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Fecteau: Still Hungover From Iraq

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


America’s recent failed interventions have lasting repercussions to this day; the American people are more hesitant to become involved in even the most disastrous, complicated foreign conflicts. After all, we are conversely reeling from the sorrowful, but ever looming legacy of the Iraq War. 

Military interventionism has been toxic in politics as of late, just ask Mrs. Hillary Clinton. In 2008, United States Senator and presidential contender Mr. Barack Obama upbraided rival Mrs. Clinton for her vote to authorize force in Iraq; this vote was considered a large reason for her loss. Again in 2016, future President Donald Trump lambasted Mrs. Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war, and her support of military intervention in Libya with some success. 

Mr. Trump notwithstanding said he opposed ground forces in Syria, strangely in contrast to his running mate Mike Pence. Trump’s opposition to foreign engagement seems to mirror that of the American people. Many polls indicate Americans see Iraq and Libya as examples of failed intervention. 

As then-state Senator and future President Barack Obama once said in 2004, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” This maxim is still with us today, but especially after the failed American interventionism in Libya produced a miscarried state that threatens our national security.  Americans not only oppose dumb wars, but now all types of nuance military engagement, especially if it involves conventional forces. 

Take Syria as another example. Despite the staggering death toll, American support for intervention in Syria is limited in nature to the use of few special operators, and lethal aerial strikes. American forces are merely arming moderate Syrian, and providing a couple hundred special operators to combat the so-called Islamic State. Obviously, again, much to do with the terrible legacy of failed military interventions.   

While places like Libya and Syria are examples of American military disappointment, the aforementioned Iraq War is on another playing field of failure. The Iraq War’s legacy is more potent than ever especially with the chaos on prominent display. Americans are forced to ask themselves each day: was it worth it? 

Most would likely answer no. The Iraq War cost Americans trillions and resulted in the greatest loss of military lives since the Vietnam war. This was just one of many military disappointments, but one of the most striking and looming. 

Even more tragic, the Iraq War was a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In response to 9/11 and after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the United States believed advancing liberal democracies should be embraced. While a worthwhile goal, the Bush administration bungled the initial victory in Iraq War so much that it seemed more like a loss than a success; interventionism became synonymous with American arrogance, and stupidity. 

With that being said, the Iraq War was not primarily a military failure; it was a political failure. The Bush administration made the Iraq War much more difficult for our military by creating conditions so toxic even the best military in the world became bogged down. The Bush administration eviscerated public programs, dismantling the military, ordered troops to do nothing while chaos reigned, and created the awful de-baathification policy which led to a brain drain. This was the perfect receipt for an enduring rebellion to take root. 

While President Obama has arguably been expanding the war on terror, Mr. Obama’s foreign military engagement has corresponded to the American people’s barometer of limited intervention. Mr. Obama has become principally hesitant to involve conventional ground forces for fear of another quagmire like Iraq. 

On the verge of a new president taking office, the American people will again need to question whether military engagement is worth it. When is the right time to be engaged in foreign conflicts? To what degree? Should the United States selectively police the world? Should the United States introduce ground forces into places like Syria? These are consequential questions we need to be ready to discuss and debate, even if we remain hungover from the Iraq War. 

War may not always be the answer, but sadly, someday, it could be.   

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island was a Democratic candidate for office in 2014 and 2016. He is a former White House national security intern and Iraq war veteran.


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