The Iraq War, which started almost 20 years ago (March 20 2003) to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party government and bring democracy to the Middle East, is now seen by most people as a terrible mistake. A mere month prior, a global demonstration of unprecedented scale occurred, as six to ten million people from sixty countries took to the streets in protest over the impending war. Despite this impressive show of people power, the neoconservatives in the US and the New Labour government of the UK were set on continuing the war effort. This was unfinished business. The momentous anti-war spectacle, which seemed to be an undeniable testament to the futility of mass action in the face of entrenched power, stands as a stark reminder of the failure of our institutions to heed the voices of the people. In a world where change always seems out of reach, it’s clear that an individual has little to no power over a system that doesn’t care what they say.
The war was built on a lie – a fabricated dossier on weapons of mass destruction that was taken to the floor of the UN and later exposed as false. The US and UK seemed to be on a collision course with conflict, and any remaining hope for diplomacy was swiftly extinguished. Once Blair and Bush had decided to go to war, the game was up. No amount of protest or dissenting voices in parliament could change events. The decisions of those in power held sway, even as millions of people took to the streets in protest – a stark reminder of the power dynamics at play in our world.
The Ideological Roots of the Iraq War
Three insightful articles delve into the ideological underpinnings of the Iraq War, each revealing that the invasion was based on erroneous assumptions and a failure to consider the complex social and political realities of Iraq. Max Boot in Foreign Affairs, posits that the invasion was part of a larger system of capitalist imperialism that sought to control other countries for the benefit of the capitalist elite. Hal Brands also writing in Foreign Affairs, asserts that the invasion was a mistake from a strategic point of view, driven by ideological zeal and a misunderstanding of US strategic interests in the area.
David Frum, in his article for The Atlantic, provides a unique perspective by highlighting the role that groupthink played among policymakers. Frum argues that the collective mindset of the Bush administration led to an overconfidence in their ability to achieve their objectives in Iraq. The administration’s conviction in the righteousness of their cause and their unwavering belief in the transformative power of democracy blinded them to the potential risks and challenges that they would encounter during the invasion and its aftermath. However, Frum also acknowledges that one of the justifications for the Iraq War was to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. While it was later revealed that Iraq did not possess an active nuclear weapons program at the time of the invasion, Frum asserts that the risk of Hussein obtaining nuclear weapons was a genuine concern. He points to the possibility that, without the invasion, Hussein could have eventually developed or acquired nuclear weapons, which might have led to a more dangerous and unstable Middle East. The fabrication that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) served as the deceptive pretext that convinced many to support the Iraq War. Frum’s argument contradicts this notion; however, there was no substantial evidence to imply that Saddam Hussein possessed a viable nuclear program in 2003 or any sign to predict if he would establish one in the future.
Frum effectively conveys his perspective on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the following statement: “The Afghanistan war started as a justifiable conflict but ultimately soured. In contrast, the Iraq war began under questionable circumstances, yet experienced alternating periods of progress and decline before settling into an uneasy state that, while disliked, was grudgingly accepted by all.” This quote highlights Frum’s complex analysis, illustrating that he believes the Afghanistan War started with noble intentions but took a turn for the worse, while the Iraq War had a more problematic beginning but experienced a series of ups and downs before settling into an uneasy, yet tolerable, situation.
These articles by Boot, Brands, and Frum emphasise the importance of understanding the ideas that led to this failed military effort. By demonstrating that the decision to invade Iraq was based on deeply held beliefs, a flawed collective mindset, and a combination of both favorable and unfavorable consequences, with the latter outweighing the former, they reveal how ideology can drastically shape the way we see the world and determine our actions in response to perceived threats. Acknowledging these ideological roots is critical to preventing future foreign policy blunders that could have similarly disastrous consequences.
The Hubris of Western-Style Democracy
Those who planned the war thought they could bring democracy to Iraq in the style of the West and turn it into a model country that would inspire democratic reform in other countries in the region. This belief in the power of democracy to spread and change other societies can be seen as an ideological construct that serves the interests of the ruling class at the expense of the working class and other marginalised groups. This belief in the superiority of Western-style democracy and the idea that it could be exported to other nations is, at its core, an expression of hubris and arrogance. Who are we to suggest that our way of life is the best and only way for others to live? This way of thinking is not only arrogant, but it also ignores the fact that other societies’ political and social realities are shaped by their own unique cultural and historical factors. Also, the idea that democracy can be moved from one country to another doesn’t consider the fact that democracy is a highly contextualised and culturally specific idea that can’t just be forced on another country. Trying to impose a foreign model of government on a country is not only likely to fail, but it is also a form of neo-colonialism that takes away the people in the targeted country’s sovereignty and power.
The invasion in the end had devastating consequences. It worsened America’s economic problems, undermined its military (prolonging the war in Afghanistan) and diplomatic standing, and left Iraq in ruins. The goal of controlling Iraq’s resources came at a high cost to the Iraqi people, who endured a brutal occupation that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
One of the most tragic legacies of this failed state-building effort in Iraq was the mass exodus of people from the country. The displacement of Iraqis from their homes was a direct result of the destabilising impact of the occupation, which created a fertile breeding ground for extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The invasion of Iraq not only failed to achieve its stated goals of promoting democracy and security in the region, but also unleashed a humanitarian crisis that still reverberates today.
These failed actions in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan have directly led to the migrant crisis that has gripped the UK in recent years. The goal of these conflicts was to promote democracy and safety, but instead they threw these countries into chaos and made them more prone to violence, persecution, and economic problems. Millions of people have been forced to leave their homes in these countries because war makes things unstable. They are looking for safety and peace. The crisis is a poignant reminder of the human cost of misguided military interventions and the far-reaching consequences of decisions made by those in positions of power. The UK migrant crisis is a scary reminder of how war can have unintended effects and have a big effect on the lives of regular people. It is a call to action for all those who value the importance of peace and diplomacy in shaping a more just and equitable world.
In the end, the Iraq War showed how flawed a system is that puts money before people. Even though ideological zeal may have played a role in the war planners’ decisions, it was the needs of capitalist imperialism that drove them in the end. The invasion of Iraq was not an isolated event. Instead, it was a sign of the deeper problems with capitalist imperialism that still affect US foreign policy today.
In the shadow of 9/11’s aftermath, we pursued wars with a mercurial fervor, propelled by the flimsiest of pretexts; the echoes of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos haunted their steps. As we tread forward, let us bear in mind the vast fortunes squandered on armaments and aid, their meager impact, and the silent question of whether the populace’s desires were ever truly considered.
This haunting legacy should, with quiet insistence, guide our future deliberations on waging wars and placing boots upon foreign soil.
 The U.S. post-9/11 wars have given rise to a staggering displacement of no fewer than 38 million individuals in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria.
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