US Veterans On Chilcot: We Need Our Own Inquiry To Avoid Repeating Mistakes
UK’s investigation into Iraq invasion is ‘example of what we could do with political courage’, says codirector of Iraq Veterans against the War
Following the devastating British inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, American veterans and their families have warned that the US is liable to repeat the mistakes without a similarly comprehensive investigation.
The UK’s Chilcot inquiry was released on Wednesday, and while it is no secret in the US that the invasion was a failure, nothing so damning as the 2.6m-word British inquiry has been released by an independent US government body.
“The Chilcot report is an example of what we could do if there was any kind of political courage to reckon with the after-effects of the global war on terror that we were pushed into,” said Matt Howard, who was deployed to Iraq twice while serving in the marine corps.
Congressional reports have shown that the US invasion was based on faulty intelligence, but none were as crushing as Chilcot, which provoked the mother of a British soldier killed in the war to declare former British prime minister Tony Blair the “world’s worst terrorist”.
The inquiry found that President George W Bush and his aides exaggerated intelligence to make a case for invading Iraq, and that planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam were “wholly inadequate”.
“The fact that we haven’t done a report like that – and there haven’t been any moves to do that – makes it a whole hell of a lot more likely that we are going to go right down the same road and make the same mistakes we did less than 13 years ago,” said Howard.
He is now codirector of Iraq Veterans Against the War, which he joined after seeing the gap between how the war was being described by the government and the media and what was actually happening in Iraq.
Nearly 5,000 US soldiers died in the war and disillusionment is high among those who survived – only 44% of veterans who fought in post-9/11 wars said the invasion of Iraq had been worth it, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey.
But the response to Chilcot, which supported allegations that the invasion helped spawn terrorist groups like Islamic State, was muted in the US. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a prominent not-for-profit group, did not have a comment on the report.
And the same day the report was released, Barack Obama made a surprise announcement that more than 8,400 US troops would remain in Afghanistan when he leaves office in January.
That was the top story for Stars and Stripes, an independent news service within the Department of Defense that reports on the US military. It covered Chilcot with an Associated Press story – “Scathing report slams Blair over botched Iraq war” – at the top of its website on Wednesday.
The story also ran in the print edition of the paper, which is available to military posted abroad. The story was headlined: “Report blasts UK’s Iraq war intelligence and planning,” and featured a color photo of two demonstrators in Blair and Bush masks whose hands were covered with fake blood.
And while Blair defended his decision in a two-hour press conference, Bush was largely silent on Wednesday, his 70th birthday. He celebrated by cycling with wounded warriors and a spokesperson said on Wednesday afternoon that the former president had not “had the chance” to read the inquiry.
“Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Most Republicans offered similarly defiant responses to the report, which also found that the US largely ignored the British government’s advice about the war and the involvement of the United Nations.
“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been the same kind of public reckoning with our own government and country’s involvement in the war in Iraq,” said Howard.
He said it was encouraging to see a UK government body take the lead-up to war seriously, but he did not expect the US government to revisit its decisions in such a substantial way.
“I think that a majority of those folks that were behind the decision to agree to invade Iraq don’t have a lot of interest in revisiting that – both in terms of how it affected Iraq, the country itself – and in terms of how it affected US service members, a veteran community of more than 2.8 million people, and the families that have to deal with the aftermath,” Howard said.
Those families include Cynde Collins-Clark, who has cared for her son for the past 11 years because of illnesses he incurred during his 366-day deployment to Iraq in 2003.
Collins-Clark said her son was “100% incapacitated due to war-related injuries”, and though she worked closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs on her son’s case, she was still struggling to get the financial and medical resources she needed to care for her herself and her family.
Collins-Clark said “we must learn” from the aftermath of the war, which saw the veterans affairs department overwhelmed and unprepared for the demand for care.
But she was not convinced a report like Chilcot could have real impact on the American families taking care of veterans. “I have noticed that millions of dollars and man-hours are dedicated to defining the problem and there is rarely meaningful outcome directly to the vets and families,” Collins-Clark said in an email.
Collins-Clark founded Veterans’ Families United, a not-for-profit group meant to help veterans and their families access needed resources. She has confronted the dysfunctional US veterans’ care system personally and through the experiences of others who are involved with her group.
“The aftermath of war is complex and confounding and we ‘grassroots’ veterans and families (the less than 1% of the American population that served) are caught in the quagmire of a system that allocated billions of dollars to war and the VA,” she said. “It is an example of exploitation and oppression for those who stood up to end it for others.”