Twenty Years After Invading Iraq — The Blind Still Lead in Washington

By Timothy Furnish Published on March 20, 2023

On March 20, 2003, I held our newborn second son in my arms. (Just a few hours old, he raised his head. Probably why he plays offensive lineman at a Power Five football program now.) On the TV in my wife’s recovery room? U.S. forces striking and invading Iraq. Within three weeks Baghdad had fallen. On May 1 President George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, where he gave the (in)famous “Mission Accomplished” speech. Twenty years on, it’s fair to ask: just what was accomplished in America’s second major invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation — which, while technically ending in 2011, still sees several thousand US troops in that country?

Rationale #1 for Invading Iraq in 2003: WMDs

Why did we invade Iraq in the first place? Only a Vulcan mind-meld with Bush might tell us that. (If it revealed much of anything.) The primary reason given, of course, was that Saddam Hussein was allegedly fashioning weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Saddam had used chemical and nerve gas against Iran in the 1980s. After he invaded that neighboring country, starting the first Gulf War. A conflict in which the Reagan Administration took Baghdad’s side, by providing intelligence and turning a blind eye to his gassing of Iranians.

The primary reason given, of course, was that Saddam Hussein was allegedly fashioning weapons of mass destruction.

So Saddam might reasonably assume that the world’s sole superpower — the USSR having been tossed by the Russians onto the ash heap of history — would also wink at his annexing Kuwait. (Especially since the Iraqi case that Kuwait had been administratively part of al-Iraq under the Ottomans had some basis in reality.) But of course George H.W. Bush and the U.S. military put an end to that expansionist dream in 1991. While leaving Saddam in power, even as he once again used poison gas — this time on Iraqis.

Rationale #2: Axis of Evil Is Pro-Terrorist

Then Osama bin Laden’s followers  brought about 9/11. In his first State of the Union after, Bush the younger (in)famously declared Iraq one-third of the “axis of evil.” The others were North Korea and Iran. His reasoning? “By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to kill their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.”

Yes, they could. Especially the first two. But would they? Yes, Saddam did support some groups on the State Department’s terrorist list. But those were mainly ones on the left, that caused problems for his neighbors. Such as the resistance group Mujahidin-e Khalq, which opposed the ayatollahs in Iran. And the PKK, which gave Ankara headaches. The secular regime in Baghdad did not, as a rule, help out jihadists. They hated them.

Rationale #3: Madison over Muhammad

The third reason, which Bush revealed in a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy eight months later, was, “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed in the global democratic revolution.”

Those were our three goals then. We went to war in Iraq — for the second time, mind you — to get rid of Saddam’s WMDs, to stop his support for terrorism, and to make the Arab Middle East safe for democracy. How did we do with those goals?

Bush Went 0 for 3

WMDs: As it turned out, Iraq had no on-going WMD programs.  The late Colin Powell, who as Secretary of State argued at the U.N. that Iraq had WMDs, — claimed later on that the  Bush administration had “exploited” him. There was nothing there beyond stockpiles of old nerve and chemical agents — dangerous to Baghdad’s neighbors, but not capable of reaching London, much less New York.

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Terrorism: Toppling the Iraqi dictator did terminate aid for the aforementioned terrorist groups. But it also enabled the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, “(greater) Syria.” How? ISIS grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Under its “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — mainstream media’s “austere religious scholar” —  it took over a large swath of the Iraq-Syria border.

During the Trump Administration the U.S. military sent al-Baghdadi to meet the virgins. But that didn’t stop ISIS, now known simply as “Islamic State.” IS has held the top spot as the world’s deadliest terrorist group for eight years running. It killed over 1800 people in just 2022 alone. So the American invasion let an even more dangerous jinn out of the Iraqi bottle.

Democracy: Finally, did democracy catch on in Iraq and the greater Middle East? Hardly. According to The Economist’s latest global democracy index, Iraq is an “authoritarian” regime. The only democracy in the Middle East by their metric is (of course) Israel. Iraq is of a kind with Egypt, Jordan and the UAE. Not as bad as Iran or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, granted. But not a democracy — nor even a “hybrid” regime like Morocco.

So, no WMDs and no democracy, but more jihadists. (In fact, IS is rising again in the area.) Three strikes, you’re out, W.

And How Much Did It Cost?!

At what cost was all this? According to a new study by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, it was stratospheric. Especially when rolled together with the conflict in Syria, which was in large measure a by-product of the Iraqi one. Over 8,000 Americans were killed (military and contractors) and at least 500,000 Iraqis and Syrians, including over 300,000 civilians, 100,000 Iraqi and Syrian military, and some 100,000 jihadists of various stripes.

The U.S. spent $1.8 trillion directly on the two conflicts, mostly in Iraq. Adding in the medical care for wounded and disabled Americans brings the total to just shy of $3 trillion.

Compare that to Afghanistan, on which we squandered at least $2.2 trillion and 3800 American lives. As well as those of 230,000 Afghans. And to what end? The Taliban are in control again, just like in 2001. At least invading Afghanistan — the staging area for bin Laden’s fiendishly clever 9/11 attacks — made some strategic sense. Invading Iraq? Very little, really. And I say that as a veteran, conservative, and analyst who, back in 2003, supported the invasion.

Nothing Has Changed in Washington

And what has the Uniparty in D.C. learned from all this? Nothing, it seems. We continue pouring weapons into Ukraine, thereby risking nuclear war with Russia. President Biden claims that “democracy stands” in Ukraine. Even though that country is at best a flawed hybrid regime.

Meanwhile, there is bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate to label Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The problem with that? It’s not true. And Russia actually has worked with the U.S. in the past to fight terrorists. True, Russia does have WMDs. Particularly of the nuclear kind. More than the U.S., in fact. Still, treating Vladimir Putin as the second coming of Saddam and “convicting” him of war crimes is a tough row to hoe. Especially considering that Bush was “convicted” likewise.

Do the Blind Still Lead the Blind?

The U.S. could get away with invading Iraq twice, not to mention Afghanistan, because, following the USSR’s collapse, it was the hyper-power. We no longer live in unipolar times, though. Russia has more nukes, China has more wealth, and 14 countries have more credibility than America — that latter in no small measure thanks to our mendacious and misguided 2003 conquest of Iraq. A global multipolar system, headed by the American-Chinese-Russian triad, is what we have now. We can no longer force the rest of the world to do what we want — even if (we think) our cause is just.

So before we send more than weapons-inspecting troops to Ukraine, it would behoove Biden — or at least his handlers — to read Luke 14:31: “What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” As Our Lord Himself also said (Matthew 15:14): “If the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Bush blindly led us into Iraq. Let’s pray Biden doesn’t fall into the Ukraine ditch, dragging us down with him.


Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults The Stream on International Security matters.

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