America’s Iraq War: Causes & Consequences
“The war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous.”-George Orwell
On 2oth March 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the start of the war against Iraq as part of his administration’s War on Terror following the September 11 attacks. It started with a “shock and awe” bombing campaign and quickly overwhelmed the ill-prepared Iraqi forces. Although George W Bush announced its formal end in 2011 by proclaiming Mission Accomplished, it continued in a different form in subsequent years.
The invasion, which led to the collapse of Saddam’s Ba’athist government, captured him in December of that same year and was executed three years later, has been widely seen as motivated by the American establishment’s desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power.
Why did the USA attack Iraq?
There were many reasons.
1. Official American Version
While invading Iraq, the official American version is well-known; to destroy weapons of mass destruction being developed and deployed by Saddam, to sever Iraq’s links with Al Qaida terrorists, to stop human rights violations, etc. Except for the last, all turned out to be false
2. NeoCon Agenda
Key Bush advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, were long-standing advocates of invading Iraq as a means for the US to “play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security”. According to General Wesley Clark “On the first visit, less than two weeks after Sept. 11, a senior general told him, “We’re going to attack Iraq. The decision has been made.” Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration. The general’s response was stunning:
“‘Oh, it’s worse than that,’ he said, holding up a memo on his desk. ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of Donald Rumsfeld outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.’ And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.”
3. Covering Flanks
As long as Iran is a threat to Israeli and American interests in the region, the Middle East will remain in turmoil. Thus, to attack Iran, it was essential to first cover the flanks; Iraq was followed by Syria to cut the physical links between Iran and Hezbollah.
In 2008, President Bush issued a statement, declaring that he would ignore any law that prohibited using federal funds “to establish any military installation or base to provide for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq” or “to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”
It was also alleged by the BBC’s Greg Palast that the “new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq’s oil to destroy the OPEC cartel through massive increases in production above OPEC quotas”. Both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were formerly CEOs of oil and oil-related companies
5. Ledeen Doctrine
Coined by the columnist Jonah Goldberg, this theory is named after the neo-conservative historian Michael Ledeen who stated that “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” This has been proved by the NSC briefings that the primary reason for invading Iraq, according to those attending NSC briefings in 2002, was “to create a demonstration model” to deter anyone with the temerity to “flout the authority of the United States” in any way.
According to these sources, everyone who mattered in the White House during 2002 was convinced that a quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, or North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay.
Indeed, even before 9/11, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw Iraq through the prism of status and reputation, variously arguing in February and July 2001 that ousting Saddam would “enhance US credibility and influence throughout the region” and “demonstrate what US policy is all about”.
6. Saving Petro-dollars System
Several commentators believe that Saddam’s decision to use the Euro instead of the US dollar for oil trade was the main reason for the American attack on Iraq. The possibility of more widespread adoption of the Euro as an oil pricing standard leading to the dethroning of dollar dominance and its use as the international reserve currency would have serious consequences for the American economy and its global hegemony. See the fall of Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and hostility towards China, Venezuela, Syria, and Iran in this context
What went wrong in Iraq
Although attacking Iraq was part and parcel of the Neo-Con agenda, WMD or no WMD, there was no clear strategy on how to deal with a post-Saddam Iraq. Rumsfeld described the decision to invade this country as if they were planning to go on unplanned holidays.,
Because of the easy victory in Afghanistan thanks to the help they had received from multiple sources, the Americans felt over-confident to repeat it also in the Middle East starting from Iraq. This over-confidence turned into arrogance when they easily defeated ill-trained, ill-equipped, and demoralized Iraqi armed forces. Whether Iraqi forces retreated under a planned strategy by Saddam who was planning guerrilla warfare and wanted to save his manpower for this purpose, or they just could not face the juggernaut of a superior force, is debatable. Luck did not favour him but the forces he left behind joined different militant outfits and became American nemeses.
By invading Iraq, the USA and its allies not only lost the high moral ground they had occupied after 9/11 but also opened a Pandora’s Box of Islamic militant blowback. His reckless decision to shift the battle-hardened forces from the Afghan theatre of war to Iraq, weakened the momentum in Afghanistan providing an opportunity for the Taliban to re-group and fight America for its longest war.
Any occupation force faces an intelligence blackout in a captured territory if it relies too much on technology and less on human intelligence. Added to the dilemma was their failure to understand the motives of the warring factions-clueless who is fighting with whom for what purpose. While Kurds were fighting for greater autonomy, Shias were interested in consolidating their power while Sunnis were making a last-ditch effort to reclaim their lost power
The biggest blunder of all was the decision of the occupation forces to disband armed forces, law enforcement agencies, and civic services providers in the name of de-Baathification. It resulted in state collapse and resulting public frustration over the lack of basic civic amenities which evaporated all the euphoria and optimism of the public in no time.
Another blunder was rebuilding the state institutions and embarking on a nation-building mission by using the armed forces without realizing that armed forces are trained to destroy and occupy territory not to do policing and municipal functions, reconstruction work, or ensure public participation in state affairs.
Most importantly the USA had no exit plan. Starting a war is easy; the hard part is how to extricate yourself when going gets tough. Once asked about the secret of his success in war, Napoleon said he would plan for exit plan first and attack strategy later. That’s what happened in Iraq.
The Iraqi government the USA left behind when retreating was characterized by low state capacity and autocratic and weak democratic institutions. It was too weak to extend its writ beyond Baghdad and the Sunni belt with the result that it led to the de facto balkanization of Iraq in at least three parts on ethnic/sectarian lines.
Consequences of the Iraq War
Like any other momentous event, the American invasion of Iraq resulted in multifarious results. Some of these consequences are as follows
1. It became a bonanza for Israel
By creating unrest in the region as a result of the Iraq War, Israel was successful to divert global attention from Palestine, extend its territories, and legitimize its annexation of the Golan heights. At the same time, it allowed Israel to kill its enemies, bomb Arab cities with impunity and thus test its latest weaponry. Last but not least, it weakened the two most powerful Arab armies namely Iraqi and Syrian through its proxy terrorist organizations.
2. It was Counter-productive.
It is one of the ironies of fate that the results of the Iraq War turned out to be quite the opposite of what it wanted to achieve namely the replacement of authoritarian regimes of the region with democratic ones. Iraq was given as a gift to Iran after the overthrow of Iran’s fiercest enemy namely Saddam Hussain.
3. Governance Vacuum spawned Global Terrorism
The invasion of Iraq by the regional and global powers created a governance vacuum providing an opportunity for terrorist organizations to consolidate their gains. At one time, one of the fiercest militant organizations Islamic State of Syria Syria was holding large swathes of territories. It was only after Russia and Iran entered the battlefield in a big way that these organizations were weakened. Now these footloose mercenaries are going back to their home carrying ideas of imposing their morality on their helpless countrymen
4. Conflicts, Crisis, and Wars
Thanks to its geostrategic location, and the availability of massive hydrocarbon resources, the Middle East had not been a peaceful region in the past, and the Iraq invasion opened the floodgates of conflicts, crises, and wars. It soon resulted in the internal civil war and later outright foreign aggression through proxies and pygmies of the region.
The Middle East is now in the grip of two Cold Wars, one global and the other regional. At the global level, it is the intensification of the old rivalry between two superpowers, namely Russia and the USA with China as a new entrant. At the regional level, it is an all-out war for the dominance of the Middle East by the regional powers namely Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt respectively. Unfortunately, they have no qualms about using terrorist outfits to increase their inference in the region.
5. Sectarianism Increased
While the relations between the two major factions of Islam namely Sunni and Shia, had never been peaceful, they became acrimonious after this invasion. As this sectarian divide is coterminous with tribal affinity on the one hand and political loyalty on the other in most of the countries in the Middle East, it has now morphed into a struggle for regional influence between Shia political powers, led by Iran, versus Sunni political powers, led by Saudi Arabia.
Some of the non-representative oppressive regimes are also promoting these conflicts to divert the attention of their respective restive populations from their high-handedness. This sectarian divide has now mutated into a war between two groups of countries in the Middle East. Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are at odds with Shiite nations like Iran, Syria, and Iraq. All of them are relying on different sources of support for their claims ranging from hard power to soft power.
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