The Victory in Iraq, A Different Perspective

Roughly 4,500 American war dead and a total cost of $1.06T (most of it borrowed, meaning interest still mounts). The War in Iraq was costly in both US lives and treasure. To the present day, politicians on the right (Trump) and on the left (AOC this very week) have decried the disastrous incursion into this Middle East sandbox, and use it as a cautionary tale against American military aggression.

And frankly, they have point. While war deaths in Iraq were less than 10% of those in Vietnam, 4,500 boys and girls killed (and tens of thousands more maimed) leaves a lot of grieving mothers. Approximately 5% of our current national debt, a staggering sum, can be traced directly to this conflict. And the body politic in the United States itself – while consistently supportive of American forces themselves – splintered into hostile factions about the invasion of Iraq while the war drug on. To say the least, the Iraq War was costly for the United States, militarily, financially, and domestically.

But … and there’s a but here. The facts on the ground in Iraq paint a rather different story about this conflict. More than 15 years on from Saddam being toppled, Iraq is regaining its economic power drained by Hussein’s oppressive regime. In 2002, the Iraq GDP was $18.97 billion; in 2018, it stands at $230.37 billion, a 1,114% gain. The average person in Iraq lived on only $765 in 2002; that number is now $5,732. Iraq is governed by a mostly functional (albeit fractured) unicameral legislature, and has conducted five democratic, national elections since 2005. Ethnic minority Kurds possess a great deal of sovereignty in their region, and are no longer subject to the horrors of Saddam Hussein (who once slaughtered tens of thousands of Kurds in chemical attacks). Majority Shiites – once accorded second class status under Saddam’s Baathist regime – largely control the national government.

To put it bluntly, Iraq has come a long way since the US invasion in 2003. In the nearly quarter century of his rule, Saddam Hussein had destroyed the economy of Iraq (largely due to its status as an international pariah) and had relegated two of its largest three ethnic groups to inferior status (when he wasn’t busy ethnic cleansing them). Today, it is simply undeniable that a significant majority of everyday Iraqis lead a better, freer existence than they did prior to the Iraq War.

One day – far enough removed from domestic political battles over the decision to invade Iraq – American politics will address the conflict in Iraq holistically. Was this invasion worth its cost in blood and treasure to the United States? No, as a war that never served a vital national interest which drug out far longer than expected, this fight was a strategic miscalculation by the George W. Bush administration. Did we win the Iraq War? Yes, in fact we did. Just ask most Iraqis, whose country is now in far better shape than it was at the end of Hussein’s brutal rule.

[Writer’s Note: This article does not fully address the complexity of the Iraq War after Saddam was toppled (when most American casualties occurred). While Baathists led the resistance against American forces during this period, Al Qaeda also determined to use the Iraqi conflict as its opportunity to defeat the American infidel on Arab soil. And in many ways, Al Qaeda’s ability to project power and terror was destroyed by its bloody defeat at the hands of US forces in Iraq. On the other hand, enough of the remnants of Baathist resistance and leadership actually survived the Iraqi War to provide the original backbone of ISIS, which was not fully defeated in Iraq until 2018.]