Iraq and Independence Day

Tuesday, July 4, is Independence Day in the United States. Of the “original” four federal holidays that were observed on specific dates during my boyhood–Washington’s birthday, Memorial (Decoration) Day, Independence Day, and Veterans (Armistice) Day, only July 4 remained completely outside the 1968 consolidation of federal holidays into three-day weekends (Veterans Day was observed as a three day weekend from 1971-1978).

It seems fitting–even significant–that these two holidays are not artificially tied to weekends. Perhaps this sense arises from the realization that they represent a beginning and an ending, an alpha and omega. One celebrates the declaration (still incompletely translated into practice) that “all men” possess rights bestowed by a transcendent power while the other honors those who died defending these rights for themselves and their descendents from usurpation by a terrestrial authority.

As you watch the “rockets’ red glare” of the fireworks Tuesday, remember that Francis Scott Key drew his inspiration for the U.S. national anthem from an event during a very real war: the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. That war, which lasted 919 days (934 counting the interlude between the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, and the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815), has some parallels to Iraq.

* Most notably, militias raised by the states made three efforts to liberate Canada from Britain–despite the fact that many Canadians were former Colonials who had fled there to get away from the rebellion in 1776 in what became the United States.

* In 1812, Key observed “bombs bursting in air.” Today in Iraq, bombs in the form of improvised explosive devices burst under vehicles or as foot patrols pass the sites where they are buried.

* In 1812, U.S combat deaths were 4,435, the wounded numbered 6,188 (non-combat deaths are unknown), and monetary costs came to $.09 billion–$90 million. This July 4 is day 1,203 in the Iraq War. U.S. deaths are now 2,538, and the wounded number 18,696.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) on June 27 issued its latest update on the monetary costs of the fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other operations that can be shoe-horned under the “global war on terror.” CRS expects this measurement of U.S. “anti-terror activities” worldwide since September 11, 2001, will exceed $500 billion in 2007 at the current monthly expenditure rate of $9.7 billion (up from $4.6 billion in 2004).

Less than 100 days remain in fiscal year 2006 (FY06). When September 30 rolls around, CRS projects that the Bush administration will have spent $437 billion on war fighting and on military and foreign aid. This figure includes the $69 billion for the Defense Department in the Emergency Supplemental passed by Congress and signed by the president this month; $50 billion in “bridge appropriations” for Defense; and $1.5 billion in State Department Foreign Operations funding in the FY07 Defense and State Department appropriations bills. (not including any supplemental funding provided by Congress).

By comparison, only about $37 billion will have gone to the State Department and the Agency for International Development–a mere 8 per cent of the money sent to the Pentagon. The CRS study also projected that continued occupation costs between FY07 and FY16 (based on the average length of insurgencies) for 74,000 soldiers would add another $371 billion for a total war and reconstruction bill of $808 billion.

And then there will be the equipment costs. The body armor and the armor for Humvees are being paid from current operating funds or supplemental appropriations. But the costs of replacing or repairing major combat systems that have been used far above their estimated usage rates still lie ahead.

For example, the Army has told Congress it needs $13.5 billion in each of the next five years for what is known as “reset” costs. This amount, which assumes that the pace of operations remains essentially as it is today, will go toward rehabilitating or procuring 30,000 wheeled vehicles, 6,000 combat vehicles, 615 aircraft, and 85,000 other pieces of equipment. Another $4.8 billion will be needed to “reset” the Army National Guard and Army Reserves. The Marine Corps projects reset costs of $5.2 billion for FY08 through FY12–which comes on $11.7 billion already spent.

This July 4 is another opportunity to reflect on events in Iraq, events that regrettably have more to do with endings than with beginnings, although some of the latter (e.g., reconciliation) were attempted by the Iraqi government

In 1812, Key might well have wondered whether first light would reveal an ending or a beginning. As morning dawned after the all-night bombardment, Key was rewarded by the sight of the flag still waving at the top of the flagpole on the ramparts of Fort McHenry. Today, the comparable reward would be the end of seeing that Star Spangled Banner flying at half-staff in memory of military personnel killed in a war that should never have happened.

Col. Daniel Smith, a retired colonel and Vietnam veteran, is a West Point graduate and a grad against the war. He can be reached at: dan@fcnl.org




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