One year ago on May 1, aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, President Bush declared an end to "major hostilities" in Iraq. But major hostilities have not ceased, as witnessed by escalating violence in recent weeks in Fallujah and many parts of Iraq. Indeed, April has been the deadliest month of the war. Already this month, by some counts, more than 1,000 Iraqis and 100 U.S. soldiers have died.
On the eve of the U.S.-led war with Iraq, I completed a 40-day water and juice fast. Each day during the fast, I sent President Bush a letter based on biblical readings and encouraged him to consider alternatives to war. On the last day of the fast, I wrote:
The question is not whether the United States can "prevail" on the battlefield in Iraq. Likely it can. The more important question is what kind of world will there be a year from now and five years from now as a result of war? Will Iraq and the Middle East be more stable? Will U.S. residents feel safer? Will there be a functioning body to which the United States is accountable?
The United States has prevailed in ending the rule of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Most Iraqis seem to welcome this change. In parts of Iraq, basic services have returned to pre-war levels or better. So, if some positive things came out of the war, was it justified?
Even a quick scan of the facts a year after the war began suggests that the negative consequences-
the weeds of war-
far outweigh whatever gains may have been made.
Human cost. While the Pentagon does not keep statistics of Iraqi lives lost, the most credible estimates from news reports suggest that some 10,000 Iraqi civilians-in addition to an unknown number of Iraqi troops-have been killed by the war and its aftermath. In addition, 704 American and 103 allied troops have died as of April 20. And Iraqis complain bitterly about many aspects of the U.S. occupation, including human rights abuses of thousands of Iraqi detainees.
Diplomatic cost. Even many long-term American allies have soured on their view of the United States. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that majorities in all countries surveyed except Britain have an unfavorable view of the United States one year after the war began.
Strategic cost. Iraq, the Middle East and the world are less stable than a year ago. Iraqis express growing concern for their daily safety as acts of violence sweep across the country. While a secondary justification for the war was to help advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, that situation has, instead, deteriorated dramatically. And in a recent Associated Press/Ipsos Poll, majorities in every country surveyed except the United States expressed the opinion that the military action in Iraq has "increased the threat of terrorism around the world." Deadly bombings in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Israel, Morocco, Pakistan, Spain, Turkey and other countries add weight to this view.
Economic cost. Congress has already appropriated more than $150 billion to fight the war and to occupy and rebuild Iraq. While the official U.S. occupation is to end on June 30, 2004, U.S. troops will likely stay in Iraq for years to come. Ten-year cost estimates for the "Iraq project"-including related interest on the national debt-range from $238 billion to $418 billion, according to the Democratic Caucus of the House Budget Committee. Think how much this amount could have instead done to improve health care, nutrition, housing and education at home and abroad.
Political cost. Many Americans don't trust their government. The Bush administration justified the war by alleging that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and, therefore, posed a "gathering threat" to the United States. Those claims now appear to have been false or, at a minimum, exaggerated.
Does all this mean that the United States should do nothing about terrorism? Certainly not. But U.S. responses should make the world safer rather than creating breeding grounds for further acts of terror. War is a blunt and uncontrollable instrument. Like stubborn weeds, its consequences are almost impossible to manage.
The United States cannot undo the actions of the past year. But it can chart a different path for the future-
a path rooted in biblical principles. This new path must show greater respect for human life and human rights. It must rebuild trust with allies and pledge to work in truly mutual and multilateral ways. It must invest more in development and less in destruction. It must seek justice for all people. In short, it must plant seeds that sprout life. This, war cannot do.