Two decades after the ‘liberal’ invasion of Iraq, what have we learned? – Middle East Monitor
On 20 March 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq, a tragic event that had a lasting impact on the country and the region. The invasion was launched a year and a half after the 9/11 attacks at a time when the United States was the world’s undisputed superpower. The invasion was seen as part of a wider “liberation strategy” in US foreign policy, which was popular within neoconservative circles, ardent champions of interventionism in the post-Cold War era.
The US President, George W Bush, promised to give “freedom” to the people of Iraq and he expected a domino effect that would lead to the end of authoritarian leaders and the replacement of them by democrats. As a result of this idealistic vision of top-down democratic change, US foreign policy veered towards dangerous and ill-advised endeavors such as the war on Iraq. In addition to the extremely high humanitarian toll and increased instability that followed the invasion, US troops were constantly at risk.
The chessboard of world politics is full of lessons learned and then forgotten. Twenty years later, many experts agree that the root causes of the disastrous war in Iraq are concepts such as pre-emptive war and the exportation of democracy.
This is similar to the Crusader approach, using force to spread and impose beliefs. Bush used the word “crusade” in one of his speeches. Interestingly, the main motivation behind this agenda since 9/11 has been the rise of progressive liberalism, according to John J Mearsheimer, a man known for his bleak and damning analysis of world politics.
Although a superpower is supposed to formulate a foreign policy based on human rights, peace, freedom and democracy, apparently, a neocon-led White House has shown a sharp intolerance and enthusiasm for enforcing conformity in the world unipolar in which he must rule.
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Seen from another angle, this situation is just a mirage. Let’s not dismiss it as just an abstract proposition, though. What we have here is a liberal miracle, a sharp illusion that can stand at all for the necessity of regime change and be ignorant of the socio-cultural complexity of Afghanistan, Iraq and other victims of the Bush Doctrine. Eventually, this illusion adds to its validation of falsity. Perhaps nothing to rely on this mirage is the official commission report published two years after the invasion: “We conclude that the Intelligence Community was wrong in almost every judgment it made before the war about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was a great intelligence. failure.”
The allure of liberal ideals can be a seductive trap that ensnares even the most prudent among us. This situation was illustrated by the outrageous lies made by Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton and Bush’s vice president, who baselessly claimed that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had a ten-year relationship with Al-Qaeda.
Analyzing the root causes of a foreign policy agenda that involves intervention under the guise of liberal ideals is fraught with self-contradictions. Barbara Lee, the only US Congressional dissenter of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act, feared that it would provide the military with an unlimited check on the many post-9/11 foreign interventions. She received numerous death threats against herself and her family for her dissent, and was accused of being anti-American and basically ostracized in society.
Confirming the further shrinking of the public sphere, the Patriot Act, riddled with ethnic and religious profiling, has effectively violated civil liberties under the guise of national security. Above all, the 9/11-centric notion of counterterrorism is disconnected from cause-and-effect relationships and concrete proofs while reinforcing the opposite practice. The illiberal consequences of these liberal illusions, despite advancing the baseless claim of freedom, are numerous.
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It is clear that today’s US foreign policy does not view decisions made in the past, such as the expensive and ambitious “liberal” invasion of Iraq that cost nearly a trillion dollars, as a gain on its balance sheet. The American public views the military action in Iraq with disdain. Therefore, Washington’s recent efforts to revise its strategies reflect that reality. US actions to contain China or reform NATO represent a departure from the “liberal dream”.
Looking back, it is clear that the decision-makers who led the invasion of Iraq under the guise of liberal principles did not truly trust the foreign policy they had, then, or now. This case serves as a prime example of what is known as the liberal illusion, a path fraught with ambiguity and cost that, despite being recognized as false, is still followed with delusional intentions. Shakespeare summed this up nicely in Sonnet 138: “When my love swears she is made of truth, I believe her, though I know she lies.” Two decades after the ‘liberal’ invasion of Iraq, what have we learned?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.