“Who poses the real threat to America at this moment in our history? Is it Iraq, boxed in by inspections and the microscopic attention that the world community has fixed on it? Not likely. Colin Powell’s slick U.N. presentation notwithstanding, Saddam is very much a paper tiger at this point.”
-Excerpt from “Iraq: the President’s Unmagnificent Obsession” (published on February 21, 2003)
“Bush is getting bad advice. He needs to find bin Laden, and he needs to keep al Qaeda on the run. Saddam ain’t no al Qaeda. He’s just a common, ordinary dictator. So what? There’s guys like him all over the world. It ain’t our job to go after them. Let his own people take care of him if they don’t like him.”
-Angry New York City street vendor on eve of invasion of Iraq in 2003
Well, at least I wasn’t alone at the time in decrying the pending decision by then-President Bush to invade Iraq for the purpose of … um, let’s see, what exactly was the purpose? Can you recall?
If not, you can’t be blamed for a faulty memory. The reasons for the war were many, and they tended to morph from one to the next over the months leading up to the invasion and continuing over the first three or four years of its prosecution.
The first was the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, even, perhaps, to include nuclear warheads (as implied by the President in his State of the Union address just before then-secretary of State Powell’s UN presentation that seemed to confirm the claim). That presentation was later determined to be entirely bogus, the alleged satellite photos of warehouses of illicit weapons a complete fraud.
And, of course, as the troops on the ground ultimately determined, Saddam had no WMDs, no lethal chemicals, no biological agents, and no nuclear arsenal (or even canisters to store them in).
So much for the “preventative war” rationale that Bush created as the justification for the illegal action (under international law it was nothing less) that the invasion of a sovereign foreign state constituted. But never mind; Saddam was a tyrant: he needed to go. (And as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared, it wouldn’t even cost anything to get rid of him: the oil that would flow from the oil fields would pay for it.)
Of course, that reason flew in the face of the New York street vendor’s objection, and when many of his fellow citizens began to express the same thought, other justifications became necessary.
And, as the administration continued to prop up public support, those reasons were offered. Saddam was a co-conspirator with al Qaeda, it was alleged. That argument sought to tie the 9/11 attacks to the Iraqi dictator, but it was as vapid and phony as the nuclear weapon claim had been.
Another argument that was pressed by the President and his cohorts was that a democratic Iraq would pave the way for a move to democracy across the Middle East. That one was insulting to students of the history of the region. It would be hard enough to establish a true democracy in Iraq alone, they pointed out. And, of course, with nothing resembling a well-functioning democracy in place even after almost nine years, that fact has been clearly established.
In fact, the other Arab countries in the region are unlikely to develop anything resembling true democracies anytime soon, despite the exciting developments flowing from the Arab spring, which had nothing to do with Iraq anyway.
One claim that the Bush administration made did ultimately have merit, but only because the invasion caused it. Mr. Bush often stated that the Iraq war was justified because we had to fight them there so we wouldn’t have to fight them here. It was a line he must have thought worked well, because he constantly repeated it, even as he let Osama bin Laden slip through his fingers at Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
But only after the United States had established a semi-permanent presence in Iraq did an insurgent group that affiliated itself with al Qaeda develop. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a.k.a. al Qaeda in Iraq, did, indeed, become one of the lingering enemies the U.S. forces were fighting after the fall of Saddam, but it was non-existent while he lived.
Simply stated, the Iraq war was a colossal mistake. It was a mistake in its conception (more than a mistake, it was a violation of international law, notwithstanding the trumped up excuses for its prosecution), and it was a continuing mistake in its execution as the United States and its few allies (primarily the British) blundered in establishing a puppet government and in finding and creating enemies to fight.
And now, after almost nine full years, we have finally left, declaring an end to a war that never should have been started. Ironically, it wouldn’t have even ended when it did had it not been for the insistence of the new government now in place in Baghdad. Get out, they told us, and, pursuant to the agreement forged in the last year of the Bush administration, we have finally left.
The obvious costs to the country for this folly are the four thousand plus Americans who are dead and the tens of thousands who are wounded and scarred for life along with the hundreds of billions of dollars spent.
Less obvious, but probably more noteworthy, is the risk to American interests in the aftermath of our occupation of the country. A great likelihood exists that Iraq will blow up in an ethnic and religious civil war. The Kurds will demand their independence, and the Sunni minority will seek to avoid Shiite control of the country. Meanwhile Shia-dominated Iran looms large with a likely new ally/puppet regime in Iraq.
Let’s be clear: Saddam was a bad guy. No one is mourning his demise. But his regime was not a threat to the United States. The Iraq that now exists is America’s child, and it is not likely to be a loving one.