Though the level of violence has declined from its 2006-07 peak—when dozens of bodies could be found on Baghdad’s streets every morning—Iraq still endures a level of violence that anywhere else in the world would be considered a crisis. Still, the end of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic allied with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy. The war was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits.
The tables and charts below tell the tale. We have grouped these costs into three categories:
- The human costs, dealing with American and Iraqi casualties
- The financial costs, dealing with the expense of the war and of the continued care for its veterans
- The strategic costs, dealing with the impact of the Iraq intervention on U.S. power and influence in the Middle East and on the global stage
First, it is critical to remember the shifting justifications for the Iraqi invasion. The Iraq war was sold to the American public on Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction and his alleged relationship with Al Qaeda. When both claims turned out to be false, the Bush administration justified the intervention on the idea that a democratic Iraq would be an ally in the “war on terror” and an inspiration for democratic reform in the Middle East. These arguments remain highly questionable.
Second, the authors would like to make clear that this analysis of the cost of the Iraq war in no way diminishes the sacrifice and honor displayed by the U.S. military in Iraq. Americans troops have served and died, and continue to serve and die, in Iraq at the behest of the American people and two of their commanders-in-chief. This is why it is important to draw the correct lessons from our nation’s invasion of Iraq. In order to do that, its costs must be examined honestly and rigorously.