An End of an Error: The Iraq War Comes to a Close
Today, after 4500 dead American soldiers (as well as countless dead Iraqis), 32,000 wounded, and 800 billion tax payer dollars having been spent, the Iraq War is officially over and all combat troops are expected to be home by Christmas. In a sense, today is a celebration. As a tribute to our courageous men and women in uniform who fought against not only a fierce opposition, but a foolhardy mission plan, and three corrupt governments (ours, Iraq, and Iran), to make something out of the hash of this Bush-Cheney created folly.
Now, we are left with the question of what has truly been accomplished? Did our efforts strike a significant blow against those who actually attacked us? Are we safer? Do we truly have an ally in Iraq? Was any of this worth it?
As those of us who pay attention already know, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. While Hussein certainly enjoyed the al-Qaeda led attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, being a cheerleader is not the same as being in the game. In fact, for all the many things that were wrong with Hussein, he actually ran a secular–if tyrannical–regime. Something that put him directly at odds with bin Laden and his fellow terrorists who started this “War” on radical, fundamentalist Islamic grounds. bin Laden (a Saudi) believed our relationship with his home country to be a direct affront to Allah. So, despite the fact that we supplied him with guns and ammo during the Afghani resistance to the Russian invasion that lasted from 1979 to 1989, bin Laden saw us as the “Great Satan.”
As you can see, none of this had anything to do with Iraq. There is no credible link between Hussein and bin Laden, no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, and no reason to think that the two central figures even “liked” each other. However, the Bush-Cheney Administration sold us a rotten bill of goods that connected Hussein to the attacks and stated without doubt that the Iraqi government had and was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, too many Democrats went along with the ruse and in March of 2003, the “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq began. That decision not only impacted our standing in the Muslim world, but extended the war in Afghanistan, created al Qaeda in Iraq, and had an extraordinary impact on the capacity of our military and the health of our economy.
By starting two wars within two years of one another, our troops were stretched to the brink, leading to a practical either/or decision as to where the focus of our military in regards to Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the fact that the 9/11 attacks originated from Afghanistan and that bin Laden was believed to be hiding out somewhere in the nebulous border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Bush Administration put the lion’s share of our focus on Iraq. This decision resulted in a half-assed effort in Afghanistan that cost us more lives, more treasure, and more time fighting against the country that actually supported the attack.
Post invasion, the country of Iraq was flooded with an heretofore non-existent al Qaeda population. Meaning that any success we had battling al Qaeda in Iraq was won only by the creation of al Qaeda by our destabilization of the country in the first place. Bush infamously stated that “we are going to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” But what if the place we went to fight them was a geography they didn’t inhabit until we got there? Is that not foolish? Not to mention, that the Iraq War has only strengthened the influence of Iran in the region. Prior to the war, Iraq was essentially a counter weight to Iran in the Middle East. Both regimes were/are corrupt, but due to their on and off history of hostilities, they did–to some degree–keep each other in check. All that ended after we attacked the wrong country.
The transitional government in Iraq was sworn in on May 20, 2006 with Nouri al-Maliki installed as its Prime Minister. al-Maliki is a member of the Shia sect of the Islamic faith. A faith he shares with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran. In and of itself, this would not necessarily be a big deal. However, this is the Middle East we are talking about, and with the Sunni and Kurd populations being in the minority in the Iraqi government, the relationship between the two countries has warmed even if they are both facilitating this relationship through back channels. Iran has been flooding the country with arms and cash in an effort to win more influence with a more philosophically aligned government.
This is where geography and religion come into play. As a secular (at the moment anyway) government, the United States lacks the theological connection with the region as well as any physical proximity. In other words, as we leave, the next door neighbor with much more in common is likely to have a much greater impact in the country going forward than we ever could.
So, to recap, we attacked a sovereign country that did not militarily engage nor support an attack on us. We created an anti-American terrorist group in a country where one did not exist. We strengthened the power and influence over the region of perhaps our greatest current world enemy, and we did this at considerable fiscal and human expense. Are we supposed to believe that any of this makes us safer?
Now I suppose I could be wrong. Perhaps Iraq will resist the charms of Ahmadinejad and Iran. Maybe Iraq will become a true ally. A dubious supposition, I suspect, but not necessarily an impossible one.
However, I fear that the lesson that will ultimately be learned from our invasion of Iraq is that when you drop bombs on an already distrustful nation, you are unlikely to see a return on your investment. The cost of this war is likely to continue well beyond this thankfully present day announcement of the end of our Iraqi error. A cost that I fear will be as endless and interminable as the history of the Middle East itself.