Friday, March 22, 2013

Iraq 10 years later


Ten years ago, the United States invaded Iraq. After a quick, relatively easy conquest, the costly occupation seemed to stretch interminably. Casualties, Iraqi, allied, and American, mounted. Violence first spiraled out of control, then receded, but, post-U.S. withdrawal, has again begun to increase. Twenty attacks rocked Baghdad on the tenth anniversary of the invasion's launch.

Iraqis appeared as divided – Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds – as ever. Their nominally democratic government appears teetering on the brink of becoming another dictatorship, with Nouri al-Maliki at the helm instead of Saddam Hussein. Almost assuredly, more Iraqis have died in the last ten years than would have died had Saddam continued to rule.

To achieve these results, the U.S. frittered away more than $1 trillion in nation building efforts. The withdrawal of U.S. troops saw many of these incomplete projects abandoned or significantly reduced in scope. Reports from U.S. government auditors and inspectors reveal widespread waste, fraud, and abuse.

For a fuller discussion of why Iraq is such a mess, read my book, Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War.

The United States mistakenly acts as if it can solve many of the world's problems, a form of hubris, which is one of Christianity's seven deadly sins. Even with the best intentions and huge amounts of resources, the U.S. has developed very poor nation building skills. Furthermore, humans know little about how to transform tribal cultures into democracies, centrally controlled economies into market driven economies, and prejudice (religious, ethnic, etc.) into genuine tolerance and respect for the equal worth and dignity of all.

Proud nations pursuing their national interests, like self-centered behavior by prideful individuals, offer no assurance of benefiting anyone else. What works for my nation or for me will not necessarily be desirable or beneficial when applied in a different context. In Iraq, the pursuit of oil and elimination of a perceived enemy (Saddam), led the United States to actions that have had the undesired and unintended consequences of moving Iraq more closely into Iran's orbit, destabilizing the Middle East (e.g., by fueling Kurdish national aspirations and Iraqi support for Syria's government), and jeopardizing global oil supplies.

Iraq, after decades of tyranny and with few national institutions, little sense of national identity, and a tribal culture, was unprepared for democracy. U.S. hubris resulted in the U.S. rarely viewing or interacting with Iraqis as equals, instead preferring self-centered paternalism. The occupation's outcome was fully predictable.

Reflecting on Iraq ten years after the U.S. invaded, it's easy to understand why Christianity deemed pride one of the seven deadly sins.

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