Iraq War continues to shape, alter American politics 10 years after its start
Shock and awe: Intimidate enemies with dazzling displays of military might, forcing them to back down and surrender.
That’s the strategy the United States and its allies pursued when it launched Operation Iraqi Freedom 10 years ago today.
Two days earlier, on March 17, 2003, President George W. Bush made it clear to the American people what he felt needed to be accomplished during the conflict: Saddam Hussein should be taken out, and his weapons of mass destruction should be secured.
“It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power,” Bush said in a national address. “It is not too late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.”
An invasion of 300,000 U.S. and allied troops followed two days later, setting in motion the third-longest war in American history, behind the Vietnam War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
One of Bush’s top objectives would be met: Hussein would be captured in December 2003. Democracy, albeit a messy and often corrupt one, would be installed soon after, which supporters say would lead to the Arab Spring protests several years later.
But no WMDs were ever found, and there is no evidence such weapons existed. The war would end up costing the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and would come with a hefty $800 billion price tag.
Over a year since its official end, the Iraq War continues to divide Americans over its costs and results and remains one of the driving forces behind U.S. political discourse.
CMU profs: War shifted American politics
Central Michigan University political science professor Justin Hoyle, who specializes in Middle Eastern politics and U.S. foreign policy, said the war and its consequences have shifted how U.S. officials view their role in the world.
“In the short term, it seems we’ve sort of learned our lesson that in the Middle East, in that kind of environment, it’s going to be very difficult to use a shock-and-awe strategy” Hoyle said. “In other words, just being able to have large ground forces and advanced weaponry does not necessarily guarantee an easy time overmatching a country.”
He said one only needs to look at President Barack Obama’s controversial drone policy to see the war’s effect.
“We’ve seen a lot more use of drones and that sort of warfare as opposed to actually entering a country, boots-on-the-ground style as we did in Iraq,” Hoyle said.
CMU political science professor James Hill said the war has also had notable effects on domestic politics, especially on the Republican Party.
“It has put Republicans in a bit of bind,” he said. “They have always been the party of strong national defense, but now they are faced with a big budget deficit, a huge defense budget and a war they started but were not able to end.”
He said the rise of tea party and libertarian-leaning Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is partially due to the Iraq War’s fallout.
“I think the war and its huge personal and financial toll helped motivate the tea party movement to take on the establishment — Republican and Democrat,” Hill said. “It will be interesting to see if a pro-defense Republican Party can absorb an anti-war, anti-spending tea party faction.”
Political science professor David Jesuit said the war has made an impact on the Democratic Party, too.
“I would say that the unpopularity of the war has allowed more Democrats to voice concerns about the use of force in international affairs,” he said. “If, for example, the Iraq War were viewed favorably by a majority of Americans, I’m not sure Barack Obama would have beaten Hillary Clinton in 2008.”
Obama rose to national prominence in large part due to his opposition to the war.
“I don’t oppose all wars,” Obama, then an Illinois state senator, said in a 2002 speech. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.”
Obama said in a statement Tuesday that U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011 “with their heads held high” and urged Congress to invest in veteran programs.
“On this solemn anniversary, we draw strength and inspiration from these American patriots who exemplify the values of courage, selflessness and teamwork that define our Armed Forces and keep our nation great,” Obama said.
U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, voted for the Iraq War over a decade ago and marked its 10-year anniversary by praising troops in a statement to Central Michigan Life.
“Over a year ago, our men and women in uniform left Iraq having stemmed the tide of militant and terrorist elements and left the country with the skills to secure itself and its citizens’ freedoms,” he said. ”I commend the members of the United States Armed Forces for their service and sacrifice in fighting those who threaten the stability of the region and the freedoms we have in the United States.”
Poll: 53 percent see war as ‘mistake’
A recent Gallup poll found 53 percent of Americans think the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, with 42 percent supporting the decision, largely consistent with what the polling firm has found since 2009.
The divisions fall largely along party lines, with 66 percent of Republicans supporting the war and 73 percent of Democrats opposing it.
Hoyle said the war’s length, personal toll and the lack of WMDs led to a sense of war-weariness among Americans.
Regarding WMDs, Stephen Hadley, a Bush administration national security advisor, said that while the WMDs might not have been found, it was accepted that they existed a decade ago.
“Republicans thought (Hussein) had (WMDs), Democrats thought he had them, the (Bill) Clinton administration thought he had them, the Bush administration thought he had them,” he told NPR last week.
Bush said he regrets justifying the war with what eventually turned out to be faulty information, but he still said overthrowing Hussein and installing democracy made the war worth its costs.
“There were things we got wrong in Iraq, but that cause is eternally right,” Bush wrote in his 2010 memoir, “Decision Points.”
Grand Rapids sophomore Scott Lanning said he supports the decision to go to war. He said the world is better off without Hussein in power, even if no WMDs were ever found.
“When the FBI says there are nuclear weapons, that’s a pretty credible source,” Lanning said. “I don’t blame (former Secretary of State Colin) Powell for that at all.”
Mount Pleasant freshman Sean Bradley counts himself among those who thinks the war was a mistake.
“We shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” he said. “It was a failure.”
Bradley said the war has made him look at U.S. foreign policy in a different light.
“We’re expanding our presence in the Middle East. It seems like we’re there just to be there,” he said.
Marshall freshman Katherine Harrington’s boyfriend is a U.S. Marine, and she said the war’s end came as a relief to her.
“It’s just a relief to know that he’s most likely not going to be sent over there,” she said.
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