The City Winter 2011

Page 59


T HE L ESSONS OF I RAQ ]right0and0wrong} Paul D. Miller


he United States invaded Iraq and overthrew its gov‐ ernment in 2003. Over the next seven and a half years, it spent $709 billion and lost over 4,400 soldiers fighting an insurgency and attempting to rebuild the Iraqi govern‐ ment and economy. In August 2010, President Obama announced the United States had ended its combat mission in Iraq and has withdrawn more than two‐thirds of the U.S. forces deployed there. He recently announced a drawdown which would return the vast majority of forces home by the end of 2011. What are the lessons of Iraq? That question will fill volumes and occupy careers in coming years. The war will cast a long shadow over a generation of scholars and policymakers who wrangle over how our experience in Iraq ought to shape our understanding of the United States’ role in the world. It is a difficult question to talk about in polite company because it requires some kind of moral judgment, the foundations for which our contemporary political culture is ill‐ equipped to provide. It is also a difficult story to tell because the con‐ ventional narratives, both liberal and conservative, are simplistic and wrong. It is not true that Bush lied and manipulated America into an un‐ necessary war, that the war was never connected to al‐Qaida, that he was secretly motivated to secure Middle Eastern oil supplies, or that the U.S. military was ultimately defeated by the superior will of the noble Iraqi resistance. But it is equally untrue that that United States effortlessly liberated and spread democracy to a blighted land, that our soldiers were greeted with flowers and parades, or that the war, when all was said and done, ended up as a straightforward victory. 58