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THE WAR IN IRAQ: A MORAL FAILURE by Congressman Charles Rangel, April 2006

WASHINGTON - In January 2003, as President Bush put the nation on a path to war in Iraq, I introduced my bill to reinstate the military draft in the hope that it would remind Americans that lives would be lost and the sacrifice should be shared by all.  The greatest moral failure of this war is that the ultimate sacrifices are being demanded of volunteers who, due to lack of alternative opportunities, are willing to risk their lives for a chance to improve their economic circumstance and pursue the American Dream.

President Bush's war of choice is being fought by other people's children.  I am convinced that if family members of the President's cabinet or of decision-makers in Congress, the corporate world and the elites of society were to be placed in harm's way, the war would never have been pursued.

After three years of war, American casualties continue to mount.  Yet, no one in the Administration can predict an end to the conflict.  In one of his most shocking statements, President Bush declared recently that the decision to withdraw U.S. troops would not be up to him, but to his successor. That means we will continue to suffer casualties in Iraq until the year 2009. 

Since the invasion, on March 19, 2003, at least 2,345 Americans have been killed, a figure higher than the 2,187 lost in the first three years of the Vietnam War.  More than 17,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq, many of them maimed for life with horrific head and spinal injuries, as well as nearly 400 amputees. No one pays much attention to the death toll of Iraqi men, women and children which has been estimated at more than 100,000 human beings, many of them innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.  

The civilian bloodbath is swelling.  During the month that ended on March 22nd, 1,500 were killed in sectarian violence and attacks by insurgents as the country descended into anarchy.  American casualties, which had slowed, again intensified with the deaths of nine U.S. servicemen last week, the deadliest seven-day period since the beginning of the year. Our troops are caught in a quagmire that belies all the rosy predictions by the Bush Administration.

Before the invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's deputy and staunchest advocate of war, predicted that invading American troops would be welcomed with flowers.  CIA Director George Tenet, another member of the President's inner circle, boasted that the invasion would be a "slam-dunk" for the U.S. 

While the President's insistence on staying the course has not changed, the gruesome reality of the conflict has gradually dampened the Administration's macho rhetoric.  Rumsfeld, after rejecting the warnings of his generals that far more troops were needed, eventually conceded not knowing whether U.S. troops were creating more terrorists than they were killing.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who helped lead the charge into war, uttered the purest acknowledgement of failure yet, admitting recently that the U.S. military had made "tactical errors...thousands of them."

President Bush came into office hell-bent on taking action against Iraq.  His inner circle of Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others at the highest levels, provided the theoretical framework. It was written in the 1990's  Project for the New American Century--a plan for U.S. world dominance that targeted Iraq, Syria and Iran for regime change in the Middle East.  The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center gave the President the opening to act.

The President never made a provable case for war, and his arguments have been widely discredited.  But after a year-long campaign demonizing Saddam Hussein as the America's greatest threat, intent on developing  nuclear weapons, and complicit in the 9/11 attack on the U.S. Americans succumbed to fear and backed the war.  The Congress, misled by half-truths and cherry-picked "evidence," went along. 

I was never convinced, and voted against the resolution authorizing the President to order the invasion.  A few months later, I introduced my bill for the reinstatement of the military draft, a move that was immediately rejected by Rumsfeld, but supported by many opponents of the war and most Americans who had experienced combat.

African Americans have long been the backbone of the U.S. Army, and continue to serve disproportionately.  In Iraq, 23 percent of the soldiers on the ground are Black, from a population that is only 11 percent of the U.S. workforce. Two hundred thirty-seven have been killed.  The great majority of soldiers serving alongside them are from lower-income families, from rural and urban communities where unemployment is high and opportunities to get ahead are limited.

These are the communities targeted by military recruiters who are aware of the attractiveness of educational benefits and enlistment bonuses that are as high as $40,000 to certain specialties in the Army.  Despite the cash awards, the military, especially the Army, last year was still unable to meet its recruitment goals, the result of growing unpopularity of the war in the face of casualty figures that the public never expected.

The American people have now turned against the war and give failing grades to the President's leadership. It's about time.  For almost three years, the war had been well hidden from the people: the press was not allowed to show caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base; no funerals were broadcast with the President attending; no tours of military hospitals filled with the wounded.  It seemed as if the American people had lost their capacity to share the pain of their heroes and their families.

The American people have now seen and heard enough to understand that the war was a mistake, not worth the cost in lives of our young heroes. That said, I will continue to press my bill to reinstate the draft as the war drums begin to roll in the White House over the issue of Iran.

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