While the Bush Administration’s immediate goal in invading Iraq was to search for and destroy weapons of mass destruction, the long-term goal was to bring a form of democracy to a people long devoid of having a voice in their own government. This long-term goal may be considered a failure. Iraq, historically has been segmented into tribes and religious sects, ranging from Kurds in the North to Shi’ites and Sunni in the central and Southern regions. While the enmity of these sects against one another had been submerged in the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein, once freed from this dictatorship, and with the belief that they could now rule their areas without concern for other minorities, what Americans consider “democracy” is failing to resonate in today’s Iraq.
It is clear that one objective of the Americans was to utilize so-called “checkbook diplomacy to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis: “The reconstruction of Iraq was the largest nation-building program in history…dwarfing in cost, size, and complexity even those undertaken after World War II to rebuild Germany and Japan…For $63 billion… the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq…amounted to a giant exercise in reckless, insincere waste and futility” (Swanson, 45).
While the initial invasion of Iraq was also based on the mistaken belief that it was Iraq who was involved in the attacks on 9/11, all the hundreds of billions of dollars and lives and injuries of U.S. forces were intended to promote a better form of government (i.e. a form of democracy) in the “new” Iraq. To date, this lofty goal is still not fully developed, even as most troops have now left the country: “The astonishing thing, however, is that the Bush Administration was able to persuade a substantial portion of Americans to buy into the view that freedom could be spread at the point of a gun, even if it meant the devastation of a country” (Patterson, 12).
Once Saddam was toppled and a new government was formed- with the first nationwide elections in more than a generation, the divisions along territorial and religious lines remained. They were millennia old and no “democratization” could erase all the ill feelings and strife that had occurred since early Mesopotamian history. One simple reason is that the U.S. simply did not understand the differences present in Iraq for all these centuries, and the naïve feeling was that once Saddam was gone and a new government was in place, democracy would occur even if it meant that U.S. forces would remain to enforce it. After 9/11, many critics continue to comment on the flawed American tendency in foreign affairs. “First, our leaders and thinkers never know very much about the countries they propose to invade-their history, culture, politics, leaders. That’s because, second, they assume that whatever another country’s problems, the United States of America has the power to solve them-to build nations in our own image and defeat the enemy” (Gelb, 22).
To the average American Iraq is little more than a place where we invaded, suffered casualties, spent billions of dollars and now have only a token force and thousands of private contractors there. The average American knows little about Iraq and Iraqis other than they are Muslims, for the most part, and therefore instantly inferior to white Americans. What is more, most Americans couldn’t care less about the economic survival of the average Iraqi. “They are not like us” is the theme which allows millions of Americans to literally turn their backs on the survival of Iraq.
Petroleum is still the major export, but what was supposed to flow to the U.S. as a sort of repayment for our efforts to remove Hussein, is a trickle. In fact, Iraqis look now to a former enemy, Iran, for some commercial tie-ins and trade.
The upshot of our sad adventure in Iraq is that most Iraqis are not necessarily much better off economically and most still have no idea of how or why democracy would be the right option for them. Basically, as of today, Iraq can be considered a failed American experiment.
Gelb, Leslie: “Our Foreign Policy Blind Spots”
Democracy 22 (Fall 2011): pp. 19-22
Patterson, Orlando: “Freedom and 9/11”
Democracy 22 (Fall 2011): pp. 9-13
Swanson, David: “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for
the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People”
The Humanist 71. 6 (Nov/Dec 2011): 45-46.