This Thursday, March 20, marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Ashley Mefford, a student journalist at Eastern Illinois University, has asked for my thoughts on the impact of the war.
What have been some of the impacts since the Iraq invasion?
Iraq has become a more dangerous place for average Iraqis since the U.S. invasion. Everyday life has been harder for most Iraqis as well, with much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed and with the continuing presence of an occupying army often unable to discern harmless Iraqis from harmful Iraqis.
This is not to paint a rosy picture of life under Saddam Hussein. Dictatorship is a bad thing and Hussein was brutal in his treatment of political enemies. However, with the removal of Hussein’s dictatorship, open warfare between Sunnis and Shiites broke out. The Christian minority became a target of Islamic radicals, which has led to the persecution of some Iraqi Christians and a mass migration of many others. The Kurdish minority is hoping to join with Turkish Kurds in the formation of a new nation-state but this hope is strongly opposed by our ally Turkey.
The impact on the U.S. taxpayer has been huge, with half-a-trillion dollars spent on the war so far. Our government is spending an estimated $12 billion a month in Iraq with no end in sight. This has contributed to massive deficit spending, greater reliance on foreign investment, and a weakened U.S. dollar. The war has also led to a sharp decline in admiration for the U.S. by peoples around the world. The Republican Party has become increasingly unpopular among voters as warnings of an Iraqi threat to U.S. national security were revealed to be false and as failures to achieve military victory and political stability have continued.
The human toll of the war has been considerable. Almost 4,000 Americans have been killed and tens of thousands have been wounded (estimates run between 30,000 and 100,000 wounded or incapacitated). Neither the American government nor the Iraqi government has found it useful to keep track of Iraqi deaths, but credible estimates range from 600,000 to 1,000,000.
Do you think having the invasion made people any more interested in what was happening around the world?
If you’re talking about average Americans, I would say “No.” Most Americans have little interest in what goes on overseas with foreign and economic policies. In a way, this is a rational or even healthy response. They have little control over what takes place in these policy areas. Policy is set by a bipartisan elite in Washington and New York and there is little that average Americans can do to affect those actions. Most Americans are concerned with their everyday lives–their families, friends, jobs, and leisure. If they care about political issues, they tend to be domestic issues that affect their daily lives (e.g., education, taxes, government regulation, outsourcing of jobs, importing of cheap labor via illegal immigrants).
Most Americans instinctively have a non-interventionist, Jeffersonian foreign policy of “friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” They do not want our government to be the Policeman of the World. This does not prevent our government from operating as such. Many Americans know someone who has served in the military in Iraq, but casualties are not widely publicized and we are not on a “wartime footing,” in terms of society as a whole.
Do you think the impacts affect everyone equally?
No. Americans who have lost family members and close friends have been more deeply affected. In some cases, the loss of a loved one has led to greater support for the war effort, with victory being seen as vital. In other cases, the loss has led to greater opposition to the war and a desire for immediate withdrawal before more Americans are killed. There is a small minority of Americans who have benefited from the war. This minority includes corporate owners/managers involved with U.S. military production and with Iraqi reconstruction. In some cases, war profits have been very high. A clique of neoconservative intellectuals and bureaucrats has also benefited by gaining power within the Bush administration and the Republican Party (despite the inaccuracy of their pre-invasion pronouncements and the growing unpopularity of the war).
While most impacts have most likely been bad, have any of the impacts been good?
The only good impact has been the removal from power of a brutal and self-serving dictator. Unfortunately, this removal has led to other, far-less-beneficial impacts, including civil war, growing influence of Iranian-encouraged Shiite fundamentalism, and the introduction of al-Qaeda into Iraq.
What do you think was the major impact of the invasion?
Despite its generally negative impact–in many important ways to many people–I do not think the Iraq War will dramatically change U.S. foreign policy in the future and will not be seen as a turning point in any major sense. The next administration, even under Obama or Clinton leadership, is likely to continue business-as-usual around the world, including overseas military intervention having nothing to do with U.S. national security. This has been the bipartisan elite consensus for a century and is unlikely to change any time soon.
What were the main causes for this impact?
Imperial overreaching by the U.S. foreign policy establishment. But foreign policy failures rarely result in big changes to the long-term strategies of those who make the policy. Public opinion may become more outspokenly “isolationist” as a result, but neither major party is interested in withdrawing from global economic, military, and political dominance. As a result, voters have no real choice at the ballot box. The Democrats gained control of Congress in the 2006 election because most Americans wanted them to end the Iraq War. They have not done so and this largely explains the record low popularity of Congress. The Democratic Party routinely betrays its base on economic and foreign policy issues, just as the Republican Party does to its base in connection with social and moral issues.
Who did this impact?
The failure of the Iraq War has harmed both average Americans and average Iraqis. It has had little impact on those responsible for planning, promoting, enabling, and executing the war since 2000. As is typical in Washington, failure is rewarded more often than punished, and accountability is minimal and symbolic (e.g., Rumsfeld was pushed out the door long after the damage was done).
JEFF TAYLOR is a political scientist. His book Where Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy was published last year by University of Missouri Press. He contributed a chapter to the book A Dime’s Worth of Difference (Cockburn and St. Clair, eds.). For more information, see: http://www.popcorn78.blogspot.com.