Bloody and costly Iraq war left US no stronger in Middle East

By Arthur MacMillan, AFP

WASHINGTON — The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq overthrew a dictator, but 10 years on the war is seen to have destabilized the Middle East, exposed the limits of military power and left America no stronger than before. With U.S. forces having withdrawn after the deaths of almost 4,500 American troops and an estimated US$1 trillion outlay, there is little soul-searching in Washington today about a war that has faded from public consciousness. According to a recent study by Brown University, 134,000 Iraqi civilians died in the conflict.

And 10 years after the “shock and awe” that launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, removing Saddam Hussein from power, most analysts and diplomats agree the Iraq war did nothing to improve the U.S. position in the Middle East. “Regardless of whether genuine democracy is viable or even sustainable, the Iraq war did not serve any strategic net gain for the United States,” said Ramzy Mardini, a fellow at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies in Beirut. On the contrary, “misplaced certainty” about the ability of U.S. military power to do the job and a lack of regard to Saddam’s role as an Arab counterbalance to Iran have harmed American interests, he said. “The fall of Saddam didn’t just create a power vacuum in Baghdad, it created a power vacuum in the region, which plunged neighboring states into an intense environment of security competition” that continues today, Mardini added. Such miscalculations were not confined to the presidency of George W. Bush, according to Christopher Hill, a veteran of the peace settlement in Bosnia and North Korea nuclear talks, who arrived in Baghdad in 2009 as the U.S. ambassador. Hill, now dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, suggested the “complete disconnect between Washington” and people such as himself “on the ground” continued until the end. Barack Obama had used his opposition to the war to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton when seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. As president, he ended U.S. military involvement on the same December 2011 timeline set by Bush.