Ten years on, a question arises: Was Iraq war America’s biggest blunder?


Peter van Buren, a retired 24-year-veteran of the U.S. State Department, offers an ANSWER to the question in the headline above:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the invasion of Iraq turned out to be a joke. Not for the Iraqis, of course, and not for American soldiers, and not the ha-ha sort of joke either. And here’s the saddest truth of all: on March 20th as we mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion from hell, we still don’t get it. In case you want to jump to the punch line, though, it’s this: by invading Iraq, the U.S. did more to destabilize the Middle East than we could possibly have imagined at the time. And we — and so many others — will pay the price for it for a long, long time.


Anniversaries are times for reflection, in part because it’s often only with hindsight that we recognize the most significant moments in our lives. On the other hand, on anniversaries it’s often hard to remember what it was really like back when it all began. Amid the chaos of the Middle East today, it’s easy, for instance, to forget what things looked like as 2003 began. Afghanistan, it appeared, had been invaded and occupied quickly and cleanly, in a way the Soviets (the British, the ancient Greeks…) could never have dreamed of. Iran was frightened, seeing the mighty American military on its eastern border and soon to be on the western one as well, and was ready to deal. Syria was controlled by the stable thuggery of Bashar al-Assad and relations were so good that the U.S. was rendering terror suspects to his secret prisons for torture.

Most of the rest of the Middle East was tucked in for a long sleep with dictators reliable enough to maintain stability. Libya was an exception, though predictions were that before too long Muammar Qaddafi would make some sort of deal. (He did.) All that was needed was a quick slash into Iraq to establish a permanent American military presence in the heart of Mesopotamia. Our future garrisons there could obviously oversee things, providing the necessary muscle to swat down any future destabilizing elements. It all made so much sense to the neocon visionaries of the early Bush years. The only thing that Washington couldn’t imagine was this: that the primary destabilizing element would be us.

Indeed, its mighty plan was disintegrating even as it was being dreamed up. In their lust for everything on no terms but their own, the Bush team missed a diplomatic opportunity with Iran that might have rendered today’s saber rattling unnecessary, even as Afghanistan fell apart and Iraq imploded. As part of the breakdown, desperate men, blindsided by history, turned up the volume on desperate measures: torture, secret gulags, rendition, drone killings, extra-constitutional actions at home. The sleaziest of deals were cut to try to salvage something, including ignoring the A.Q. Khan network of Pakistani nuclear proliferation in return for a cheesy Condi Rice-Qaddafi photo-of rapprochement in Libya.

Inside Iraq, the forces of Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict had been unleashed by the U.S. invasion. That, in turn, was creating the conditions for a proxy war between the U.S. and Iran, similar to the growing proxy war between Israel and Iran inside Lebanon (where another destabilizing event, the U.S.-sanctioned Israeli invasion of 2006, followed in hand). None of this has ever ended. Today, in fact, that proxy war has simply found a fresh host, Syria, with multiple powers using “humanitarian aid” to push and shove their Sunni and Shia avatars around.

Staggering neocon expectations, Iran emerged from the U.S. decade in Iraq economically more powerful, with sanctions-busting trade between the two neighbors now valued at some $5 billion a year and still growing. In that decade, the U.S. also managed to remove one of Iran’s strategic counterbalances, Saddam Hussein, replacing him with a government run by Nouri al-Malaki, who had once found asylum in Tehran.

Meanwhile, Turkey is now engaged in an open war with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Turkey is, of course, part of NATO, so imagine the U.S. government sitting by silently while Germany bombed Poland. To complete the circle, Iraq’s prime minister recently warned that a victory for Syria’s rebels will spark sectarian wars in his own country and will create a new haven for al-Qaeda which would further destabilize the region.

Meanwhile, militarily burnt out, economically reeling from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lacking any moral standing in the Middle East post-Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the U.S. sat on its hands as the regional spark that came to be called the Arab Spring flickered out, to be replaced by yet more destabilization across the region. And even that hasn’t stopped Washington from pursuing the latest version of  the (now-nameless) global war on terror into ever-newer regions in need of destabilization.



  1. Dick Cheney would do this again in a donor’s heartbeat.

  2. RedRover

    Wilson’s World War I, a blunder of monumental proportions that initiated 3 decades of unprecedented horrors, beats Bush/Cheney’s Iraq War by a landslide.

    I guess that this local boy might agree:

    The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, by Thomas Fleming. Basic Books, 2003
    REVIEW: http://mises.org/misesreview_detail.aspx?control=256

    What do you think, Pat Cunningham? I guess you know this guy pretty well:

  3. Neftali

    The only people that can really answer that question are the Iraqi citizens.

  4. Condoleeza Rice withdraws as commencement speaker at Rutgers because of protest related to her role in the Iraq war. I say good for them.

    The GWB/Cheney administration took us to war in Iraq based on lies and well massaged intelligence, then cowed the senate into voting for war by saying you’re either with us or the terrorists.

    The term war criminals comes to mind. And let’s not forget, in different times water boarding was considered torture and people who used it in other recent wars were given the death penalty. But not in America, we have fancy government lawyers that rewrite laws to make it an acceptable form of information gathering.


    • Neftali

      The people who protested Rice speaking at Rutgers are racists.

  5. Steverino

    Good for Rutgers. Nice to see the educated waking up to the crimes of the Bush administration.

  6. “Ten years on, a question arises: Was Iraq war America’s biggest blunder?”

    A resounding Hell Yes it was a huge blunder. Now Hagel says we need ground troops in Iraq. Those nitwits over there never did all the car bombings, religious faction murders and other terrorist things that are happening since we invaded and tried to install a new despot, that would be more of a puppet than Saddam, who was a good puppet and our nations friend until he felt GHWB double crossed him in the first gulf war.

    What a mess we made in the middle east. trying to modernize them into the 21st century, which is the goal of the Neocons and the Project for the New America Century ( the guiding document of the Neocon agenda that BO is just as much a part of as GWB and Cheney were.)

    What has happened to the leadership of our country that we as a nation are making so many wrong decision. How long have we been at war in the middle east? We can’t even win wars anymore. They’re killing themselves over there more now than any time in the past 100 years. And all because the USA destabelized those middle eastern governments, because that’s what the CIA does to benefit the trans-national corporate interest they protect and the Military Industrial Complex the keep in business with unending wars for unending profit.

    Will we ever see peace in the world again before some nitwit starts the next world war?

    People in the USA know something is terribly wrong, but nobody knows what to do to fix it, because the people we elect don’t offer any solutions. Our leaders are as someone said about 12 years ago, pigs at the trough.

    How long will the USA last with these continual costly blunders? How can we be the strong nation we were when we sold of our nations manufacturing abilities and whatever else could be monetized, to the highest foreign bidders?


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