The Iraq war: still a massive mistake
The Iraq war is now being declared a success by some who point to recent progress. But the March 7 elections won’t change the tremendous cost in lives, money, US image, and geopolitics.
There’s a growing narrative that Iraq’s solidifying democracy makes the seven years of US war and occupation a worthy enterprise.Skip to next paragraph
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Some observers have even spun Iraq’s March 7 elections as proof that democracy promotion via military occupation can succeed. Don’t believe the hype. The Iraq war remains a mistake of mammoth proportions. And Iraq’s election represents a pyrrhic victory, as the economic, political, and moral costs of the occupation far outweigh any benefits.
First are the sacrifices in terms of blood and treasure. The broad consensus is that the war has cost the US economy well over $700 billion – with the meter still running. The Iraq war has also left nearly 4,400 American troops dead, more than 31,000 physically disabled, and countless more psychologically traumatized.
According to most estimates, more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion. More than 2 million displaced Iraqi Sunnis, who fled into neighboring Jordan and Syria, are adding instability to an already politically precarious region of the world.
The war also upset the regional balance of power, as it substantially strengthened Iran’s influence in Iraq and severely limited US policy options toward Tehran’s clerical regime. No amount of prewar planning or “boots on the ground” could have prevented the Islamic Republic’s political push into a neighboring country with a 60 percent Shiite majority. The removal of Saddam Hussein as the principal strategic counterweight to Iran paved the way for the expansion of Iranian influence in Iraq, and has enabled Tehran to back, with far greater impunity, its political allies in Baghdad.
Even before 9/11, Iran possessed a budding nuclear program, the region’s largest population, an expansive ballistic-missile arsenal, and significant influence over the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. By adding to that list enhanced political influence in Iraq, Iran can be somewhat more assertive geopolitically in the region, further limiting US policy options.
A third side effect of the war waged purportedly in democracy’s name is that it came at the expense of America’s already frayed reputation in the Muslim world. Far from being seen as a benevolent liberator, the United States was perceived as a blundering behemoth – and an abusive, hypocritical one to boot.