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From rise of Trump to invasion of Ukraine: Lasting legacy of calamitous Iraq War 20 years on

America was victorious in the Cold War, and America stood unaffected at the turn of this century.

It was more powerful and influential than any other country in history. It could have used that power to preserve the American-led postwar world order and to inspire other countries to adopt its freedom and democracy values.

Instead, it wasted that supremacy by embarking on a disastrous misadventure Iraq which was poorly planned and disastrously executed. This would mark the end of Americana.

It is possible to draw a direct line between this debacle which began on the 20th of March 2003, and other that followed it, all the way up to the current perilous state in the world.


The roots of the war in Ukraine, China’s unchecked rise, Iran’s growing power, Trump’s rise, and populism are all rooted in America’s failure to recognize Iraq.

Image Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq, stands by an Iraqi flag during 2002
Image George W Bush was supported by Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, in his decision to invade Iraq

The lies and delusions that lead to war

America went to war under the leadership of ideologues who believed that they could remake the Middle East to their liking and bring democracy to the region.

The US’s claims of exceptionalism and the belief that their governance model is an example for the rest of the globe have been permanently damaged by the failure of the neoconservative project. This has also caused lasting damage to the American-led global order.

It is well-documented that the failures of this project in Iraq have been documented. The false assumption of non-existent weapons mass destruction, the belief that invaders will be welcomed as liberators, and the lack of any plan for the future. America’s global standing has suffered irreparable damage.

Equally, US reputation as a leader in democracy and human rights has been tarnished by human rights violations, violations and targeted killings.

This has reduced Washington’s global influence. Their ambivalence towards Ukraine can partly be attributed to America’s record on Iraq.

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Image The US military leads a group Iraqi soldiers north of Basra in Iraq in 2003
Image A man from Iraq cries at the sight of a house that was hit by a bomb in Baghdad, 2003

The lasting impact of US foreign policy

America’s self-confidence was undermined by this failure. Barack Obama was unable to accept the threat of Iraq and punish its leader for his use of chemical weapons.

This reluctance was viewed in Moscow as weakness and encouraged it , a few years later, to defy the West. That encouraged Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

The distraction from Iraq resulted in failure of Afghanistan. This was a two-decade-long occupation that ended with a devastating withdrawal.

Washington policymakers call it bandwidth. But in Iraq, a much greater challenge was emerging. It would take the West years to recognize the danger posed by China.

Iran, which is closer to Iraq, was strengthened. Prior to the invasion, Iran’s regional influence was limited primarily to Hezbollah, a militia in southern Lebanon. It is now a major force in capitals, from Beirut to Damascus and Baghdad to Yemen.

America’s faith in itself has been damaged by the war in Iraq. It cost the United States a trillion dollars and took thousands of American lives. It has fueled opposition to further military operations abroad.

It has eroded Americans’ faith both in government and the media and political elites that are supposed to hold them to account. This is only a small explanation for Trump’s rise to power through populism.

Image A bomb explodes in Baghdad after air strikes on 21/03/2003
Image The US military leads a group Iraqi soldiers north of Basra in Iraq in 2003

Iraq still recovering after the journey to hell and back

People in Iraq are no longer under tyranny. Although there is some hope and renewal, it has been a while. The country has been literally to hell and back to get to where it is today.

In the conflict and subsequent waves of sectarian violence, hundreds of thousands died. The country was broken down, its institutions destroyed, and its economy devastated.

It is just now beginning to heal from all the trauma. It can, however, look forward with caution to a better future. This is more than could have been said if Saddam Hussein or any of his impulsive and venal sons had remained at power.

Image Another shot of Saddam Hussein’s statue being taken down
Image A memorial to the fallen soldiers of the US in Iraq, Lafayette, California

George W Bush stated ten years ago that the final verdict on his actions regarding Iraq would be rendered long after his death.

It’s possible that this is true. However, it will take longer to determine if the immense cost and suffering caused by the removal of one the most hateful tyrants of history was worth it.

We can now say that the occupation and invasion of the region have left a lasting mark on the world and the region twenty years later, and it has not all been positive.


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