March 20, marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Ashley Mefford, a student journalist at Eastern Illinois University,
has asked for my thoughts on the impact of the war.
been some of the impacts since the Iraq invasion?
Iraq has become
a more dangerous place for average Iraqis since the U.S. invasion.
Everyday life has been harder for most Iraqis as well, with much
of the country’s infrastructure destroyed and with the continuing
presence of an occupying army often unable to discern harmless Iraqis
from harmful Iraqis. This is not to paint a rosy picture of life
under Saddam Hussein. Dictatorship is a bad thing and Hussein was
brutal in his treatment of political enemies. However, with the
removal of Hussein’s dictatorship, open warfare between Sunnis and
Shiites broke out. The Christian minority became a target of Islamic
radicals, which has led to the persecution of some Iraqi Christians
and a mass migration of many others. The Kurdish minority is hoping
to join with Turkish Kurds in the formation of a new nation-state
but this hope is strongly opposed by our ally Turkey. The impact
on the U.S. taxpayer has been huge, with half-a-trillion dollars
spent on the war so far. Our government is spending an estimated
$12 billion a month in Iraq with no end in sight. This has contributed
to massive deficit spending, greater reliance on foreign investment,
and a weakened U.S. dollar. The war has also led to a sharp decline
in admiration for the U.S. by peoples around the world. The Republican
Party has become increasingly unpopular among voters as warnings
of an Iraqi threat to U.S. national security were revealed to be
false and as failures to achieve military victory and political
stability have continued. The human toll of the war has been considerable.
Almost 4,000 Americans have been killed and tens of thousands have
been wounded (estimates run between 30,000 and 100,000 wounded or
incapacitated). Neither the American government nor the Iraqi government
has found it useful to keep track of Iraqi deaths, but credible
estimates range from 600,000 to 1,000,000.
Do you think
having the invasion made people any more interested in what was
happening around the world?
If you’re talking
about average Americans, I would say “No.” Most Americans have little
interest in what goes on overseas with foreign and economic policies.
In a way, this is a rational or even healthy response. They have
little control over what takes place in these policy areas. Policy
is set by a bipartisan elite in Washington and New York and there
is little that average Americans can do to affect those actions.
Most Americans are concerned with their everyday lives — their families,
friends, jobs, and leisure. If they care about political issues,
they tend to be domestic issues that affect their daily lives (e.g.,
education, taxes, government regulation, outsourcing of jobs, importing
of cheap labor via illegal immigrants). Most Americans instinctively
have a non-interventionist, Jeffersonian foreign policy of “friendship
with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” They do not want
our government to be the Policeman of the World. This does not prevent
our government from operating as such. Many Americans know someone
who has served in the military in Iraq, but casualties are not widely
publicized and we are not on a “wartime footing,” in terms of society
as a whole.
Do you think
the impacts affect everyone equally?
who have lost family members and close friends have been more deeply
affected. In some cases, the loss of a loved one has led to greater
support for the war effort, with victory being seen as vital. In
other cases, the loss has led to greater opposition to the war and
a desire for immediate withdrawal before more Americans are killed.
There is a small minority of Americans who have benefited from the
war. This minority includes corporate owners/managers involved with
U.S. military production and with Iraqi reconstruction. In some
cases, war profits have been very high. A clique of neoconservative
intellectuals and bureaucrats has also benefited by gaining power
within the Bush administration and the Republican Party (despite
the inaccuracy of their pre-invasion pronouncements and the growing
unpopularity of the war).
impacts have most likely been bad, have any of the impacts been
The only good
impact has been the removal from power of a brutal and self-serving
dictator. Unfortunately, this removal has led to other, far-less-beneficial
impacts, including civil war, growing influence of Iranian-encouraged
Shiite fundamentalism, and the introduction of al-Qaeda into Iraq.
you think was the major impact of the invasion?
generally negative impact — in many important ways to many people
— I do not think the Iraq War will dramatically change U.S. foreign
policy in the future and will not be seen as a turning point in
any major sense. The next administration, even under Obama or Clinton
leadership, is likely to continue business-as-usual around the world,
including overseas military intervention having nothing to do with
U.S. national security. This has been the bipartisan elite consensus
for a century and is unlikely to change any time soon.
the main causes for this impact?
by the U.S. foreign policy establishment. But foreign policy failures
rarely result in big changes to the long-term strategies of those
who make the policy. Public opinion may become more outspokenly
“isolationist” as a result, but neither major party is interested
in withdrawing from global economic, military, and political dominance.
As a result, voters have no real choice at the ballot box. The Democrats
gained control of Congress in the 2006 election because most Americans
wanted them to end the Iraq War. They have not done so and this
largely explains the record low popularity of Congress. The Democratic
Party routinely betrays its base on economic and foreign policy
issues, just as the Republican Party does to its base in connection
with social and moral issues.
of the Iraq War has harmed both average Americans and average Iraqis.
It has had little impact on those responsible for planning, promoting,
enabling, and executing the war since 2000. As is typical in Washington,
failure is rewarded more often than punished, and accountability
is minimal and symbolic (e.g., Rumsfeld was pushed out the door
long after the damage was done).
Taylor [send him mail] is a
political scientist. His book Where
Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and
the Jeffersonian Legacy was published last year by University
of Missouri Press. He contributed a chapter to the book A
Dime’s Worth of Difference (Cockburn and St. Clair, eds.).
Visit his website.