Ten years ago today, U.S. air, sea and land forces attacked Iraq. And the great goals of Operation Iraqi Freedom?
Destroy the chemical and biological weapons Saddam Hussein had amassed to use on us or transfer to al-Qaida for use against the U.S. homeland.
Exact retribution for Saddam’s complicity in 9/11 after we learned his agents had met secretly in Prague with Mohamed Atta.
Create a flourishing democracy in Baghdad that would serve as a catalyst for a miraculous transformation of the Middle East from a land of despots into a region of democracies that looked West.
Not all agreed on the wisdom of this war. Gen. Bill Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, thought George W. Bush & Co. had lost their minds: “The Iraq War may turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history.”
Yet, a few weeks of “shock and awe,” and U.S. forces had taken Baghdad and dethroned Saddam, who had fled but was soon found in a rat hole and prosecuted and hanged, as were his associates, “the deck of cards,” some of whom met the same fate.
And so, ’twas a famous victory. Mission accomplished!
Soon, however, America found herself in a new, unanticipated war, and by 2006, we were, astonishingly, on the precipice of defeat, caught in a Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict produced by our having disbanded the Iraqi army and presided over the empowerment of the first Shia regime in the nation’s history.
Only a “surge” of U.S. troops led by Gen. David Petraeus rescued the United States from a strategic debacle to rival the fall of Saigon.
But the surge could not rescue the Republican Party, which had lusted for this war, from repudiation by a nation that believed itself to have been misled, deceived and lied into war. In 2006, the party lost both houses of Congress, and the Pentagon architect of the war, Don Rumsfeld, was cashiered by the commander in chief.
Two years later, disillusionment with Iraq would contribute to the rout of Republican uber-hawk John McCain by a freshman senator from Illinois who had opposed the war.
So, how now does the ledger read, 10 years on? What is history’s present verdict on what history has come to call Bush’s war?
Of the three goals of the war, none was achieved. No weapon of mass destruction was found. While Saddam and his sons paid for their sins, they had had nothing at all to do with 9/11. Nothing. That had all been mendacious propaganda.
Where there had been no al-Qaida in Iraq while Saddam ruled, al-Qaida is crawling all over Iraq now. Where Iraq had been an Arab Sunni bulwark confronting Iran in 2003, a decade later, Iraq is tilting away from the Sunni camp toward the Shia crescent of Iran and Hezbollah.
What was the cost in blood and treasure of our Mesopotamian misadventure? Four thousand five hundred U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded and this summary of war costs from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:
“The decade-long (Iraq) effort cost $1.7 trillion, according to a study … by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Fighting over the past 10 years has killed 134,000 Iraqi civilians … . Meanwhile, the nearly $500 billion in unpaid benefits to U.S. veterans of the Iraq war could balloon to $6 trillion” over the next 40 years.
Iraq made a major contribution to the bankrupting of America.
As for those 134,000 Iraqi civilian dead, that translates into 500,000 Iraqi widows and orphans. What must they think of us?
According to the latest Gallup poll, by 2-to-1, Iraqis believe they are more secure — now that the Americans are gone from their country.
Left behind, however, is our once-sterling reputation. Never before has America been held in lower esteem by the Arab peoples or the Islamic world. As for the reputation of the U.S. military, how many years will it be before our armed forces are no longer automatically associated with such terms as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, renditions and waterboarding?
As for the Chaldean and Assyrian Christian communities of Iraq who looked to America, they have been ravaged and abandoned, with many having fled their ancient homes forever.
We are not known as a reflective people. But a question has to weigh upon us. If Saddam had no WMD, had no role in 9/11, did not attack us, did not threaten us, and did not want war with us, was our unprovoked attack on that country a truly just and moral war?
What makes the question more than academic is that the tub-thumpers for war on Iraq a decade ago are now clamoring for war on Iran. Goal: Strip Iran of weapons of mass destruction all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran does not have and has no program to build.
This generation is eyewitness to how a Great Power declines and falls. And to borrow from old King Pyrrhus, one more such victory as Iraq, and we are undone.