Sanders Five Years of Tragedy

This article was published by the Brattleboro Reformer, Newport Daily Express, Bennington Banner and other Vermont news outlets.

By Senator Bernie Sanders

Our nation observed two very tragic milestones in the war in Iraq this month. First, the war has now gone on for five years, more time than it took us to win WWII and defeat Nazi Germany and Japan. Second, the 4,000th American soldier died in Iraq. This is in addition to more than 29,000 wounded and tens of thousands more coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Further, of course, there have been huge casualties among the Iraqi population, and more than 4 million of their people have been displaced.

This war has, in so many ways, been an unmitigated disaster. It has distracted us from our real enemies, the radical militant movement personified by Osama bin Laden, who remains alive and well - plotting attacks against us and our allies. It has stolen our focus away from Afghanistan, where the once-defeated Taliban is now resurgent. It has stretched our active military and National Guard to the breaking point, with exhausted soldiers being deployed time and time again. It has severely undermined our position in the international community, and damaged our relations not only with our allies in the West, but with millions in the Muslim world.

Tragically, it will take years for the next president to undo the damage caused by Bush's war in Iraq. It will take time to reestablish our reputation for respecting the rule of law and as defenders of freedom and individual liberties after our government spied on its citizens without warrants, sifted through telephone and Internet records of ordinary Americans, jailed suspects without due process, and sanctioned torture in secret CIA prisons abroad.

It also will take time for the American people to regain confidence in a government which has misled them time after time and has been wrong in so many ways. Remember the hidden caches of weapons of mass destruction? Wrong. Remember President Bush's claim in his State of the Union address that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa?" Wrong. Remember the confident assurances that the Iraqis will greet us with flowers? Wrong. Remember the cocky predictions that the war would be a short one with only light casualties? Wrong. Remember "Mission Accomplished?" Wrong. Those discredited claims were made five years ago. Remember Vice President Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in the last throes?" That was two years ago and still wrong. Remember Cheney's one-word reaction last week to surveys showing two-thirds of Americans do not think Iraq was worth it? "So?" he snorted. That's just outrageous!

What is particularly sad is that Bush's dishonesty and incompetence are not only impacting us today, but are leaving a terrible financial legacy for our kids and grandchildren. Bush wanted to fight the war in Iraq, but he didn't have the political courage to ask his constituents to pay for it. Instead, he is borrowing huge sums for the war and passing the bill on to future generations.

No one can predict what the overall cost of the war in Iraq will be but there are estimates that it could run as high as $3 trillion dollars - including interest payments on the debt and long-term care for wounded soldiers. Today, we are spending more than $12 billion a month on the war in Iraq.

When Bush took office in 2001, he inherited a budget surplus from President Clinton. We were making progress in lowering our national debt. Tragically, since Bush has been president the national debt has risen from $5.7 trillion to $9.4 trillion - over $30,000 of debt for every man, woman and child. The war in Iraq is clearly one of the main reasons that our indebtedness has skyrocketed. This huge national debt is not only a terribly unfair burden to pass one to our kids and grandchildren, but it is having a very negative impact upon our economy today. It is one of the reasons that the dollar is in free fall, driving up the prices we pay for oil and other imported goods.

While we spend astronomical sums for the war not only is our national debt rising but there is limited funding available to address some of the most pressing problems facing our country. President Bush, for example, wants to cut back on Medicare and Medicaid, law enforcement, home heating assistance and many other programs important to low- and middle-income Americans.

This war has gone on for five years, five years too long. It's time to end it. It's time to get our priorities right and, as a U.S. senator for Vermont, I will continue to do all that I can to make that happen.