The outcome has been a financial and humanitarian catastrophe. The United States has wasted more than $6 trillion taxpayer dollars on multi‐year military follies in the Muslim world since 2001, and the Iraq war gave a huge boost to that trend. Worse, several thousand Americans have lost their lives waging the crusades, with thousands more suffering drastic, life altering injuries. Still worse, more than a million people in the Middle East have perished (including at least 500,000 in Iraq and nearly 400,000 in Syria) in the various conflicts, and several million others have become pitiful refugees. Many of the latter have sought sanctuary in Europe, thereby exacerbating social tensions in countries that Washington claims are its closest friends and allies.
By every reasonable measure, the Iraq war was – and remains – a debacle. This anniversary provides an opportunity to examine the roles that the architects of the military intervention and their collaborators in the news media and the foreign policy community played.
In fairness to Bush, a ferocious lobbying effort for a war to oust Saddam began as soon as the 1991 Persian Gulf War ended without regime‐change being Washington’s objective. A Project for the New American Century (PNAC) open letter to President Bill Clinton on January 26, 1998, made the pro‐regime‐change case emphatically, urging the president “to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.” The list of signatories to the PNAC letter read like a “who’s who” of neoconservatives and other hawks who would lead the successful lobbying effort for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
As agitation for a formal U.S. policy to overthrow Saddam grew, so too did the role of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the most significant exile group opposed to the Iraqi dictator. The leader of the INC was Ahmed Chalabi, a murky and controversial figure, whose family fled Iraq when he was a teenager. There were long‐standing indications that Chalabi and his associates were corrupt political operators. Despite such warning signs, the CIA funded the INC from the time of its formation in 1992. Indeed, it appears that the Agency, through a public relations front entity, the Rendon Group, personally gave the organization its name.
The concerted effort of the neoconservative‐INC coalition produced congressional passage of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. House Republicans voted for the measure 202 to 9, and Democrats did so 157 to 29. The Senate passed it without a single dissenting vote. Donald Rumsfeld, who would become secretary of defense in George W. Bush’s administration, observed with satisfaction that “regime change in Iraq was now the official policy of the United States.”