8.8.4 Analysing the Iraq Invasion Decision with Hindsight
It is now possible to analyse the Iraq invasion decision with hindsight, as more than 20 years have passed since it was made.
An analysis of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was used as an example of this book’s methodology. It examined the way in which the decision was made, and it concluded that there were serious governance failings at that time (8.7). The analysis process looked at all five dimensions of power, from the perspective of the relevant actors. It concluded that it was a bad decision that was forced through by the political convictions of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who were both able to persuade politicians to agree to the invasion without paying enough attention to checks and balances. There were similar failings in trying to convert Afghanistan to democracy, which was driven by the same political convictions. The public in America and Britain saw both invasions as a government response to Al Qaeda’s bombing of the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001.
This retrospective review of the analysis has the benefit of an additional 10 years of hindsight. It looks at each of the five dimensions of power:
● The huge economic and human cost of the wars could not have been known accurately at the time of the original invasion decision, but it is safe to say that Congressional authority might not have been granted had more realistic estimates been presented then. As noted earlier in this book (126.96.36.199), the two wars cost more than $5 trillion, about a million lives, and 15 million refugees.
● It is hard to assess the overall impact of the invasion on the oil industry. Oil prices have been affected by other factors such as the war in Ukraine since then. It is certain that Halliburton benefited though, as it became “the 6th largest federal contractor, receiving nearly $6 billion in federal contracts” by 2005 – a fact that might be related to its political connections with George W. Bush (188.8.131.52).
● The idea that regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan was a moral duty to save civilians from despotic rulers ignores the harm to people’s lives caused by instability and war. Although repressive rulers damage the lives of some of the population, the wars were much worse.
● The legal perspective on the two wars is different. The war in Afghanistan was initially conducted with the agreement of the UN, whereas the war in Iraq was unambiguously illegal.
● A political perspective on the Iraq invasion decision with hindsight shows many similarities with the decision to try to change Afghanistan’s political system. Bush and Blair both believed that they would be making the world safer by introducing democracy to both countries, yet neither country has achieved political stability (184.108.40.206). As noted earlier (220.127.116.11), Robert Kaplan correctly observed that democracy cannot be introduced into a society which is not ready for it: “Democracy has worked in places such as South Korea and Taiwan because it came after industrialisation and the creation of middle classes, not before.”.
● Initial public support for both wars was based on a perception that their prime purpose was self-protection against terrorists, but the (predictable) outcome was a surge in international terrorism (7.3.3). The security threat from the West’s Confrontation with Iran has grown significantly since the 2003 destabilisation of Iraq caused a predictable uprising of Shia militias acting as Iranian proxies to attack American troops.
The ‘messy’ US pull-out from Afghanistan in August 2021 inflicted further damage. It illustrated the dangers of a military occupation without a clear exit strategy (18.104.22.168). The West was seen as weak and lacking in staying power. That perception was probably a factor in President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. It is clear that the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan have inflicted lasting damage on international peace and security.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/884b.htm.