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Iraq’s Do-Nothing Legacy

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
March 20, 2014
Defense One

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Eleven years have now passed since United States armed forces invaded Iraq and pushed Saddam Hussein from power. But the political reverberations of the 2003 military intervention continue to be felt. And they have only grown stronger with the distance of time. The 2003 invasion now looms over every decision to act – or not act – America takes.

More than 4,000 American servicemen and women died in Iraq. And from 2003-2012, America spent $60 billion for "relief and reconstruction" of the country, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Yet today Iraq is in chaos, with deadly violence, a dysfunctional government and a thriving al-Qaeda-aligned insurgency gaining hold in cities that Americans gave their lives to secure. This February, at least 700 Iraqis died in violence consuming the country. Hundreds more deaths in Anbar province – home to the rising al-Qaeda forces — remain reported but unconfirmed because security concerns keep United Nations officials from the area.

Americans now see the war in Iraq as having failed to achieve its goals. In a 2004 survey, more than 60 percent of those polled said they thought the U.S. had made the "right decision" in using military force in Iraq. By the start of this year that number had fallen to 38 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. What the numbers don't show is the emotional toll the conflict has taken on a now-wary America that is far less inclined to believe its leaders when they argue for military intervention of any sort. A decade of war in Iraq, plus America's longest-ever war in Afghanistan, has left Americans eager for what President Barack Obama has called "nation-building here at home."

"Iraq put handcuffs on us," said one former State Department official familiar with U.S. policy in both Iraq and Syria. "It was a constant ghost hanging over everything."

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