The Iraq war began about one year ago with the swift and decisive overthrow of Baghdad and the Hussein regime. We are only beginning to understand, however, the true scope of our ongoing occupation of a nation rife with civil, ethnic, and tribal conflict. July stands as the deadline for our provisional government to relinquish control to an emerging Iraqi government, but we are kidding ourselves about just how long American forces will need to remain involved.
More than 580 Americans have died in Iraq; roughly 10,000 have been wounded. American taxpayers have spent hundreds of billions of dollars. We must not be afraid to face these facts and understand the terrible cost of war.
Were these sacrifices worth it? To answer that question, we have to look at the justifications given for our invasion of Iraq.
One justification was that Saddam Hussein ignored United Nations Security Council resolutions. Whether this was true or not was none of our concern. America should never act at the behest of the UN or help enforce its illegitimate edicts. America should never commit troops to any UN action. We should not even be a member of the UN, but rather should ignore it completely. Membership in the UN is incompatible with our Constitution and national sovereignty. It was nonsensical for conservatives suddenly to cite Iraq’s purported lack of cooperation with the UN as justification for war.
The second justification for invading Iraq was that Mr. Hussein posed a threat to the United States. This was not true. Hussein had only a small army, and virtually no navy or air force. He had no long-range weapons and no ability to strike the US 6,000 miles away. He was not working with bin Laden or al Qaeda terrorists. He was a despicable tyrant at home, but the liberation of Iraq from his clutches was given as a new justification only after the American public had absorbed overwhelming evidence that he posed no threat to us.
Is America better off as a result of our war in Iraq? The young men and women who were hurt or killed certainly are no better off. Their families are no better off. Taxpayers are no better off. Whether we are safer from terrorism here at home is an open question. We all hope and pray nothing happens. But even our own intelligence forces cautioned that an invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq could breed resentment among sympathetic Muslims and serve as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda. As commentator Lew Rockwell states, “It is not caving in to the bees to stop poking a stick into their hive.”
Are the Iraqis better off? Saddam is gone, along with his murderous cohorts, and that certainly presents a positive opportunity for the Iraqi people. But we cannot be sure that the Hussein regime will be replaced by something better. Iraq is still very unstable and divided between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd factions. Civil war could ensue upon the departure of American troops.
Even if we assume that anything will be an improvement over the Hussein regime, the fundamental question remains: Why should young Americans be hurt or killed to liberate foreign nations? I have never heard a convincing answer to this question. If we sacrifice 500 lives to liberate Iraq, should we sacrifice five million American lives to liberate the people of North Korea, Taiwan, Tibet, China, Cuba, and countless African nations? Should we invade every country that has an oppressive government? Are nation-building and empire part of our national credo? Those who answer yes to these questions should have the integrity to admit that our founders urged the opposite approach, namely a foreign policy rooted in staying out of the affairs of other nations.
Ron Paul is a Republican from Texas.