Since the Korean war, the United States has been fighting wars across the globe. Some of these were justified, some of these were not. During the Cold War, it was to stop the spread of communism, a tactic that led us into Vietnam. We fought a proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, ultimately leading to the current situation in Afghanistan. Today, the American war machine grinds on, a war machine that in the recent past has only caused destruction and devastation.
In 2003, the Bush administration justified the Iraq War on the grounds that Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, had obtained WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). While there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein committed a plethora of human rights abuses and repressed his own people, the Iraq we see today is arguably worse than Saddam's Iraq. At least under Saddam, the ethnic tensions were controlled, Al Qaeda had not taken root, and people had a more stable security situation. So knowing this, what have the United States, and more importantly the Iraqi people, gained from this war?
According to the British charity Oxfam, around "28 percent of Iraqi children are malnourished, " and "70 percent lack clean drinking water." This is actually an increase since 2003, when hard sanctions crippled the regime's food distribution system. The United States spent billions, with some estimates putting it at over 2 trillion on this war which has cost ordinary Iraqis severely.
This is money that could have gone into education, health care and infrastructure, rather than creating chaos abroad. Instead of 'creating democracy', as the Bush administration claimed, we have created an utter mess that is near impossible to resolve. Organizations like Freedom House do not view Iraq as a functioning democracy, rather as a system that functions on corruption. Critics will claim that at least it is more democratic than under Saddam, which, while true, is by no means worth the human sacrifice.
The best comparison to the Iraq War is the Vietnam War. The Center for Public Integrity claimed that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence records, for the ultimate goal of removing Saddam Hussein from power. This sounds quite similar to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led the United States to enter Vietnam under false premises. Interestingly enough, the United States had previously pledged support for Saddam Hussein, having assisted in funding his war machine in the Iraq-Iran War. We wanted control over Iraq for their vast oil reserves and a strategic ally against Iran, not for liberation from a tyrant. At least in Vietnam, we had a somewhat legitimate reason for entering, a principle that was based on mitigating the spread of communism as far as possible. While I would argue that the policy was flawed and led to international consequences, at least it was grounded in a semi-legitimate policy plan, as opposed to a principle that was based upon pure greed, manipulation, and geographical domination.
Obama was criticized for leaving Iraq in 2009, even though reports do show that he had desired to continue the war, but troops were ultimately forced out by the Iraqi government.
John Mccain recently claimed that the power struggle between insurgents and the government was brought about by US troops leaving Iraq, instead of recognizing that entering Iraq truly began this problem. As bad as Saddam Hussein may have been, at least under his authoritarian regime the country held together.
Finally, on the weapons of mass destruction claim, is there not a nation which actually has threatened to use nuclear weapons against us? This nation is a nation that we are still technically at war with: North Korea. So one nation threatens to nuke us and has literally captured an American ship, while another nation committed none of these acts. Of course, it would be a disaster to go to war with North Korea and, while there is little doubt of a US victory, it would be a bloodbath. North Korea will continue to proliferate nuclear weapons, with only sanctions placed upon them, and that is all we within the international community should do. There are constantly arguments about the power of sanctions and whether they cripple the government or the people but, nevertheless, they are still one of the few means the international community can use to try to force its hand without political interference.
This is exactly what should have been done in Iraq and was done for a period of time. In the Iraq War, it was easy to defeat the organized government. However, if there is no incentive to support the American occupation by the people, we cannot win. We cannot win the hearts and minds of a people who view the US as a perpetrator of human rights abuses and supporter of corruption. Sadly, that is what we have shown the Iraqi people. If we truly want to establish democracy and further human rights, the United States should not respond militarily towards oppressive regimes but instead try to move them to democracy through diplomacy. There is no doubt that this will not be 100 percent successful, but this should be the purpose of the United States within the world sphere.
We must remember that both the American and Iraqi people deserve better than the current scenario. Given the new civil war between the Iraqi government and ISIS, we need to come up with a plan, a plan that provides for the future. Either inaction or action will have consequences, consequences that we have unfortunately created over ten years ago by starting an unnecessary and perpetual cycle of war.