WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES TONY BLANKLEY MEANING.

In a strong early contender for worst column of the year, Tony Blankley weighs the costs of the Iraq war:

First, of course, the debit side must be noted, foremost the human cost, to date: about 4,000 dead American troops, about 30,000 injured, perhaps half seriously, including more than 600 amputees and about 3,000 diagnosed traumatic brain injuries. Many more Iraqis have been killed. The financial cost of the war will run above $1 trillion. We have also, at least temporarily, driven thousands of Muslims into the radical ranks, created great enmity in much of the Muslim world (and not a little in Europe also.)

Against these costs and terrible human losses, on the credit side we eliminated a vicious anti-American regime and aborted any future plans they might have had for developing nuclear weapons. We intimidated Libya to give up its surprisingly advanced nuclear program. And, if the recent National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, Iran happened to give up its nuclear program just at the moment that a couple hundred thousand American troops occupied Baghdad — conveniently close to Iran.

Many more Iraqis have been killed. While I suppose Blankley deserves some congratulations for noting, however perfunctorily, the massive human cost to Iraqis incurred by George W. Bush's war of choice, we should understand what we're talking about here, and how the scope of the devastation in Iraq refutes Blankley's contention that the Iraq war is, or could ever be, a net plus for the United States. The UK-based Iraq Body Count estimates between 80,000 and 88,000 documented civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion. The real number is almost certainly higher (a 2006 study overseen by Johns Hopkins University put the number at 655,000.) Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi survivors have been maimed and disfigured, physically and otherwise. Over 3 million Iraqis have been displaced within Iraq or fled to neighboring countries, a refugee crisis "unprecedented in the modern history of the Middle East."

And what benefits did the U.S. purchase for this almost incomprehensible devastation? Blankley suggests three, the first of which is pure conjecture, the other two pure baloney. The idea that either Libya's decision to reveal its WMDs or Iran's apparent abandonment of its nuclear weapons program can be attributed to fear of U.S. power as a result of the invasion of Iraq has been dealt with and dismantled elsewhere, so I don't need to bother with it here, other than to unconvincingly profess amazement that Blankley persists in peddling it. And while Saddam's regime was vile and dangerous, the idea that the destruction wreaked in the course, and in the wake, of its removal was in any sense "worth it" is reprehensible.

But take note of the column's title: "4,000 sacrificed to vindicate 3,000," a reference to the 3,000 who died on 9/11. The idea that 3,000 murdered Americans could be "vindicated" by the invasion of a country and the removal of a regime that had nothing whatever to do with their murder is, of course, nonsense, but then "vindicate" is clearly being used here as a euphemism for "avenge," which is, at the most basic level, what the Iraq invasion has been about from the very beginning: America exacting its vengeance on the Arab world for violating our space, and demolishing our illusions of peace and security, and America frantically trying to reconstruct those illusions through the projection of violent power.

In this sense, Blankley's column is perfectly (and troublingly) emblematic of the conservative post-9/11 mindset: They hurt us; They must pay. Never mind that the "they" that actually attacked us on 9/11 are still at large, or that the invasion of Iraq has done more to vindicate (in the actual sense of the word) their ideology than anything they could have done. Never mind that the Iraq war has provided a training ground for thousands of religious extremists and inflamed grievances which will proscribe U.S. policy in the Middle East decades to come. The Iraq war is good because, well, we just had to do something. And if thousands upon thousands of non-Americans have to be killed and maimed for us to achieve a "strategic psychological victory," so be it. That's the war on terror, folks. Regardless of whether or not it actually effectively combats terrorism, at least it makes (a few of) us feel good.

--Matthew Duss

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