On March 20, 2003, U.S.-led aircraft began the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad, starting a war to topple a brutal dictator and remove the threat of his weapons of mass destruction. Iraq would become a reliable U.S. ally, a counterweight to belligerent neighbor Iran and a model for Muslim nations in the entire region.
And all was to be accomplished with a small American force on the cheap.
It is maddening now to look back at how foolishly wrong the Pentagon war planners were.
FOREIGN POLICY DISASTER
Despite demonstrating military superiority, the Iraq War, which officially ended in December 2011, turned out to be a strategic flop. It has been called the biggest foreign policy mistake in U.S. history. (The Vietnam War cost 58,000 American lives and possible 2 million Vietnamese lives, and may have been a bigger — though eerily similar — policy mistake.) Only one goal was accomplished in Iraq: the toppling of strongman Saddam Hussein, his capture and subsequent hanging.
Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of the war's beginning. Such folly should never be repeated.
Invading forces quickly learned there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Although Saddam had used poison gas against minority Kurds earlier, no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction could be found in Iraq by the U.S. and its partners — undermining the George W. Bush administration's main urgent reason for the invasion.
The invaders turned out to be inept occupiers — both because the occupying force was too small and because there was insufficient planning. The U.S. refusal to let Baath Party members take part in postwar government and to let members of Saddam's military remain in uniform hindered efforts to build a stable civil society. The $60 billion U.S. reconstruction program — water and sewage treatment facilities, power generation plants and the like — has been a failure, with incomplete projects abandoned.
The allied invasion opened Iraq's borders to Islamists whom Saddam had kept out, fueling sectarian violence that has killed scores of thousands of Iraqis since the war ended. Suicide bombers killed more than 25 in Baghdad last week.
Iraq's majority Shiite government is becoming increasingly autocratic and unstable. It is not a counterweight to Iran, which has become emboldened. Iraq is not a reliable U.S. ally. It is not a model for Muslim countries in the Middle East — at least not the ideal one the war hawks had hoped for.
And for this underwhelming result, Americans have paid dearly in blood and treasure: about 4,500 dead, 32,000 wounded (many in grievous, life-changing ways), a weakened military, a battered name. Nearly 200,000 Iraqis have died.
A WAR TO REGRET
The war and its aftermath have led in part to bitter partisan divisions in this country and to the U.S. government's perilous fiscal situation. A recent Brown University study concludes that the Iraq War has cost us $2 trillion so far and could in the next 40 years exceed $6 trillion, not counting interest.
It was not worth it, to put it mildly.
Nor are other conflicts, such as Afghanistan, where we have a huge — although diminishing — military presence on the ground. The Bush administration tried to make Americans believe that Saddam's Iraq harbored, or schemed with, terrorists responsible for 9/11. That wasn't true. Even so, the United States can no longer afford to unleash a major ground war on every country that harbors or may harbor Islamic militants. A lighter footprint, leading coalitions sometimes from behind, makes sense.
The Iraq War had bipartisan backing in Congress — 81 Democrats in the House and 29 Democrats in the Senate joined a majority of Republicans in each chamber to authorize the use of force against Iraq. The war had many cheerleaders in the media. A Pew poll at the time showed 72 percent of the public in favor.
The ground has shifted. Americans have come to regret the Iraq War. We must learn to become more discerning, earlier.Copyright © 2015, CT Now