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Iraq - One. Two, Three, What Are We Fighting For?

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In 1965, when Berkeley's Country Joe McDonald wrote "Fixin' To Die Rag," he couldn't have imagined that his anti-war anthem would be applicable in 2006,

And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for
don't ask me I don't give a damn"

Sunday is the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Tell me again, what are we fighting for?

The US invaded Iraq for two reasons: Americans were told that Saddam Hussein and his supporters were an imminent threat to our safety, and the Bush Administration argued that the best way to combat terrorism, in general, was to go on offense, "to fight them there so we won't have to fight them here." There was a tactical objective, defang Iraq so they wouldn't threaten our security, and a strategic objective, hit the terrorists so hard that they would suffer a mortal blow and not have the wherewithal to attack us as they did on 9/11.

Of the stated reasons for the invasion, only one has clearly been accomplished: the removal of Saddam Hussein as Iraqi dictator. The other objectives that the Bush Administration talked about in the run up to the war either have not been achieved, or are controversial: No weapons of mass destruction have ever been located. Nor did our armed forces find any of the delivery vehicles rockets or pilot-less drones that we were warned about. Americans were told that Saddam Hussein had a connection with Al Qaeda and that this link had to be broken. Paradoxically, the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection that, before the war, many argued was non-existent, has become a dangerous reality over the course of the occupation. The success of the Zarqawi-led forces has, by many estimates, strengthened Al Qaeda recruiting.

As it became clear that the occupation of Iraq would not be the cakewalk that the Bush Administration imagined, the White House propaganda machine started telling Americans that we were fighting for "freedom." Iraq would become a model democracy to serve as an example for the rest of the Middle East.

Three years later, it is difficult to see the freedom that the Bush Administration promised. Iraqi domestic security is so fragile that most citizens' huddle in their homes as civil war swirls around them. Their infrastructure is in worse shape than it was before the invasion. There has been a marked deterioration in the rights and safety of women. And, in general, human rights have suffered.

All of this would be irrelevant if the occupation of Iraq made the US safer. If we accomplished our objective of hitting the terrorists so hard that they lost their capacity to launch another 9/11-style attack. Of course, there has not been another major domestic attack. Nonetheless, there are disturbing signs that our position has grown weaker rather than stronger.

The US is the strongest military power in the world; we spend more on defense than all of our competitors combined. Nonetheless, the Iraqi venture has pointed out glaring weaknesses in our defense posture. The entire world has seen the Bush Administration override sound military advice the number of troops necessary for an effective occupation for political purposes. They have seen America make a series of bad decisions indicating that while we may be strong, we are not very smart.

As powerful as the US is, it does not have unlimited resources. Our costly commitment to Iraq has had three deleterious side affects: the first is that it has impaired our ability to fight another, parallel, ground campaign. Faced with the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear power, the US has only a limited range of options. Because it cannot threaten Iran with an invasion aimed at eliminating its nuclear enrichment capability, the US can bomb Iran, fall back on diplomacy, or simply hope for the best.

The second negative side-affect has been to weaken our commitment to domestic security. After 9/11, there were a number of reports most notably that of the 9/11 commission that suggested common-sense steps that needed to be taken to reduce the probability of another major terrorist attack. Most of these steps have not been taken scanning all incoming cargo containers being a prime example. Part of this failure can be attributed to the incompetence of the Bush Administration, but a major portion is due to the fact that money that should be allocated to nuts-and-bolts homeland security is being spent in Iraq.

Finally, the third side-affect has been the weakening of the US economy. The war in Iraq has added to our already gargantuan national debt. Diverted needed funds for education, healthcare, and repair of a weakening infrastructure.

Has the war in Iraq strengthened freedom in the US? Most of us would argue that it has had the opposite affect. It has resulted in our abandoning the Geneva conventions and subjecting captives to torture and unlawful confinement. It has justified a widespread program of ethnic profiling directed at Arab and Muslim foreign nationals. It has produced a program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping on millions of Americans. It's seen the Administration savagely manipulate the media. Like the Iraqis, our freedoms have been diminished.

When we step back and take a dispassionate look at what the war in Iraq has accomplished, we see that it is far more than a disappointment. It is a catastrophic blunder that has weakened the United States and threatens the foundations of our Democracy.

Forty years ago, Country Joe called it,

And it's five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates
Ain't no time to wonder why, whoopee we're all gonna die.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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