On December 15, 2011, the United States declared an end to its war in Iraq.
After nine years, at a cost of 4,500 plus U.S. and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and $1 trillion U.S., was the war worthwhile?
Iraq has most probably suffered more casualties than if Saddam Hussein had remained in power, internal violence remains endemic, and centrifugal forces work at pulling apart not only the appearance of democracy but the nation’s very fabric. Although many Iraqis nominally enjoy more freedom than they did while Saddam ruled, the quality of life for the average Iraqi is arguably no better and perhaps worse today than ten years ago, before the U.S. invasion and occupation.
Because of the war, U.S. taxpayers are $1 trillion deeper in debt. Congress paid for the war through special appropriations, all funded with deficit financing. Extensive, post-conquest searches found no weapons of mass destruction or links between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda. However, the nine-year U.S. occupation of Iraq proved fertile ground for terrorist attacks on U.S. forces there, giving birth to al Qaeda Iraq and proving a valuable source of recruiting rhetoric and motivation for Islamic terrorists in many countries.
In sum, the Iraq war appears to have produced few winners (perhaps only a handful of Islamic terrorist organizations) and few possible winners (perhaps Iran if the unified nation of Iraq collapses and large Iraq’s Shiite population seeks protection through an alliance with Iran). Everybody else lost because of the Iraq war.
Declarations that the Iraq war has ended seem premature, similar to Bush’s ill-fated comment that major combat operations had ended shortly after the conquest of Baghdad. U.S. advisers (mostly civilian, but with a small military contingent) remain in Iraq. Heavy-handed U.S. policies seem likely to call for continued interventions in Iraq and financial aid will continue to flow to a corrupt and often ineffective Iraqi government.
For example, some U.S. politicians are already calling for the U.S. to provide advanced fighter jets to Iraq, contending that a nation cannot adequately defend itself without a strong air force. These politicians conveniently ignore the question of against whom the Iraqis need to defend themselves. Iraq is much too weak, disorganized, and internally conflicted to wage a successful defense against Iran, with or without the fighters. No other serious threat against Iraq exists.
Iraq is a failed state; the U.S. obviously does not know how to fix that failure, or would have done so in the last nine years. Perhaps the best gift that the U.S. can give to its citizens, Iraqis, and the rest of the world is to truly end its disastrous intervention in Iraq, confessing that the war was an act of hubris and unjust.