In the few weeks of the defense authorization debate in the Senate, Republican senators began falling like dominoes—Chuck Hagel (NE), Susan Collins (ME), Richard Lugar (IN), George Voinovich (OH), Pete Domenici (NM), Olympia Snowe (ME), and even John Warner (VA) are looking for a way out, although not all are willing to vote for a withdrawal timetable. The Republican defections are bolstered by public opinion. Columnist Robert Novak wrote about Sen. Hagel: “As the first in a succession of Republican senators to be critical of Bush’s Iraq policy, Hagel feared the worst when he returned home to conservative Nebraska for Fourth of July parades. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by cheers and calls for the troops to be brought home.” And the Democrats seem to be getting stronger in their willingness to follow the public mandate against this war that gave them a congressional majority in 2006.
The most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that change in public opinion. Sixty-two percent now say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, the first time that number has topped 60 percent.
U.S. casualties now exceed 3,600, with the number of those wounded or emotionally and mentally scarred almost as countless now as the stories about returning veterans not receiving the help and attention they need. The human cost of this war has been as enormous as it has been discriminatory and unjust, with almost all the burden borne by working-class families whose sons and daughters chose military service, and not by the families and children of the elites who fabricated the case for it, grossly mismanaged its prosecution, and politically force its continuance.
The financial cost is staggering—a new Congressional Research Service study reported that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now cost $12 billion per month. When that monthly price tag is compared to the $10 billion per year it would cost to educate the world’s 800 million children under six years old, the contrast opens up a real debate on what truly makes for national and global security.
While the troop “surge” has failed to bring the stability and security it promised, the progress report on Iraqi political benchmarks remains completely unsatisfactory. Nobody even pretends any longer that American young men and women are not dying daily in the cross-hairs of a civil war. Meanwhile Iraq has become an unlivable country, bleeding itself to death in a tribal sectarian conflict that is modeled by its so-called political leaders and not just by its violent insurgents.
And while the president continues to talk about the threat of al Qaeda, the Los Angeles Times reported the following on the author of a new “National Intelligence Estimate on the Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland,” released this week: “During a briefing with reporters, the principal author of the estimate, Edward Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said flatly that Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist before the U.S. invasion. He also said that the group’s ‘overwhelming focus’ remains confined to the conflict in Iraq.”
As the legislative battle continues into the fall, our message must be clear. Bring all U.S. troops home safely on a timetable that begins now. They are caught in the middle of a civil war where the U.S. occupation is the problem. The solution to Iraq is political, not military. The war was wrong and it’s time to do our best to right the wrong.
This brutal, ugly, and wholly unnecessary war may finally be coming to an end. And the role of the church could and should be decisive in making it so. I hear no more voices who still say this is a “just war.” Many of us don’t believe it ever was and that the nonviolent path of Jesus has again been vindicated. But regardless of past positions, we should all now agree that unjust wars must be ended as an obligation of faith.