There are ideologues who argue that Iraq is better off, that it is 'free' and 'democratic'.
There are critics who maintain that Iraq is much worse off ten years after the invasion than it was before, and that it is less democratic and much more violent.
2. Is the US better off and did it accomplish its publicly-stated goals?
The apologists believe that the US is better off without Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and it has delivered a blow to Islamic terrorism. Moreover, the US accomplished its goal of asserting its will over the Middle East where Iran was an even greater threat. The US also invaded Iraq to assert its historic role as the power that determined the balance of power in the region. This despite efforts by some countries, including Iraq, to trade their oil in euros instead of dollars. While it is true that the global competition for reserve currency dominance was significant, just as important was the US desire to accelerate the new Cold War in the form of the war on terror. Critics charge that without a doubt that US government is much weaker financially because of the enormous cost of the war and its economy has suffered, partly because of the immense military spending that diverted resources from the civilian economy. They add that the US is not safer but more vulnerable today than it was ten years ago.
Overview of defeated nations re-emerging
One could argue that no country can possibly be better off after another has invaded, occupied and destroyed it in the manner that the US did all of this to Iraq. In some cases, nations that were invaded and occupied did emerge much stronger a decade or so after the war. The most notable cases are Germany and Japan that were both aggressors in WWII, but with US assistance for political considerations directly related to the threat of Communism, the two defeated nations became global economic powers. South Korea is another example of a nation that suffered war and occupation, but emerged better off economically largely because of geopolitical reasons, with the assistance of the US and Japan.
Aside from these examples where geopolitics determined the postwar fate of war-ravaged nations, it is very difficult to find shinning examples of countries that are better off as a result of war and occupation long after they have endured such tragedy. Even Iraq with its considerable oil reserves is much worse off today than it was under the dictator Saddam Hussein. By any standard that one wishes to apply to Iraq, ranging from the number of deaths because of the war, the injured, the refugees, the mass destruction to the country, the extensive levels of theft of its wealth legalized by the occupying power, debilitated economy, the fragile social fabric, the divided political system and ongoing political violence, any measure whatsoever one wishes to use will demonstrate without any doubt that Iraq is much worse off today than under Saddam Hussein.
Decision to Invade
9/11 was a tragedy and historians in the future with access to archival materials from various government sources may find out more details about the al-Qaeda operations that at the time appeared the work of a well-coordinated terrorist group operating out of Afghanistan. President George W. Bush and his team of ideologues decided to make Iraq the example of a US military solution that according to Colin Powell would not have a good outcome for any party concerned.
1. WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?
The Bush-Cheney team accused Iraq's Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), when the intelligence they had showed there was no evidence of it. It is true that the US was following flawed at best, if not deliberately distorted British and Israeli intelligence on Iraqi WMD that the Clinton administration had also used conveniently to carry out operations against Iraq. However, the British and the Israelis have a long history of distorting intelligence about Middle East regimes they oppose, and the US had its own on which to base policy.
The US intelligence showed that Iraq had no WMDs and the United Nations WMD inspections showed that no such weapons existed. Moreover, UN WMD negotiator Hans Blix had a negotiated arrangement about other outstanding weapons issues with the Saddam regime. However, the US wanted war against Hussein and bypassed the UN Security Council, convincing congress to authorize military operations. When troops on the ground searched for them, they found none. Did the WMDs make their way to Syria, or did they ever exist? And if they did exist, was that the real reason the US invaded, because if it is, then it could use the same rationale to invade other Middle East nations, including Israel that possesses nuclear weapons. Once it became apparent that the Bush team misled the American congress and citizens, journalists and critics began to call WMDs 'weapons of mass distraction'!
The Bush team accused Iraq of having collaborative ties with the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. However, al-Qaeda was adamantly against Hussein and wished to create some type of an Islamic theocratic state in Iraq, a sort of Caliphate. In short, al-Qaeda had no objection to the US invasion to oust Saddam. Given that we know today after the Arab Spring revolts that al-Qaeda has also supported the ousting of the same regimes as the US, from Libya to Yemen, and Syria, historians a decade from now will look back to see that a pattern existed in US-al-Qaeda goals, namely, there was convergence, but not for the same reasons. This took place while the US continued to go after al-Qadea, but parallel was making efforts to bring down anti-al-Qaeda regimes, knowing that in their place may emerge Islamic governments, elements of which would be anti-US. Obviously, the US policy was to bring to power across the world governments practicing pro-neoliberal policies under globalization, even if they were Islamists. This much the US has achieved to a certain degree, albeit at a very high cost in Iraq, just as it has across north Africa.
The impact of the war on Iraq
The death toll in Iraq as a result of war, occupation and rebel activity is not know with any degree of accuracy. There are estimates of as few as 100,000 and as many as 1.2 million. This is in contrast with 300,000-800,000, the number killed under Saddam, and most of them because of the war with Iran during the 1980s. What political result did the US accomplish overthrowing Saddam at a cost of just under one trillion dollars to the US taxpayers? A pro-US Shi'ite regime that is also friendly with Iran, which has become the largest regional power mostly because the US left Iraq in shambles.The idea behind the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan was to contain Iran by encircling it with pro-US regimes. That has not worked out at all in practice as policymakers conceived of it.
There are those who maintain that the US delivered freedom and democracy to Iraq. These arguments are unworthy of comment, considering that even anti-Saddam Iraqis see the current regime as a dictatorship and believe it is not much different than that of the former secular dictator. It is interesting to note that the country is so fragmented and perpetually divided that the legacy of American war and occupation is periodic bombings, divided country between the Sunni population that lives in fear of the Shiites, and lack of any prospects for political stability under government officials that are among the most corrupt in the world. While Saddam's regime defended women's rights for education and work, the current Islamist regime wants to eradicate women's rights.
Does Iraq have a free press, is there freedom of speech, is it observing human rights? Given that Iraq has a religious dictatorship, how is it possible for apologists of the US invasion to argue that the war brought freedom and democracy in this oil-rich nation? Maybe the reason that right-wing ideologues argue in this manner is that they believe the US is better off, safer, richer for the experience.
IS THE US BETTER OFF HAVING INVADED IRAQ?
It is beyond question that the US launched the war to punish Iraq that had nothing to do with Islamists, al-Qaeda, or 9/11. But why choose Iraq so randomly. Actually the choice of Iraq made geopolitical and ideological sense to the Republicans that were eager to institutionalize the war on terror. But at what cost in terms of taxpayer dollars that went up in smoke and sunk the US deeper in debt, while inadvertently weakening the American economy and the middle class and strengthening China. Another cost was the enormous global public opinion opposition to the US invasion that the vast majority saw as a 19th century style imperialist adventure benefiting a handful of large corporations.
But no matter the enormous economic costs to the US economy, are Americans safer because of the war in Iraq? Some would argue that they are actually less safe than before the war, because the US has created new enemies that include home-grown ones. The cost of Home Land Security has proved very costly and rather a political tool to keep the focus of the citizens on the war on terror than on economic, social and political problems that impact their lives. In fact, the enormous cost of the war in Iraq and the cost to institutionalize the war on terror has meant weakening democracy at home at a time that the US pledges to deliver it abroad. In so far as the goal has been to institutionalize a quasi-police state society, the war in Iraq has served its purpose. Similarly, the war has served its purpose keeping the war on terror alive as a pretext for the US to keep a world order under Pax Americana; that it does not actually work very well in practice may not be as important to the ideologues.
Although the vast majority of the people in Iraq are much worse off today than they were before the US war and occupation, and although the country is hardly a democracy, the US accomplished its goal of imposing Pax Americana while perpetuating the war on terror as much for international as for domestic reasons. Like Vietnam that took several decades to recover from the US war, Iraq will also take several decades, assuming relative regional stability and minimal interference from the US and the West. Meanwhile, the concealed US agenda of using military means to keep the dollar strong as a reserve currency has not worked very well at all, and neither has the attempt to keep spheres of influence as was typical during the era of Imperialism in the 19th century. China along with India, Russia, and Brazil, perhaps along with South Africa and Turkey, will eventually become even more competitive global players diminishing the role of US in the second half of the 21st century. Military might has limits while illusions of ideologues and opportunists in power are unaware of such boundaries.