Bad Lessons Learned
Twenty years after the Iraq invasion: The people in power learned all the wrong lessons.
Twenty years have passed since George W. Bush decided to bring democracy to Iraq through shock and awe. The ill-fated war killed thousands of Americans, disfigured tens of thousands more, left hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis, and wrecked many Iraqi institutions. Trillions of dollars were wasted. All for what? Iraq gained death and destruction.
Even the architects of the war cannot say what the U.S. gained. One would have hoped we gained the insight to not repeat this mistake. Instead, the cheerleaders of the war learned that such a grotesque failure was no deterrence for subsequent interventions.
In Iraq, the regime learned that deception and dishonesty appear to have no negative consequences. The war was based on multiple myths. Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. He did not have any connection to Al Qaeda or 9/11. The Bush administration was aware these assertions were based on elusive evidence at best. Once America invaded and occupied Iraq, the myths were dispelled.
In spite of those lies being exposed, no one paid a price for the serial fabrications. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and all the rest never faced charges for lying to the American public. They were never even officially censured and have retired in comfort. Bush and Cheney have even been able to rehabilitate their public images by criticizing Donald Trump for not following their bloody footsteps in the Middle East.
The intelligence agencies and military leadership learned their failures would be rewarded with ever-increasing budgets and power. The Patriot Act has been renewed without significant push-back. During the Iraqi presidential election, it was informative to see the total failure of the Ahmed Chalabi candidacy, which was eagerly supported by the neocons and their friends in the Deep State (after Chalabi had been a longtime CIA asset).
The corporate press learned ratings improve during the propaganda storm leading up to a war and in its initial stages. As the phony achievements collapse, so do ratings. Then the press moves on to another shiny object.
With those lessons learned, the regime moved on to other disasters. They lied to get us into Libya. They lied to get us into Syria. And they lied to keep us in Afghanistan. Years of lies in support for war in Ukraine were successful. Now, as the “Ukraine is winning” narrative is collapsing, some war supporters are shifting their attention and propaganda to China and Taiwan.
In Iraq, the regime learned we can devastate the environment and heritage sites without accountability. Liberal elites constantly lecture about the importance of saving the environment and preserving historical sites around the globe. But the Iraq War undermines their credibility. The American military shot depleted uranium ammunition throughout the countryside, burned tons of toxic waste in open burn pits, and created other hazards across the country.
These effects, especially those of the burn pits, have not only been devastating to the poor Iraqi citizens, but also have caused substantial sickness in America’s own soldiers, and have been linked to the high rate of cancer among veterans. Half a century after we left Vietnam, millions are still suffering with the consequences of the toxins we dumped on their country, as do many of our veterans. The regime does not care about cannon fodder. Our soldiers tend to come from rural communities, whose culture is disdained by our elites. Many patriotic Americans have not yet caught onto the scam. However, some have, as evidenced by cratering military enlistments.
Occupying forces also left a deep wound on Iraq’s millennia-old cultural sites. Coalition forces used the ancient city of Babylon as a military depot, permanently defacing irreplaceable treasures. American military efforts wrecked many cities, with at least 60 percent of Fallujah’s buildings being heavily damaged in the fighting. Other cities such as Mosul still bear the searing scars of war from the fight to “save” it from ISIS—a terror group financed by the U.S. in their war against the Syrian government. The corporate press does not seem outraged by these environmental and cultural catastrophes.
In Iraq, the regime learned it could assassinate and kill people with impunity. The Iraq War wrecked the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, many at the hands of coalition forces. The U.S. callously bombed towns and villages. This lesson has informed American foreign policy ever since.
It is estimated that U.S. drone strikes have killed over 2,000 civilians in Pakistan alone. Several civilian wedding parties have been attacked, killing innocent women and children. U.S. leadership has perfected the false excuse of “collateral damage.” Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama told aides, “I'm really good at killing people.” According to the New York Times, Obama met on Tuesdays (dubbed Terror Tuesdays) to choose the next list of victims to add to the “kill list.” Occasionally, our leaders mouth inauthentic apologies for these crimes.
Iraq also taught our leadership they can assassinate foreign leaders whom they do not like, as with the 2020 strike on high-ranking Iranian general Qasem Soleimani during a peace mission. Now U.S. leaders such as Lindsey Graham call for the assassination of the Russian president, who has the world's largest nuclear weapons system. President Biden has called for regime change in Russia. How will that turn out?
In Iraq, the regime learned it can practice torture if it keeps it out of sight. When Seymour Hersh exposed the practice of U.S. torture of Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison, there was alarm. But it was mostly partisan sniping against George W. Bush. The regime quickly learned it had to outsource to other countries such as Egypt, Poland, and Thailand. Our leaders pretend they are not involved in torture while keeping the grisly acts hidden.
The “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists showed the U.S.’s disdain for the Geneva Convention. International law is clear: “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever.”
The abduction and brutalization of numerous individuals neither charged with any crime nor connected to terrorism happened repeatedly. The only people who paid a price were the low-ranking soldiers at Abu Ghraib. The leaders who created the policy were not punished. CIA operative Gina Haspel tried to hide her complicity with the Thai torture operation by destroying the video evidence before she was elevated to director of the CIA.
In Iraq, U.S. leadership also learned they could indefinitely detain people without due process. That practice has returned home. Numerous Americans have been in jail for more than two years for crimes such as parading in the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Years of overseas military interventions have contributed to the militarization of our local police forces. Why do sheriff departments across the country require armored vehicles and other combat equipment?
American leaders, particularly Republicans, love to tout America as a nation guided by Christian principles. But the U.S. did not seem to care about the many Christians who suffered as a result of the Iraq War.
Their ancient community faced a wave of persecution and violence after the war. Without Saddam Hussein, Islamic radicals were able to terrorize Christians and force them from their homes. America did little to nothing to protect these vulnerable minorities. The violence rekindled after ISIS began capturing large parts of Iraq in the 2010s. By 2019, media outlets were reporting that Iraq’s Christian community was close to extinction.
Despite the Iraq War being started by a self-proclaimed Christian president, none of the initiators show remorse over their role in largely eradicating this 2,000-year-old faith community. It does not seem important to them.
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The U.S. invaded Iraq under the guise of striking an ally of terrorism. Instead of curbing terrorism, the war made it worse. Al Qaeda was a non-entity in Iraq prior to the invasion. Thanks to the war, Al Qaeda and ISIS were both strengthened in the region and found thousands of new followers angry at the U.S. occupation.
The war did not just foment Sunni terrorism, it also drove Shiite extremism. The invasion created an insurgency that turned Iraq into hell on earth. Terrorism has continued past the U.S.’s formal departure from Iraq. Tens of thousands died as a result of this U.S.-instigated and -financed reign of terror, which still haunts the world today.
These are the dark lessons of Iraq. Our leaders have learned nothing good from the war. There are many patriots who paid in blood to know the truth, however. Hopefully, they will help us avoid future Iraqs.