It is historically inaccurate to say the war was cooked up by Bush alone.
So who lost Iraq?
The blame game mostly fingers incompetent Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Or is Barack Obama culpable for pulling out all American troops monitoring the success of the 2007–08 surge?
Some still blame George W. Bush for going into Iraq in 2003 in the first place to remove Saddam Hussein.
One can blame almost anyone, but one must not invent facts to support an argument.
Do we remember that Bill Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that supported regime change in Iraq? He gave an eloquent speech on the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
In 2002, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution authorizing the removal of Saddam Hussein by force. Senators such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Harry Reid offered moving arguments on the Senate floor why we should depose Saddam in a post-9/11 climate.
Democratic stalwarts such as Senator Jay Rockefeller and Representative Nancy Pelosi lectured us about the dangers of Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. They drew on the same classified domestic- and foreign-intelligence reports that had led Bush to call for Saddam’s forcible removal.
The Bush administration, like members of Congress, underestimated the costs of the war and erred in focusing almost exclusively on Saddam’s supposed stockpiles of weapons. But otherwise, the war was legally authorized on 23 writs. Most of them had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and were unaffected by the later mysterious absence of such weapons — which is all the more mysterious given that troves of WMD have turned up in nearby Syria and more recently in Iraqi bunkers overrun by Islamic militants.
Legally, the U.S. went to war against Saddam because he had done things such as committing genocide against the Kurds, Shiites, and the Marsh Arabs, and attacking four of his neighbors. He had tried to arrange the assassination of a former U.S. president, George H. W. Bush. He had paid bounties for suicide bombers on the West Bank and was harboring the worst of global terrorists. Saddam also offered refuge to at least one of the architects of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and violated U.N.-authorized no-fly zones.
A number of prominent columnists, Right and Left — from George Will, David Brooks, and William F. Buckley to Fareed Zakaria, David Ignatius, and Thomas Friedman — supported Saddam’s forcible removal. When his statue fell in 2003, most polls showed that over 70 percent of Americans agreed with the war.
What changed public opinion and caused radical about-faces among the war’s most ardent supporters were the subsequent postwar violence and insurgency between 2004 and 2007 and the concurrent domestic elections and rising antiwar movement. Thousands of American troops were killed or wounded in mostly failed efforts to stem the Sunni–Shiite savagery.
The 2007–08 surge engineered by General David Petraeus ended much of the violence. By Obama’s second year in office, American fatalities had been reduced to far below the monthly accident rate in the U.S. military. “An extraordinary achievement,” Obama said of the “stable” and “self-reliant” Iraq that he inherited — and left.
Prior to our invasion, the Kurds were a persecuted people who had been gassed, slaughtered, and robbed of all rights by Saddam. In contrast, today a semi-autonomous Kurdistan is a free-market, consensual society of tolerance that, along with Israel, is one of the few humane places in the Middle East.
In 2003, the New York Times estimated that Saddam Hussein had killed perhaps about 1 million of his own people. That translated into about 40,000 deaths for each year he led Iraq.
A Saddam-led Iraq over the last decade would not have been a peaceable place.
We can also imagine that Saddam would not have sat idly by the last decade as Pakistan and North Korea openly sold their nuclear expertise, and as rival Iran pressed ahead with its nuclear enrichment program.
Nor should we forget that the U.S. military decimated al-Qaeda in Iraq. Tens of thousands of foreign terrorists flocked to Anbar Province and there met their deaths. When Obama later declared that al-Qaeda was “on the run,” it was largely because it had been nearly obliterated in Iraq.
Launching a costly campaign to remove Saddam may or may not have been a wise move. But it is historically inaccurate to suggest that the Iraq War was cooked up by George W. Bush alone — or that it did not do enormous damage to al-Qaeda, bring salvation for the Kurds, and by 2009 provide a rare chance for the now-bickering Iraqis to make something out of what Saddam had tried to destroy.
© 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
11 thoughts on “Looking Back at Iraq”
Let’s not forget that american aircraft were fired upon in both the northern and southern no-fly zones.
I was not initially in favor of going into Iraq, because I did not think that it was likely that we would be successful in establishing a working democracy there, and it was clear that our leaders were going in with that objective in mind. However, once we were there, staying or leaving required a new analysis, similar to the sunk cost theory of accounting. Our presence was a stabilizing factor for the region. I believe, for example, that we could have had far more leverage with Iran in the nuclear weapons negotiations if we had a significant military presence on their border. We need to think about where we are now, and what makes sense for the future, not where we have been.
In addition to the pro-war names mentioned, I remember German Foreign Minister Joscka (sp?) Fisher musing that Saddam was so dangerous that his remova justified the use of nuclear weapons.
Considering history… didn’t the English and French war against each other incessantly? And for how long?
What if a benevolent superpower had interrupted those centuries of euro-war with the idea of republic-democratic-constitutional peace? Then what if the superpower had turned its back to the euro-warriors, and left things unoccupied? Surely the French and British would have gone back to aggressing upon each other!
My point is this: The Middle East is processing things, violently – yes, but processing things. And a lot of blood is split, ours and theirs. But something that can’t go on forever, can’t.
Perhaps we need to look forward to the day when Violent Jihad is looked upon by 99.99999% of Muslims as shear insanity, and a thing to be mocked and mourned over. What will hasten that day?
Professor Bruce Thornton has pointed out that in 1940, intellectuals throughout the world agreed that Nazi thought was ascendent and progressive and greatly to be admired. This congruence appeared in the US, Mexico, Latin America, certainly Europe, of course England… virtually everywhere.
However, after five (short?) years… nobody agreed Nazi thought was good. Well, it is more than 13 years after our first 911 Muslim Extremist attack. And Muslim Extremism is still considered by too many to be a good thing.
As tragic as our 911 was, our response wasn’t great enough to wipe out Muslim Extremism’s popularity.
So, dear readers… will it be a century or centuries until Muslim Extremism dies? Or a big war?
Nukes solved a problem like this once, i.e. Japan’s will to war. Could nukes hasten the day of awakening for Muslim Extremists, presuming they gave sufficient cause? What would be that cause?
Or, are Muslim Extremists actually feigning they would do “big bomb kind of things” to major Western cities… while actually knowing it might cause a big-nuke reply that would suck the will out of their cause… so they are happy to foment minor-scale terror here, there… and everywhere… betting that the West shall remain obtuse?
Much of the opposition to the war in Iraq was promoted by several socialist countries dependant on arms sales to fund their domestic programs. The French, Germans, Belgians, and Russia sold huge amounts of arms, including poison gas manufacturing plants, nuclear reactors, etc to Iraq and Iran during the first gulf war (in which America was only an interested spectator trying to prevent one side from destroying the other) and profitably re-equipping Hussein after each of his misadventures. The ease with which the Americans rolled over Iraq’s military defenses in the second and third gulf wars was a profound embarrassment to those who had sold Iraq the radar systems, command and control systems, anti-aircraft defenses, artillery, and aircraft Saddam was confident would allow him to tie up coalition forces in a long war of attrition. After two dismal failures, the value of Russia and European arms to middle-eastern despots has to look pretty low, hence the recent intense interest in nuclear weapons.
We’re still pretty close to events to know what will pan out. But Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq may mark the end of the post WW I partitioning of the Ottoman’s Mideast empire. To be replaced by boundaries drawn along, instead of across, ethnic and religious lines. Kurdistan being a case in point.
Dare I suggest that a great military historian like Professor Hansen could be wrong about his conclusion that the war has been lost? I’m quite shocked by his conclusion. I know it looks like the war has been lost at this point in time. Maybe I’m a fool but I want to believe that the lives of all those great American soldiers were lost for a noble cause. We have given the Iraqi’s an alternative. Sooner or later they will understand the wisdom of separation of church and state in a democracy. It took us decades from the revolution through the civil war to stand up the kind of democracy that would endure. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. The Iraqis have had a taste of freedom. Isn’t it possible that they’re right on schedule?
Why this Imam who ran ‘Isis’ barbecue in Cardiff park left safe and enjoying the freedom in the west while he teaching and recruiting terrorists’:
So is he sitting there to send those terrors to Iraq Syria Jordan or elsewhere?
I don’t know that Iraq was ever “won” to begin with. Saddam was overthrown, and Iraq was occupied, but I see no evidence that we “won” what counted. We only won the dirt, but didn’t win the *argument*.
Iraqis were never convinced by the facts that the Islamist systems they value are a failure relative to the West. We installed Western democratic forms on people without Western values.
We can see at home that democratic forms mean little when the rulers the show don’t have Western values. When neither the rulers nor the ruled have Western values, as in most of the Middle East, democratic forms can only be held in place by external power. They are a temporary facade over the inevitable dictatorship when that power is withdrawn.
In the end, Iraqis have to win Iraq. That can make for a lasting victory. We can help, once the argument is substantially won, and the appeal of theocratic facism has faded.
Regardless of the WMD, the UN, gassing of his own people, I maintain the the attempted assassination of a US president is an act of war, and must be met with a response violent enough that no one will try it again.