This holiday season, our nation can relish the return of our brave men and women in uniform from Iraq. One-hundred five months after the infamously non-existent weapons of mass destruction issue was used by President George W. Bush to justify an invasion of Iraq, we are marking the end of a massively costly endeavor that should have never happened in the first place.
Some have called the war in Iraq a "mistake," but that label does not do justice to the sacrifices our nation's warriors have made over the past eight years. Far from a mistake or an accident, the Bush administration deliberately manipulated the media, Congress, and the American public into entering a war with a country that posed no immediate threat to our own. This decision so far has cost over $800 billion and the lives of 4,483 service men and women.
Congress has had countless opportunities to end this war and save the lives of many thousands of Americans and Iraqis. When on October 10, 2002 the House considered a measure to authorize the war in Iraq, I offered an amendment to the bill that would have allowed the United Nations to resolve the claim that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, under the threat of a non-existent smoking gun and an evoked mushroom cloud, the Bush administration convinced enough of my colleagues in Congress to vote down the amendment, choosing military invasion over diplomacy.
We know now that had the United Nations weapons inspections teams been allowed to do their job, they would not have uncovered any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The yellowcake in Niger, smuggled aluminum tubes, and fabricated ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq amounted to a web of falsehoods that succeeded in baiting a nation still deeply affected by the 9/11 attacks into a counterproductive conflict that created terrorists where before none had existed.
As a founding Member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, I worked with my colleagues Representatives Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey to push to end the Iraq war at every opportunity. On at least five occasions, I offered amendments limiting war funding to the safe, timely withdrawal of troops. I had more success passing prohibitions against the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq, which was mandated by law nine times.
It was not always popular to speak out against the war. We saw the tide shift decidedly in favor of ending the war and this shift culminated in Barack Obama's election, based in no small part on his promise to end the war in Iraq. Yet even as late as this fall, the true end of the Iraq war was in doubt. We pushed to ensure that the White House lived up to its commitment to end the war and it was a victory for the movement that President Obama fulfilled his campaign promise.
However, more work remains. We have come too far to allow this war to be fought in the shadows with a proxy army of unaccountable military contractors. The State Department will oversee the largest embassy staff in the world, protected by a force of armed contractors. It is critical that Congress have oversight over ongoing U.S. activities in Iraq. The war in Iraq will not truly be finished until it is absolutely clear that there will be no permanent bases in Iraq, a provision which Congress passed no less than nine times in recent years.
With the end of one war, we must reignite our fight against another and end the war in Afghanistan, another operation where Congress must better reflect the will of the American people. The latest poll could not be clearer: 59 percent of likely voters want our troops home from Afghanistan either right now or in the next twelve months.
While we grieve for those who have lost loved ones in this decade of war, we share the joy of soldiers' families across the nation being reunited for the holidays. We must recommit ourselves to ensuring that those same soldiers are not cycled back into a war without end in Afghanistan. Let us honor the spirit of these holidays by working for lasting peace and an end to all wars.