As 2011 winds down, so does the United States’ eight-year military involvement in Iraq. President Obama has pledged to bring all U.S. troops home by Christmas, which prompts reflection, including why most Americans and Congress supported such a dubious foreign policy endeavor.
Of course, that majority support turned to majority opposition, and a young Illinois state senator whose stirring speech arguing against the invasion helped launch him on a path that led to the White House.
Join us here at The Maine Debate beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday to discuss the legacy of the war and what lessons the U.S. can draw from this difficult chapter in our history.
The group inside the White House that conceived of the invasion in 2002 and sold it to the public in 2003 was comprised of veterans of administrations with a very different worldview than fit the 21st century. They believed the U.S. had an obligation to intervene in other nations if it protected this nation’s interests or the interests of its allies, regardless of the cost.
Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001 after the terrorist attacks proposed the “1 percent doctrine,” which posited that the U.S. should be prepared to take down a low-likelihood, potentially high-impact threat. The George W. Bush administration did not characterize Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction as low-likelihood; in fact, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking about WMD, told reporters: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
The Bush foreign policy team’s perspective was formed during the Cold War, when the U.S. and Soviet Union faced-off around the globe like two heavyweight boxers circling each other in a ring. That range of military influence cost both nations; the Soviet Union collapsed and the U.S. incurred steep deficits.
They also were influenced by an earlier stand-off with a Middle East nation. Some of the president’s advisers were working in the capital when Iranians took American embassy officials hostage.
But the invasion was a colossal blunder.
Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, a point President Bush finally conceded (even though Mr. Cheney continues to assert it). Even if chemical or nuclear weapons were found, the Bush administration hoped to achieve more than disarming and deposing Saddam Hussein. To put it bluntly, the administration wanted to show the Middle East the U.S. was not afraid to put troops on the ground and see body bags return home. The hope was that it would put other nations — Iran, Libya, Syria — on notice.
Instead, it highlighted U.S. impotence. Despite having the largest and most technologically sophisticated armed force in the world, American troops were vulnerable to improvised bombs. They were unable to restore basic infrastructure. And they struggled, despite heroic efforts, to get Iraqis to work together to secure a peaceful future.
The lessons learned are that occupying a nation is fraught with danger and that lives and limbs will be lost years after the invasion ends, that a preemptive invasion damages U.S. credibility, that the true financial cost is always greater than anticipated and continues for decades in caring for our wounded warriors, that those warriors will be hamstrung by their war experiences from contributing to society and that choosing invasion and occupation means abandoning investments at home.
Join us Wednesday at The Maine Debate.