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Will We Repeat the Mistakes of Iraq?

State of the Union: We haven’t taken the lessons of the U.S. failure in Iraq to heart.


Monday, March 20, marked the twentieth anniversary of America’s invasion of Iraq. To commemorate the beginning of the end of American unipolarity, The American Conservative will be posting reflections of the war from authors this writer looked to to make sense of a senseless war.

Some of these pieces will be from individuals who experienced the war and America’s nation building efforts up close. Today, TAC has featured pieces from Peter Van Buren and Joshua Mitchell. 


Van Buren’s anecdotal piece, “Memories from Baghdad,” talks about how Van Buren and his State Department colleagues would pass their time in Baghdad during the late aughts. Van Buren and his colleagues' literal inebriation mirrors the ideological intoxication that permeated the entire American effort in Iraq. Such a hangover hits hard. 

Mitchell experienced Iraq as the acting chancellor of the American University of Iraq–Sulaimani from 2008 to 2010. His latest contribution to TAC, “The Iraq War and the Fate of Nation-States in the Twenty-First Century,” argues that rather than reevaluate, the institutions tasked with forming the future stewards of American power have doubled down. They continue to teach its students how the world ought to be instead of how it is, and the ongoing refusal for U.S. foreign policy makers to understand the nations and cultures of the world will only lead to more Iraq-like failures.

Who has capitalized on the U.S. failures in the Middle East? Andrew Bacevich correctly argues it is America’s foremost challenger: China. Increasingly, the global south is turning to China for support, both politically and financially. America’s embrace of totalizing neoliberalism since the end of the Cold War, which in many ways culminated with the Iraq War and interventions throughout the Middle East, has sent a powerful message to the global south: if you want to keep your ways and traditions, don’t work with us.

Yet, the political establishment here at home can’t help but be angry when the message is received. As Bacevich points out, the New York Times, reporting on China’s efforts to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, claims America, “now find themselves on the sidelines during a moment of significant change.” Though, “there is considerable hyperbole at work here,” Bacevich says, the language betrays how this development, “offends the amour-propre of the American establishment to have anyone other than ourselves exercising initiative in a part of the world that Washington habitually categorizes as vitally important to the United States.”

Twenty years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it’s hard to find anyone outside of Bill Kristol’s inner circle that still supports the Iraq War. Many of these people who’ve turned their back on Iraq, however, are all in for Ukraine. 

The more we at TAC reflect on America’s failures in Iraq, the more we realize we’re poised to repeat them.