March 20, 2013 will be the 10 year anniversery of the Iraq War, a conflict that lasted until Dec. 15, 2011 and cost almost 4,500 American lives. With a decade to reflect on the start of the war, did the conflict seem worth the cost or was it a blunder in American foreign policy? Our writers face off. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.
I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I could remember.
While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.
To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power.
But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense.
Every war, no matter how long or short, big or small, has an inherent humanitarian and financial cost. The question is always whether or not this cost will be worth it in the long run. In the case of the Iraq War, this cost simply wasn't worth it.
President George W. Bush and his administration framed a war based on a neoconservative impulse, the commander-in-chief's instincts and misleading claims about American safety and faulty intelligence.
This war, which was later proven to have no useful purpose in securing the United States, cost the lives of almost 4,500 American soldiers, with over 45,000 more sustaining injuries in the process. As if that wasn't horrid enough, this war will also cost the United States close to $3 trillion, a cost that can only grow higher as the government takes care of the medical needs of veterans.
By replacing a ruthless dictator with a flimsy coalition government while reigniting a civil war, all in the name of a lie, the Bush Administration made one of the most brazen, foolish mistakes in United States history.
It's easy to dismiss the Iraq War as something that made sense at the time. However, there was an overwhelming amount of evidence that predicted this calamity that both the Bush Administration and media at large ignored. It was easy to listen to what the government insisted was important in the wake of the September 11th attacks. But sometimes, what's most important is what's hardest to do.
So why exactly did the Bush Administration feel it was necessary to topple the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and how did they justify it to the American people?
Most of the Bush Administration's desire to invade Iraq stemmed from an unsatisfactory ending to the Gulf War of 1991 and a desire to remove Hussein from power. All of this was justified by an alleged connection between Hussein and Al Qaeda. Plans for an invasion of Iraq were already being drawn up soon after Bush's inauguration, and when al-Qaida attacked about nine months later, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's Secretary of Defense, was looking for a reason to launch it.
In Jan. 2002, the public relations machine kicked into gear with Bush proclaiming that Iraq made up one vertex of a new "axis of evil" with Iran and North Korea. He insisted that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and must open its borders to United Nations inspectors.
In October of that same year, the United States Congress drafted the Iraq War Resolution at the Administration's request, which justified the use of military force against Iraq for alleged WMDs. It also cited alleged ties between Hussein and al-Qaida and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which made it official United States policy to remove the Hussein Regime.
This isn't meant to justify the deplorable actions of Saddam Hussein, but if the point of a war is to protect the safety and security of the nation waging it, there seemed to be no factual point behind invading Iraq.
After the invasion, inspectors did find WMDs – degraded weapons left over from the Iran-Iraq War, which ended in 1988, that had no feasible use for Hussein if he did wish to attack the United States.
As far as ties between al-Qaida and Hussein are concerned, the CIA was unable to find any.
Yes, the Hussein regime was ousted, but not without setting off a religious civil war between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis that claimed over 100,000 civilians lives during the American occupation of the country.
Now that American troops have withdrawn and a new democratic government has been established, Iraq is safer and better off, but are the United States?
The answer, sadly, is no.
I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means.
I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish ... teach a man to fish ...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.
This March has brought about not only the sequester, but also the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Though our troops left Iraq in late 2011, conflict continues to rage in the Middle East, and President Obama set a tentative time frame of about 18 months before the final pullout. The mounting death tolls continue to raise the evergreen question of whether or not we should have invaded in the first place.
Despite the negative press and ultimate disappointment of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I still believe that President Bush made the correct decision in choosing to send military forces to remove the Hussein government. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is worth noting that the initial invasion in 2003 received overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress. Without this legislative authorization, Bush would not have been constitutionally permitted to proceed as he did. The less-than-ideal handling of the actual conflict as it progressed through the years does not diminish the necessity of the action that Bush took.
Firstly, the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was most definitely not an issue to be taken lightly. Coming just 18 months after the devastating 9/11 attacks that left 3,000 civilians dead, any worry over American safety was certainly justifiable. Even today, as North Korea continues to test long-range missiles which could theoretically reach American soil, it is clear that choosing not to act upon these warnings is a risky proposition. In today’s global age, civilians have become the potential casualties of such risk miscalculation.
Also, the United States owed a debt to the people of Iraq to bring democratic government to their ravaged land. I am not suggesting that we need to be imperialistic in the name of “planting the seeds of democracy” across the world. What I am suggesting is that the Hussein government was of our creation, and that we had a moral obligation to set things right.
In the 1980s, Iraq and Iran were embroiled in a fierce war. Fresh off the sting of the hostage crisis which left 52 Americans captive for 444 days, we rushed to give military aid to the Iraqi forces. Though the bloody eight-year conflict only led to a status quo antebellum, the effects of the war were massive. The key beneficiary was new Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who received aid from the American government. The rest, they say, is history, and Hussein rode this wave of power to become one of the most infamous dictators in history, from his internal warfare against the Kurds to the invasion of Kuwait which started the Persian Gulf War.
Similar to how the U.S. supported Afghanistan in the 1979 Soviet invasion, the horse we bet on eventually turned against us. Not feeling at least partially responsible would be a betrayal to the thousands of innocent civilians killed in the process.
Nobody could have predicted that the Iraq War could have lasted eight years, and President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech only six weeks into the encounter underscores this point. Nonetheless, we absolutely invaded Iraq for morally proper reasons. The combination of our safety possibly being threatened and the atrocities of the Hussein government we enabled in the 1980s makes this point inescapable.
Was Bush premature in giving the “Mission Accomplished” speech? Absolutely. Was the actual war a catastrophic campaign only redeemed by the 2006 execution of Hussein? History will probably say so.
But that does not change the fact that our invasion into Iraq was justified, and even obligatory. Congress certainly felt this way in 2003 when they authorized Bush to send in the troops, and I think Bush would have made the same choices (and rightfully so) if given the chance to make the decision again. The sour end and prolongation of the Iraq War belie the fact that engagement was the right choice.