Losing the Same War Twice

Judge Raouf Abdul Rahman, who sentenced the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to death by hanging in 2006, was reportedly detained and executed in June by Sunni insurgents. According to news reports, the judge, an ethnic Kurd, was trying to flee Baghdad disguised as a dancer.

Though it may be impossible to verify this information through official channels, the chaotic situation on the ground in Iraq has made one thing is clear: It’s payback time.

Saddam, a Sunni, is considered to be a martyr by members of ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – the brutal group that is trying to topple the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite. The country is now on the brink of splitting into three independent territories divided along sectarian lines: Shiite, Sunni and Kurd.

This is the Iraq that former President George W. Bush left behind.

It seems that Bush failed to recognize the fact that, for centuries, force was the only way to keep Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds living together in Iraq despite religious strife. This was the case during the Ottoman Empire. It was the case when the British took control of the region in the early 20th century. And it was the case during Saddam’s dictatorship, from 1979 until the American invasion in 2003.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush invented a reason to go to war in Iraq: that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. In early 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his infamous smoke-and-mirrors speech to the United Nations, laying out the case for war and destroying his credibility in the process. The result was the invasion and destabilization of Iraq, and the ensuing slaughter between Sunnis and Shiites that now threatens to bring down the entire country.

During the early days of the Iraq War in 2003, I entered the country through the Kuwait border on assignment for Univision. I saw firsthand how, despite what politicians back home had promised, American troops were not being welcomed as liberators. I remember seeing many Iraqis’ faces filled with resentment and uncertainty. The war eventually claimed more than 126,000 Iraqis, according to IraqBodyCount.org, as well as nearly 4,500 Americans.

Mere months after the start of the war, Bush theatrically landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in a combat plane and delivered a speech in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner. This ridiculous spectacle was followed by more casualties in Iraq and years of fighting.

President Barack Obama made good on his predecessor’s promise to pull American troops out of the country by the end of 2011, declaring in December of that year that the U.S. was leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant” Iraq.

But the conflict in Syria has had contributed greatly to the destabilization of the entire region. And Sunni rebels, supported by Syrian fighters, have taken advantage of the situation and pushed Iraq to the brink of collapse. Confronted with a self-destructing Iraq, Obama has wisely decided not to intervene. But the Bush administration’s mistakes endure, and now it’s as though the United States is losing the same war all over again.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said during a recent interview that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the right decision. “I still believe it was,” he said, despite the fact that thousands of Americans and Iraqis died, and those alleged weapons of mass destruction were never found. Cheney also thinks that Obama is making a huge mistake by staying out of Iraq now: He has warned that this will only encourage terrorists to attack the United States again, with even deadlier consequences than the 9/11 attacks.

But let’s not forget that it was just this sort of fear-mongering that helped rally American support for going to war in Iraq 11 years ago, despite the Bush administration’s never articulating a clear goal. Now, after thousands of American soldiers have perished, the United States looks on as the Iraqi government it left in charge falls apart.

The invasion was futile. This war was no good then, and it’s no good now.