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Happy birthday, Iraq War

The worst mistake in U.S. history turns 10

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Ten years ago this week, about 120,000 U.S. troops, 45,000 from the U.K., and a handful from three other allies invaded Iraq. The decision to attack, made over the strong, vocal objections of most of America's allies as well as millions of demonstrators worldwide, is proving to be one of the most momentous, destructive and monstrously unwise governmental decisions in American history. Its effects are still being felt economically and politically in the U.S. and around the world, and will continue to do so for years. Before our tendency to forget our own history takes hold, it's a good idea to look at how the war came to be, and what has happened since that fateful day in March 2003, when the bombing of Baghdad began.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, President George W. Bush vowed to "find those responsible and bring them to justice." That didn't exactly work out, as during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's untested ideas about keeping U.S. fighting forces "lean and mean," i.e., inadequate, allowed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to escape.

Suddenly, bin Laden wasn't important anymore. "I really don't spend that much time on him, to be honest with you," Bush told reporters. Before you knew it, the administration, aided by the cheerleaders of the mainstream media, mired America in a disastrous war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

One hundred ten North Carolina soldiers died in Iraq and 819 were wounded, part of the nearly 4,500 deaths and 32,000 wounded suffered by Americans in the war. As journalist Dan Froomkin has reported, the true number of wounded is in the hundreds of thousands, if you count the soldiers who came back "with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems." And that doesn't include the untold numbers of American families whose lives were disrupted or out-and-out wrecked by the multiple tours of duty demanded of regular soldiers and National Guard units.

It was even worse, of course, for the Iraqis, who, according to an extensive study by renowned British medical magazine The Lancet, endured 117,000 noncombatant deaths and saw more than a million refugees.

In addition, the war and the way it was conducted — Abu Ghraib and torture-by-U.S.-allies, anyone? — did more to jeopardize our country's security, economy and international stature than could have been caused by any other imaginable response to the 9/11 attacks.

If I had more space, this column could go on for pages, but instead, here is a brief rundown of some of the other lasting effects of the war:

— The U.S. government spent $1.7 trillion with another $490 billion owed to veterans, expenses that will probably grow to more than $6 trillion in the next four decades, according to a new study from Brown University. As a result, our national debt soared to record levels and weakened our economy to the point that it has had a much harder time climbing out of the Wall Street-triggered mini-depression than it otherwise would have.

— The U.S. military is stretched to the breaking point, according to numerous military experts, which has seriously sapped our ability to "respond," as the neo-cons put it, to "international hot spots."

— The war inflamed Islamic radicalism to heights and levels of fury previously unimagined.

— America's political position in the world is seriously weakened and China's strengthened, at our economic expense. In addition, by launching a war of aggression and engaging in torture, we squandered the goodwill of the world that we enjoyed before the war.

— Private contractors, such as Halliburton and Academi, the company formerly known as Blackwater USA, looted the federal treasury.

— In the name of security, the Bush administration launched the most widespread assault on Americans' freedoms since the Civil War. That effort includes: government monitoring of religious and political institutions whether or not criminal activity is suspected; Americans can now be jailed without being charged and held indefinitely without a trial; the government may search and seize Americans' papers and effects without probable cause; the federal government combs through Americans' computers and credit card bills and wiretaps their telephones. And now, according to the Obama administration, the government is entitled to kill Americans via drones without arrest, trial or anything resembling normal due process. The country has become so bitter, largely due to divisions that boiled over during the war, nothing is getting done in Washington, people are more fearful, and pessimism rules the national mindset. All because one numb nut from Texas picked the wrong people to listen to. If there was real justice in America, Bush, Cheney and the other jerks who led us into that deathtrap would be in prison for war crimes. Instead, they're semi-regular guests on Fox News.

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