Iraq in Retrospect

Long out of the news, Iraq – you remember Iraq? – is falling apart. The “government” is in chaos, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at war with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, whom he accuses of “terrorism.” Days after ending his party’s participation in Parliament, an arrest warrant for al-Hashimi was issued. Sixteen of the VP’s bodyguards have been arrested, along with two women who worked in Hashimi’s press office, and al-Hashimi himself has been forced to flee Baghdad.

The dysfunctional government is a reflection of the nation at large, with violence so widespread that even Washington has noticed it. That hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from claiming credit for a US “withdrawal” that has upped the number of mercenaries – “private contractors” in the pay of the US government – and increased drone flights in Iraqi airspace. Ali al-Mosawi, a senior aide to Maliki, told the New York Times: “Our sky is our sky, not the U.S.A.’s sky,” But is it? What will the Iraqis do about the drones – shoot them down? If it happens,  it’ll be with US-supplied fighter jets.

So what did we get in return for the thousands of lives lost and billions spent “liberating” Iraq?

We got a veritable dictatorship that routinely suppresses dissent, murders journalists, and is so infused with corruption that Iraqis routinely argue which government agency is the most venal.

Well, then, what about the good will of the Iraqi people,who must surely be grateful for their “liberation” at our hands? Well, no – instead, anti-Americanism is a force that all Iraqi politicians play to, and one can’t help thinking the sentiment is fully justified. After all, if some foreign army had killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and left our country in ruins, what other sort of response would anyone have a right to expect?

The costs of the war range in the $13 trillion range. We are left with tens of thousands of horribly wounded veterans, many fatherless and motherless children, and what do we have to show for it?

Iraq today is a crippled nation, which doesn’t even have the capacity to supply electricity to its citizens: it is a nation on the brink of yet another civil war, so divided by tribe, clan, religion, and politics that it threatens to come apart at the seams every few months or so. In short, we have a country that really no longer exists in any meaningful sense. To which the architects of this war can add: “Mission accomplished!”

Because, in the end, that was the purpose of our policy in Iraq from the very beginning. Oh, they told us it was all about Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction,” and when that lie was blown out of the water they said it was building a “friendly democracy,” but the actual purpose was to blow the country to smithereens: to atomize it, and crush it, so that it would never rise again.

When we invaded and occupied Iraq, we didn’t just militarily defeat Iraq’s armed forces – we dismantled their army, and their police force, along with all the other institutions that held the country together. The educational system was destroyed, and not reconstituted. The infrastructure was pulverized, and never restored. Even the physical hallmarks of a civilized society – roads, bridges, electrical plants, water facilities, museums, schools – were bombed out of existence or else left to fall into disrepair. Along with that, the spiritual and psychological infrastructure that enables a society to function – the bonds of trust, allegiance, and custom – was dissolved, leaving Iraqis to fend for themselves in a war of all against all.

Oh, but our intentions were good – weren’t they? In retrospect, one has to wonder. Of course, anyone can proclaim their intentions to be anything they like, but the trick is to peel away the rhetoric and observe what is actually going on – and what actually did go on was and is a horror show. What we are witnessing in post-Saddam Iraq is the erasure of an entire country. We can say, with confidence: We came, we saw, we atomized.

And we are repeating the pattern elsewhere in the region: in Libya, for example, the result is very similar to what we witness in Iraq. Western relief agencies are fleeing, human rights groups are pointing to widespread torture and repression, and Gadhafi loyalists are making a comeback. In Egypt, too, our support for the “Arab Spring” has ushered in a military dictatorship and the promise of more chaos to come. In Syria, we are supporting rebels who are conducting a terrorist campaign against the regime, and the future of the country is looking very … Iraqi.

In short, the effects of US actions in the region amount to a reverse Midas touch: everything we touch turns to lead. It’s enough to make one think the policy is deliberate: not the consequences of mistakes leading to failure, but the results of a policy successfully implemented. Put another way: if the United States is now engaged in a long term strategy of applying economic, political, and military pressure on the various Arab (and Persian) states so as to cause them to implode, then one has to judge the effort a triumph.

Which raises the question: to what purpose? Again, we are back to the question of intentions, both good and bad, which are mysterious to all but the mind-readers amongst us. As for myself, I ignore the whole issue of intent, because when all is said and done it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. I judge people and nations by what they do, not what they say they want to do. By this standard, we wanted to sow chaos and that is precisely what we have wrought. 

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].