OpEd: The Real Cost of War In Syria

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Here we go again. After nearly two decades of war, including the occupation of Iraq during the bloody sectarian violence caused by the U.S.’s destabilizing invasion, the U.S. is poised to officially enter another complicated and deadly Middle Eastern conflict for dubious reasons.

Lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, coupled with the compounding financial cost and appallingly high casualty counts, seemed to turn the American public against war for at least a generation. President Obama failed to persuade a conflict weary public to support a full-scale military intervention in Syria in 2011, and smaller scale operations have been scrutinized in Yemen and Libya.

However, after a chemical attack on Syrian civilians in the city of Idlib, allegedly carried out by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria, attacking a strategic airfield on April 6th. The U.S. officially announced it is seeking regime change in Syria which will likely require significant ground forces and a declaration of war. The media, as I’ve previously noted, has already began working towards selling the war to the public. Footage of the Idlib attacks is replayed over and over on every cable news network, pundits are praising President Trump’s decision to strike, and Democrats’ in Congress only opposition thus far has been that Trump didn’t notify them first.

With the drums of war beating loudly and no mainstream opposition other than Rand Paul to counter them, it is all but inevitable that the U.S. will be involved in another major Middle Eastern war which will require years, if not decades, of fighting and occupation in an attempt to stabilize the region and prevent radical Islamist groups from filling the vacuum of political power. While it is true that Assad has committed horrible atrocities in his fight against ISIS and other Syrian rebel groups and the human cost of the Syrian civil war is staggeringly high, there is little reason to believe that a U.S. intervention would benefit the Syrian people or the American people, especially when you consider the cost.

What are the costs?

The financial cost will be high. If a war in Syria is half as expensive as the war in Iraq it will cost TRILLIONS of dollars. Money that could be used to invest in American infrastructure and social services will be diverted to the war and the subsequent occupation. Instead of building bridges and repairing roads in Iowa, the U.S. will be blowing up bridges and rebuilding them in Damascus. Instead of investing in healthcare and education in Ohio the U.S. will be investing in bombs and aiding ISIS ambitions in Raqqa.

While the financial costs will be high the human cost will be greater. The U.S. invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein unleashed an Iraqi population of mostly Sunni and Shia muslims ready to genocide each other after decades of repression by the secular Baathist Party rule. Millions of Iraqi civilians either died as a result of American bombs or the civil war the U.S. caused. An entire nation was destroyed by years of war. A country which was relatively free of Islamic extremism during Saddam Hussein’s rule became overrun with radicals, including what came to be known as ISIS. The Iraqi people recognize who is to blame for their misery. They know the U.S. caused their suffering. Young Iraqi men with few economic opportunities are much more susceptible to the recruiting efforts of ISIS and al Qaeda as a result of U.S. actions. The U.S. did little to help the Iraqi people but a lot to further the cause of ISIS and others like them.

At the end of the day, the U.S. casualty count was a fraction of the Iraqi casualty count. 4,424 American service members died and over 31,000 were injured. Those numbers account for the men and women who suffered physically in Iraq but the real number of victims of the war dwarfs that. Over 250,000 American veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. That is more people than the population of Orlando, Florida, whose lives are a veritable hell due to their experience fighting the War on Terror.

Service members suffering from PTSD experience symptoms which include severe anxiety, flashbacks, night terrors, insomnia, inability to feel pleasure, emotional detachment and more. These symptoms cause many to abuse drugs and alcohol. Many have a difficult time adjusting to normal life or holding steady jobs.

In 2007, Army veteran Michael Goss told Alternet,

“I have PTSD. I know when I got it — the night I killed an 8-year-old girl. Her family was trying to cross a checkpoint. We’d just shot three guys who’d tried to run a checkpoint. And during that mess, they were just trying to get through to get away from it all. And we ended up shooting all them, too. It was a family of six. The only one that survived was a 13-month-old and her mother. And the worst part about it all was that where I shot my bullets, when I went to see what I’d shot at, there was an 8-year-old girl there. I tried my best to bring her back to life, but there was no use. But that’s what triggered my depression.

 When I got out of the Army, I had 10 days to get off base. There was no reintegration counseling. As soon as I got back, nobody gave a fuck about anything except that piece of paper that said I got everything out of my room. I got out of the Army, and everything went to shit from there.

 My wife ended up finding another guy. I’m getting divorced, and I’m fighting for custody. She wants child support, the house, the car, the boys.”

 PTSD causes severe strain on sufferer’s personal relationships and in extreme but very common cases, it causes them to commit suicide. You may have seen the Push Up Challenge on social media to raise awareness to the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. Their minds are forever scarred. Their lives are forever changed, for the worse.

The veterans who only have the mental scars of war are the lucky ones. Tens of thousands of others also have physical scars on top of the mental illness they’ve developed at war. A documentary about U.S. Army veteran Jerrel Hancock, who drove over an IED on his birthday in 2007, chronicles his life after losing an arm and the ability to use both legs. Not only has his life been destroyed by the war in Iraq, so has his family’s as they struggle to care for him and come to terms with Jerrel’s condition.

One underreported injury that many victims of IED attacks suffer from is the loss of their genitals. When soldiers are hit by IEDs and lose their limbs they almost always lose their genitalia as well. This causes many to have to rely on hormone therapy for the rest of their lives. Beyond the physical injury the psychological trauma this causes is understandably severe. These veterans’ ability to have children is taken from them and for many, it ruins their marriages or prospects for successful romantic relationships.

Do the ends justify the means?

The financial, physical, and mental costs of war are well documented and reported but what do these victims have to show for it? There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The wars did not bring peace and stability to the Middle East. In fact, war has made the region much less stable and much more likely to fall into extremist control. The war in Iraq gave rise to ISIS and helped strengthen al Qaeda. It fostered hatred and animosity towards the U.S. all while hurting the U.S. economy and adding trillions of dollars to the national debt and billions to the deficit.

Now Donald Trump argues the U.S. must intervene in Syria to oust the Assad regime who they say used chemical weapons on his people but there is zero evidence proving Assad’s forces are responsible. Rebel groups who only stand to benefit from a chemical attack on civilians had all the motivation to use these weapons while Assad had none.

Another war, while doing nothing to make Americans more safe, will only cause more destruction, more refugees, more civilian casualties, more American veterans with PTSD, and more debt. A war to remove Assad only emboldens ISIS, agitates relations with Russia, and ensures the “America first” slogan Donald Trump ran on becomes another one of the countless campaign promises he has already broken.

As the Trump administration, Congress, and the media try to drum up support for another war, think of Jerrel Hancock and the tens of thousands of veterans like him whose lives were destroyed by the last war. Think of the millions of refugees whose homes have been and will be destroyed, only to be told by the country doing the bombing, that THEY are the dangerous ones who cannot be trusted to come to the U.S.

If you or someone close to you will be one of the many sent to fight and possibly die for regime change in Syria or you’re an advocate for Syrian refugees, or veterans with PTSD and you decide that these costs are worth it, then fair enough. If you have no skin in the game. If you are one of a minority of Americans who flatly reject accepting Syrian refugees or are exposed to very little personal risk in the event of war, perhaps re-think your support and think of the people whose lives are at stake.

War isn’t an NFL game fought for your entertainment. The consequences are real. The suffering is real. Your “Support the Troops” magnet isn’t enough to make up for the cost.

Dan Webb, Political Correspondent for Lima Charlie News.

Dan Webb is a former U.S. Air Force Airborne Systems Engineer on the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft. He completed three deployments to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom totaling over 1200 combat flight hours. He currently works as a software engineer for an Omaha based marketing agency. Previously he worked for the Office of Military and Veteran Services at the University of Nebraska Omaha where, as a student, he received his B.S. in Political Science with a minor in Economics. Dan’s interests include domestic economic policy, veteran’s issues, and national security.

Follow Dan on Twitter @DanWebbLC  & listen to Dan every week on the Horse Race political podcast.

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