20 Years After Catastrophe in Iraq, the War Apologists Still Dominate U.S. Foreign Policy


In Warsaw last February, President Joe Biden condemned the lawless Russian invasion of Ukraine: “The idea that over 100,000 forces would invade another country—since World War II, nothing like that has happened.” One month later marked the 20th anniversary of the greatest U.S. foreign policy debacle since Vietnam: America’s “war of choice” against Iraq, with 130,000 U.S. soldiers invading the country to overthrow its government.

Given the scope of the folly, it is understandable that Biden would want to bury it in a memory hole. Although not as Orwellian as Biden, much of the commentary around the 20th anniversary similarly sought to explain or justify or diminish the calamity. This isn’t surprising, since few of the perpetrators, propagandists, and cheerleaders who drove us into the war suffered any consequence. Their reputations were re-burnished; their stature in America’s foreign policy establishment was retained. Bizarrely, those who led us into the disaster continue to dominate America’s major media platforms, while those who warned against it are largely pushed to the margins.

Putting a blush on the Iraq War is not an easy task. The Bush administration touted its preventive war doctrine, scorned the need for America, at the height of its unipolar moment, to seek authority from the United Nations, approval from NATO allies, or adherence to international law. Iraq was a target for neoconservatives long before 9/11, as the propagandists at the Project for the New American Century made clear. The push for the war began hours after 9/11, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was an avowed enemy of Al Qaeda. The Bush administration campaigned to sell the threat, making it—as Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote at the beginning of the Cold War—“clearer than the truth.” For message advice, the administration hired professional PR gurus—like Charlotte Beers, the Queen of Madison Avenue, straight from award-winning campaigns hawking Uncle Ben’s Rice and Head & Shoulders Shampoo. From the president on down, they sought to associate Saddam Hussein with 9/11, although they had no evidence of a connection that did not exist. Then they focused on the threat posed by Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. To overcome skeptical CIA analysts, Vice President Dick Cheney formed his own intelligence group, while über-lobbyist John Rendon invented an Iraqi National Congress headed by the nefarious financier Ahmed Chalabi, who provided “intelligence” on demand.

Despite the fearmongering, the administration faced the largest demonstrations ever organized against a war before it began—what The New York Times termed “a new superpower.” Germany, France, and NATO refused support; the UN denied sanction. But reporters and editorialists for the mainstream media echoed the administration’s claims; liberal pundits rushed to show their patriotic fervor. With few exceptions, liberal politicians signed on to preserve their “credibility.” The daily barrage of distortions and deceptions worked: on the eve of the war, two-thirds of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and nearly four-fifths thought he was on the verge of having nuclear weapons.

And so the catastrophe. The war cost the United States 4,600 dead, and over 30,000 wounded. Estimates of Iraqi casualties top 400,000, with a staggering 7 million refugees and millions more internally displaced. Sectarian conflict savaged Iraq. A new generation of jihadists arose and spread. Iran gained influence in the region.

America’s reputation has not recovered to this day. Most of the world has stayed out of the Russian-Ukraine conflict, dismissing U.S. hectoring about the “rules-based international order” as hypocrisy. China’s influence spread as the United States floundered in the endless wars in the Middle East. Americans are tired of wars without victory. The press squandered its credibility. And the arrogance and irresponsibility of foreign policy establishment was exposed—all contributing to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

Twenty years later, the war’s advocates and apologists struggle to justify their calamitous course, or to mollify judgments and achieve, in the words of Richard Haas, former president of the Foreign Policy Association, “an elusive consensus about the war’s legacy.”

One frequent excuse is that the war was a mistake or a tragedy, not a crime. The administration, it’s argued, really did believe that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was, Hal Brands writes in Foreign Affairs, “an understandable tragedy, born of honorable motive and genuine concerns.” Despite the lack of evidence, a “critical mass of senior officials…talked one another into believing the most readily available justification,” concluded Max Fisher in the Times. In fact, the “war of choice” was the product of hubris, at a time when the United States was at the height of its power, driven by zealots who scorned law, evidence, and the “rules-based order.” Or as Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, reviewing the material provided for his UN speech, “This is bullshit.”

Others, risibly, suggest that Iraq is better off today as a result of the invasion. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, “the one indisputably real WMD in Iraq,” Times columnist Bret Stephens writes, justifying his support of the war. Getting rid of him is a boon for the Iraqis, Stephens argues, with “Iraq, the Middle East and the world better off for having gotten rid of a dangerous tyrant.” This breathtaking conclusion can only be made by ignoring the devastation wrought on the country, the region and America’s credibility. It is the same arrogance that led to regime change in Libya, with the result once more a bloody civil war.

Some, like David Frum, the Bush speechwriter said to have coined the term “the Axis of Evil” (the preposterous grouping of Iraq and Iran—two fervid enemies—with a North Korean regime that neither had any connection to), suggest the Iraqis bear much of the blame. We “offered Iraq a better future,” Frum tweeted. “Whatever West’s mistakes; the sectarian war was a choice Iraqis made for themselves.”

The price for failing to hold the perpetrators of this debacle accountable is that their worldview still dominates America’s national security establishment. Biden came into office pledging to create a foreign policy for the middle class, but he has proceeded to reaffirm America’s imperial delusion—that we have the resources, wisdom, and charter to police the world, to counter Russia and China in their own neighborhoods, while chasing terrorists, dropping bombs from drones in seven countries, and dispatching forces to over 100 countries across the world. We sensibly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law. Yet Richard Haass, a charter member of our foreign policy establishment, can write—apparently without irony—that the lesson to be drawn from Iraq is not opposition to aggressive war but that “wars of choice should be undertaken only with extreme care and consideration of the likely costs and benefits.” Surely, one of the enduring horrors of Iraq is that despite the calamity, our foreign policy establishment remains unshaken, and its worldview remains unchanged.

Credit Line: This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with The Nation.

20 Years After the Start of the Iraq War, U.S. Peace Movement Protests Yet Another War


An intergenerational, multiracial group of organizers demonstrated in Washington, D.C., on March 18, seeking to unite various sectors of the nation’s anti-war movement. Under the slogans “Peace in Ukraine—Negotiations not escalation,” “Fund People’s needs, not the war machine,” and “Say no to endless U.S. wars and sanctions—Abolish NATO,” around 2,500 people representing over 200 organizations rallied in front of the White House and marched to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for a teach-in. Endorsers and organizers include the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK, and the People’s Forum.

The war in Ukraine has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, plunged the world into crisis, and will cost the people of the U.S. at least $113 billion in public funds. Many in the anti-war movement argue that the war wasn’t caused by Russia alone, despite what U.S. politicians and media say, and was completely avoidable.

Those joining the march had plenty of reasons to participate. Some have been active in the anti-war movement since even before the Iraq War 20 years ago, which broke out on March 20, 2003, in the “shock and awe” U.S. invasion.

Ellen Barfield of Veterans for Peace, who was active in opposing the Iraq War, told Peoples Dispatch, “Sadly, the general public worships troops, so they listen to us.” “We use our status. And that’s what Veterans for Peace is all about; it’s about supporting each other in doing a better job of trying to educate the public about the real costs of war… to the whole world.”

The March 18 rally united various working-class struggles around the globe. Riya Ortiz of Damayan Migrant Workers spoke on the struggle of Filipina labor trafficking survivors. “The reason that [Filipina workers] were getting trafficked is because the U.S. ravaged our home country. We don’t have our own heavy basic industry, and basically the main commodity of the country [is] our people,” Ortiz told Peoples Dispatch on the link between anti-imperialism and Filipina struggle.

Credit Line: from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Jenga Diplomacy: A 20-year Retrospective of the Invasion of Iraq

by Jude

As the sun rose over the barren Iraqi desert twenty years ago on the 20th of March, the winds of change were sweeping across the sands, bringing with them the echoes of a war that would shake the world to its core. The deafening clash of metal and flesh rang out across the land, a symphony of destruction that heralded the arrival of a new era. A US-led multinational coalition of top-notch military entered Iraq to supposedly save the people from the ‘authoritarian’ Saddam Hussein under the codename Operation Iraqi Freedom – a classic twist of irony in hindsight for a conflict that would claim over a million lives and breed one of the largest terror organisations on the planet.

The invasion involved over 160,000 troops mainly from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia and was carried out with a combination of ground troops, tanks, and aircraft. The US and its allies deployed a vast array of weapons and equipment, including M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and Apache attack helicopters. They also utilised air power, with F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, B-2 stealth bombers, and AC-130 gunships providing close air support to ground troops.Over the course of the invasion, the coalition forces encountered significant resistance from Iraqi troops and paramilitary groups loyal to Saddam Hussein. There were several key battles, including the Battle of Nasiriyah and the Battle of Baghdad, which saw heavy fighting and casualties on both sides.

Being one of the most controversial and consequential military operations in modern history, the invasion of Iraq was intended to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime from power and eliminate Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The decision to invade was based on flawed intelligence and a misguided belief that military force was the only way to neutralise the perceived threat posed by the Iraqi regime.

The primary justification for the invasion was the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The Bush administration and other Western governments argued that Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a grave threat to regional and global security, and that the only way to neutralise this threat was through military action. However, the subsequent discovery that Iraq did not possess WMDs raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the war and the motives behind it.

Another argument put forward by the Bush administration was that the Invasion of Iraq was detrimental in order to fight terrorism under America’s War on Terror. Carried out by al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks had led to a heightened sense of fear and vulnerability in the United States and other Western countries. The Bush administration falsely argued that Iraq was a supporter of terrorism, and that removing Saddam Hussein from power would help to combat the global threat of terrorism.However, there was no evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein had any direct links to al-Qaeda or was involved in the planning or execution of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia – a key US ally in the region. Indeed, Osama Bin Laden too was a Saudi national, while the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is a Pakistani national. The decision to invade Iraq seems to have been motivated by ulterior geopolitical objectives rather than on sound intelligence or a realistic assessment of the threat.

The animosity that has transpired over the years between the US government and Saddam’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party is one of the underlying factors behind the invasion of Iraq. The fundamentals of the Ba’ath Party were those of anti-Western sentiment, that were rooted in a desire for Arab unity and national liberation, as well as espoused anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist beliefs that were at odds with US foreign policy objectives.

The invasion of Iraq had mixed effects on American allies in the region. While some American allies, particularly those in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime and saw it as an opportunity to promote stability and security in the region, the war and subsequent instability in Iraq fuelled sectarian tensions and led to the rise of extremist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which posed a threat to regional security and stability.

As the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in downtown Baghdad, the people of Iraq had ambivalent reactions to the invasion. While some Iraqis did initially greet the invading force with optimism and hope for a better future, this sentiment quickly turned to resentment and hostility as the war dragged on and the situation deteriorated. While there were certainly Iraqis who welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, many others opposed the invasion and the subsequent occupation, seeing it as a violation of their sovereignty and an unjustified act of aggression.Moreover, the perception that the invading force was an occupying power, rather than a saviour, was reinforced by a series of controversial policies and actions, including the dissolution of the Iraqi army, the appointment of an interim government dominated by pro-American figures, and the use of harsh interrogation techniques and other human rights abuses by US troops – the limelight having being shone on the Abu-Ghraib prison torture incidents.

The initial phase of the war, which involved a Blitzkrieg-like invasion by US-led forces, was successful in toppling the Saddam regime and routing the Iraqi military. However, the subsequent occupation of the country was beset by a host of problems and challenges, including a widespread insurgency, sectarian violence, and growing opposition to the presence of foreign troops.

One of the most significant consequences of the war was the rise of extremist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and later, the Islamic State (IS). These groups were able to exploit the power vacuum created by the US overthrowing of the Saddam regime and the infamous overnight disbanding of the Iraqi military. The invasion of Iraq equipped rising jihadists such as AbūMuṣʻabal-Zarqāwī and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with pressing touchpoints of anti-Western propaganda to recruit and train a new generation of terrorists.

The Islamic State message appealed to the many Sunni Muslims in Iraq who felt marginalised and discriminated against by the US-backed Shia-led government that emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Islamic State was able to exploit these grievances and position itself as a defender of Sunni rights and interests across the region. The group portrayed itself as a champion of the oppressed and promised to restore Sunni dominance in Iraq. Having been boosted by the recruits from Iraq, the Islamic State used the internet and social media to disseminate their Salafi Wahhabi ideology and doctrine of al-wala’ wa’l-bara’ (loyalty and disavowal) across the world.

AQI, which emerged in 2004, was able to carry out a series of devastating attacks on civilian and military targets, and played a major role in fomenting sectarian tensions that fuelled the wider conflict. The Islamic State (formerly AQI/ISIS), which emerged from the remnants of AQI in 2013, was able to capitalise on the chaos and instability in Iraq and Syria to seize control of large swaths of territory and establish a self-proclaimed caliphate. The group was responsible for a wave of atrocities, including mass killings, beheadings, and the enslavement of women and children. It also became a major global threat, carrying out attacks across the world with its largest attack outside of Iraq and Syria being the 2019 Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka that claimed the lives of over 250 churchgoers and tourists on the island.

The rise of AQI and IS was not inevitable, and the invasion of Iraq played a significant role in creating the conditions that allowed these groups to thrive. The decision to disband the Iraqi army and purge the government of Ba’ath Party members created a power vacuum that was quickly filled by militants and extremists. This is of course not to say that the Ba’ath Party was satisfactory by any means as the party has been linked to terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in the region as well as perceived human rights abuses in Iraq – but rather to comment on the rather naïve perception that the gross violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and execution of its leader is somehow the best method of bringing peace to the region.

The failure of the US-led coalition to provide adequate security and services to the Iraqi population also contributed to the rise of insurgency and sectarian violence.Issues arose including from violent crime and to the access of basic sanitation. Being a powder keg of ethnic division, Iraq quickly descended into civil war on the lines of racialism. The ongoing turmoil and violence in
countries like Syria and Yemen can also be traced back to the invasion of Iraq.

The legacy of the invasion of Iraq remains deeply contested, with many people continuing to question its legitimacy and efficacy. Critics argue that the decision to invade was indeed based on faulty intelligence and hidden geopolitical agendas. They also point to the disastrous consequences of the war, including the loss of thousands of lives, the displacement of millions of people, and the gross destabilisation of the region that continues even after 20 years.

Moreover, the invasion of Iraq also had far-reaching geopolitical consequences. It strained US relations with key allies, such as France and Germany, who were opposed to the war, and emboldened other anti-US hostile powers like Iran, which gained greater influence in the region as a result of the instability in Iraq – especially through the expansion of the Quds Force under Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under General Qasim Soleimani. Like a game of Jenga, the forcible removal of a key block unbalanced the equilibrium of the whole structure.

Champions of the invasion may argue that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power – although he was rather perfidiouslybacked by the US during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties. They may also point to the alleged positive impact that the removal of Saddam’s regime had on the Iraqi people, including the restoration of democracy and the establishment of a more stable and prosperous country. But in hindsight, the restorative utopia of American democracy in the deserts of the Middle East is a classic propaganda mechanism in the larger play of neo-colonialist practices by the Global North. The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq has had devastating consequences on the global stage so strong that all the perfumes of Arabia will fail to expunge its destruction.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was pivotal in modern history with far-reaching consequences. Based on flawed intelligence and ulterior motives, the lessons of the Iraq War are many and profound. They include the importance of careful and accurate intelligence gathering, the need for a clear and realistic macro-military strategy focusing on post-combat reconciliation and nation-building, and the recognition that military force is only one tool in the larger toolbox of foreign policy. The Iraq War is a painful reminder of the cost of war, the difficulty of nation-building, and the importance of diplomatic and political solutions to global problems.

Despite the destruction and chaos that ensued, the invasion of Iraq also serves as a stark reminder of the importance of peace, harmony, and co-existence. It highlighted the fragility of our global community, and the urgent need for greater understanding and cooperation. Just as a symphony requires each instrument to play in harmony to create beautiful rhythm, so too must we work together to create a world where peace and prosperity are shared by all. Let us learn from the lessons of the past and strive towards a future where the drums of war are silenced, and the melody of peace and harmony prevails.

Jude is a political and security affairs analyst

The Lingering Effects of U.S. Crimes in Iraq: 20 Years Later


Though 20 years have passed since the United States launched a blatant invasion into the sovereign state of Iraq, justice has not been done for Iraq and its people, many of whom are still suffering from the pain created by the unjust war.

During the more than eight-year war and ensuing years of violence after the 2011 U.S. pullout, more than 200,000 civilians were killed and over 9 million others displaced in Iraq. Much of the country’s infrastructure was also destroyed during the relentless bombings launched by the U.S.-led coalition.

As a result, Iraq, a rich country before the invasion, had quickly degenerated into a poor state and is still mired in poverty and chaos due to the political instability and economic hardship caused by the U.S. invasion and its impact.

The U.S. government justified its invasion into Iraq on concocted lies about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, but no trace of such weapons has been found until today. On this point, Washington owes Iraq and the international community a thorough explanation.

Iraq has neither received any formal apology from Washington for its illegal invasion, nor got any financial compensation for the massive destruction of its infrastructure and the crimes committed by U.S. troops against Iraqi civilians.

Meanwhile, none of those in Washington who made the decision to invade a sovereign state in blatant violation of the United Nations Charter has been brought to justice. None of those who encouraged or committed the heinous war crimes against civilians in Iraq has been truly prosecuted.

Worse still, if those who committed such crimes as invading a sovereign country could escape any punishment, they will repeat them again and again. As long as the United States continues its hegemonic and belligerent policies, the world will never be peaceful.

Indeed, with its previous crimes unpunished, the United States regards itself as being above the UN charter and other norms guiding the international order. Thus Washington is always tempted to repeat such crimes to serve its own interests, as shown by its launch of airstrikes against Libya and Syria not long after the Iraq War.

Even today, U.S. politicians insist that invading Iraq and ousting its government was a right thing to do. Washington still readily threatens to use force to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country that refuses to obey its orders. The world continues to live under the shadow of war and insecurity.

History has proven that though claiming itself as “peace lover,” the United States is indeed a “war empire.” Ever since its founding in 1776, the country has been at war for 93 percent of its existence. Even former U.S. President Jimmy Carter admitted that the U.S. is undoubtedly the most warlike nation in history.

Though little can be done to bring the American warmongers and criminals to justice for now because the United States remains the sole superpower, it is believed that the time of atonement will eventually come.

Justice could be late, but won’t be absent forever.