Stay out of Iraq and focus on our veterans instead
During the past few years I have limited my Senior Voice commentary to non-controversial matters; however, I want to take this opportunity to expand the dialogue regarding further American military involvement in the Middle East. After 9/11, the USA went to war in Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and contain Al-Qaida, a radical Sunni Islamist organization originally nurtured in Saudi Arabia, a USA friend. The Saudi are a theocracy and adhere to the conservative Wahhabi sect of Islam. In fact, most of the 9/11 attackers were Sunni Saudi.
The Middle East picture is further complicated by Syria and Iran, which are Shiite Muslim. The Syrian President is Bashir Al-Assad, a Shiite Muslim. Iran is a theocratic Islamic republic. Into this mix one must also consider Israel, a representative democracy (75 percent Jewish and 25 percent Arab) and USA ally. Israel is presently staying out of the various Middle East conflicts. After years of military involvement, Americans have tired of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
President Obama was elected with the understanding that the USA would end its involvement in the Middle East conflicts. The USA withdrew its forces from Iraq because the Iraqi government required the “Status of Forces Agreement” include a provision requiring the USA and coalition forces to be subject to Iraqi law.
In 2012 U.S. troops withdrew but not before suffering over 100,000 causalities (official count: 4,500 Americans killed, 32,000 wounded; over 300,000 suffered brain injuries).
The Afghanistan War is winding down, with the expectation that after 2015 there will be 12,000 USA troops in the country for training and support purposes. The USA has suffered over 22,000 causalities to date (2,200 killed, 20,000 wounded).
Health care costs for retired veterans is significant and will increase, even if the USA disengages from its overseas commitments.
The Defense Department health plan for active and retired military is called TRICARE. It charges a modest premium with the majority of the costs subsidized by the Defense Department. TRICARE constitutes 8 percent of the Defense Department’s budget. The Defense budget has grown to $160 billion per year, according to an article in the June 9, 2014 Barron’s Financial Review.
TRICARE is separate from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides benefits for disabled and older veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs is a single payer system; and the single payer is the federal government, through the taxpayer.
The long-term care costs for VA medical and disability benefits arising from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are estimated to cost between $700 billion to $900 billion dollars. This cost does not include benefits to World War II, Korean and Vietnam vets. As veterans become older, they will require more government assistance. These veterans deserve as much care as a grateful nation can afford.
President Obama has been chastised for the policy of “leading from behind,” but this policy has kept U.S. forces from becoming involved in Egypt, Libya and Crimean conflicts. Russia, Europe, China, Iran and Turkey have their own issues with radical Islamists. USA’s disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan will require these other countries to shoulder the responsibility to control the radical Islamists or face cross border conflicts.
Americans can argue about the extent our security interests are affected by Iraq and Syria radical Islamists; but one thing is a certainty, and that is Iran, Russia, Turkey, China and Europe are more at risk.
Within the past two weeks, a radical group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied a large swath of central Syria and Iraq. Some Americans want the USA to re-engage in Iraq.
Even if the USA re-engages in Iraq, it is more likely than not Iraq will divide along sectarian lines. The Kurds will get northern Iraq, Shiite Muslims will control Baghdad and southern Iraq, and the Sunni (ISIS) will control the middle of Iraq. This sectarian division of Iraq was first envisioned by USA policy makers after the fall of Saddam Hussein, 11 years ago. The division is now a fact.
American taxpayers are obliged to pay the cost associated with our disabled and aging veterans’ costs, which will last the next 70 years.
The negative backlash of Vietnam is not lost on me. In the 1970s young Americans questioned the communist domino theory and the Viet Nam War ended, but not until the USA suffered over 50,000 causalities and the returning soldiers did not receive the respect they deserved.
It is incumbent upon older Alaskans to contact our representatives and tell them that we do not want our country subjected to another Viet Nam controversy.
Leonard Kelley is the board president for Older Persons Action Group, Inc.