Guest Column: Reflections on the Iraq War

Steven W. Hook

Last week’s “Our View” editorial on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq rightly declares that “we never forget those who lost their lives in Iraq, including the innocent civilians who were caught up in the conflict.” I do, however, disagree that the U.S. mission there “has finally been accomplished.”

First, as stated by the Bush administration, the primary mission for the U.S. invasion of March 2003 was to rid Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction that were allegedly held by Saddam Hussein’s regime. We now know that the government’s intelligence findings regarding Iraqi WMDs were either erroneous or selectively inflated by the White House to gain support for the invasion.

Second, the longer-term mission of the war — to replace Hussein’s repressive regime with a stable democratic government — has only partially been achieved. There were remarkable efforts to draft a constitution and create an electoral system that gave Iraqi citizens a voice in their leadership. Still, it’s unclear whether the nation’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations can create a truly unified government that will deliver vital services and protect the rights of all citizens. The battered economy of Iraq also does not bode well for stable political order.

President Obama, nonetheless, honored the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Bush Administration in 2008 that called for the withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011. Although he has been criticized for doing so, Obama correctly followed the wishes of the Iraqi government while recognizing the many economic problems and security challenges that demand our government’s attention. The president also respected American public opinion, which strongly favored withdrawal from Iraq.

As citizens with a stake in our own democratic government, we are wise to reflect on the lessons of this war. The sheer numbers demand thoughtful reflection: nearly 4,500 U.S. troops killed and another 32,000 injured; an estimated 120,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and nearly 3 million refugees; and a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $800 billion. Beyond these statistics, the war raised troubling questions about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and the moral leadership of the United States, considered by many the “indispensable nation” upon its Cold War victory over the Soviet Union in 1991.

Among other questions, was there sufficient scrutiny of White House claims regarding Iraqi WMDs and links to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida? Why were U.S. troops unprepared for the insurgency that followed the U.S. invasion? Should the United States have invaded Iraq without the support of the United Nations Security Council?

I trust that American citizens, including students at Kent State, will consider these and other questions before the United States is faced with another fateful decision regarding war and peace. Along with our representative in Congress, we should all demand proof that our national security is at stake; that a coherent war plan – including a realistic exit strategy – is in place; and that, most of all, the call to arms genuinely reflects our nation’s values and moral principles.

Steven W. Hook, a specialist on American foreign policy, is professor and chair of the political science department.