007, the ORB Group estimated that 1.3 million Iraqis had died. While those are somewhat speculative estimated, seven more years of conflict have passed since then. And that doesn’t include the tens of thousands of civilians who’ve died in Afghanistan or for that matter, Libya.
It should further be noted that The United States has spent $757.8 billion on the war so far (not including Afghanistan or Libya) and a study from Harvard put the total cost (including direct and indirect costs) at an astronomical $4 trillion. The damage to the infrastructure in Iraq (as well as Afghanistan and Libya) is incalculable.
So what has the United States gained from the war in Iraq, or the “War on Terror” as a whole? With such expenditures of blood and treasure one would think the United States would have more to show for it than thousands of dead soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, massive budget deficits, a few crumbling governments and worldwide animosity. Since the past has a way of repeating itself and Dick Cheney and William Kristol have a way of being wrong about everything, perhaps this time the United States should simply mind its own business.
Andrew Syrios has written for Antiwar.com and Mises.org and blogs at Swifteconomics.com. He holds a BS from the University of Oregon in Business Administration and is currently a partner with Stewardship Properties. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.