National Security Network

A Disastrous Legacy: Six Years Since the Invasion of Iraq

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Report 19 March 2009

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“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” - President Bush, 5/1/03

Six years ago President Bush launched the invasion of Iraq.  Thankfully, we finally have a clear exit strategy that will redeploy all American forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011.  Today, the National Security Network is releasing a comprehensive analysis of the legacy of the Iraq war and tomorrow we will be analyzing the changes that Barack Obama and progressives have managed to push through in the last year.

Contrary to Dick Cheney’s claims that we have “succeeded” in Iraq, the war in Iraq has had a disastrous effect on U.S. national interests, which outweigh any security improvements in the past two years.  Since the war began, more than 4,200 American troops have been killed and Iraqi civilian casualties number in the hundreds of thousands.  The financial costs of the war have been staggering, with direct costs running over $600 billion and long-term cost projections in the trillions of dollars.  

Sadly these great sacrifices have failed to achieve President Bush’s initial goals of ridding Iraq of WMDs it did not have, eliminating a terrorist threat that did not exist, and bringing liberal democracy to the Middle East.

Instead, Bush’s decision to invade, and the subsequent chaos and violence introduced unprecedented instability, turned Iraq into a “cause célèbre” for international terrorism and empowered Iran.  A further legacy of the Bush administration’s disastrous war has been a steep decline in U.S. prestige in the Muslim world and among allies the U.S. had counted as its closest supporters.  In sum, the war and the ideology that informed it have compromised U.S. security, damaged U.S. broader interests, undercut our best principles, and violently altered the lives of countless Iraqis.  

“I guess my general sense of where we are with respect to Iraq and at the end of now, what, nearly six years, is that we’ve accomplished nearly everything we set out to do.” –
Vice President Cheney, 3/15/09

 “I would remind you, I said we would have an easy victory. We did.” – Sen. John McCain, 7/28/08

“Despite Obama's opposition, America went on to create a small miracle in the heart of the Arab Middle East.” – Charles Krauthammer, 2/13/09


“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” - President Bush, 1/28/03

There were no weapons of mass destruction.  The rationale for launching a preventive war against Iraq was based on the premise that Saddam Hussein had and was actively seeking more WMDs that would threaten the United States.  Due to a combination of political pressure, cherry-picking of facts, and poor intelligence, these assertions turned out to be wrong and dramatically undermined America’s credibility around the world.  [George Bush, 10/7/02]

There was no substantive relationship with al Qaeda.  The bipartisan 9/11 Commission found that there was “no operational relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.  Claims that 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta met with Iraqi agents in Prague turned out to be false. [9/11 Commission Report]

Liberal democracy has not spread throughout the Middle East.  Iraq was supposed to be a model for the rest of the region, but instead it has experienced a sectarian civil war and is still riddled with corruption and instability.  The provincial elections in January were a positive step, but Iraq is far from a liberal democracy.  Moreover, there has been no democratic domino theory.  After some initial movements in 2004 and 2005 towards democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, those positive steps have been reversed.  [George Bush, 2/26/03]


“My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” – Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/16/03

The Bush administration invaded Iraq with insufficient troops, and without garnering strong allied support.  Despite warnings from General Erik Shinseki that the U.S. would need “several hundreds of thousands” of troops to occupy and invade Iraq, Bush administration planners sent only a fraction of that, partially a result of President Bush’s failure to build a robust UN coalition to fight the war. [USA Today, 2/25/03. AP, 3/17/03]

Post-war planning was completely inadequate.  The Bush administration did little to prepare for post-war contingencies in Iraq and left the American military with the dangerous job of keeping the peace in a nation that was increasingly breaking apart along sectarian and ethnic lines.  It exacerbated a dangerous situation by disbanding the Iraqi army and putting in place harsh de-Baathification standards, failing to secure massive weapons caches, misreading the dangerous insurgency at an early stage in the conflict, neglecting to train Iraqi security forces, and failing to produce significant quality of life improvements for the Iraqi people despite spending billions in American taxpayer dollars.

As a fierce insurgency grew, the Bush administration failed to adequately respond with a new strategy for more than three years.  As CSIS expert Tony Cordesman explained, “The US aid effort behaved for nearly a year and a half as if insurgency was truly a small group of diehards or ‘terrorists.’ Even in late 2005, top US civilian policymakers split hairs over semantics to try to even avoid the word insurgency, fail to perceive that many Sunni Arab Iraqis see such an insurgency has legitimate causes, and choose to largely publicly ignore the risks of civil conflict and the developing problems in Shi’ite forces and political structures.”  [CSIS, 12/9/05]

“The idea that it's going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990. Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that . . . It won't be a World War III.” - Donald Rumsfeld, 11/15/02

 Costs of Iraq War to American troops has been high.  More than 4,250 American troops have lost their lives participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and roughly 30,000 have been wounded in action.  [, 3/18/09]

Iraqi civilians have borne the brunt of the violence in their country. The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that 150,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between April 2003 and the summer of 2006. Trend lines from other data suggest that the total casualty figure is well over 200,000 people and more than one percent of Iraq’s total pre-war population. [New England Journal of Medicine, 1/31/08. Financial Times, 1/10/2008. Brookings Institution, 12/11/08]

The Iraq war has spawned a refugee crisis of unprecedented scope.  According to the United Nations Human Rights Agency (UNHCR), the number of Iraqis displaced from their homes numbers close to 4.7 million.  2.7 million are believed to be internally displaced, and roughly 2 million have fled to Iraq’s surrounding countries, destabilizing the region.  [UNHCR, 2008]


“Well, the Office of Management and Budget has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost.” - Donald Rumsfeld, 1/19/03

Direct war costs that have already been appropriated amount to $657 billion and counting.  [Congressional Research Service, 10/15/2008]

Even the White House’s most realistic analysis was far lower than the actual costs of the war. Before the war many conservatives argued that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for much of the war.  White House Economic Adviser Lawrence Lindsay’s aggressive pre-war estimate stated that the war would cost $100 billion to $200 billion. He was asked to resign. [MSNBC, 3/17/06]

The war has cost the overall economy $1.3 trillion ($16,500 per family of four) thus far and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that it could rise to $3 trillion ($35,000 per family of four). The cost of war estimate from Stiglitz adds to conventional estimates, the value of losses in military readiness, increased recruitment costs, the cost of medical treatment for returning veterans, and other impacts on the economy. [Congressional Joint Economic Committee, 2/28/2008]



Bush administration’s planning for Iraq’s reconstruction was beset with problems.  A “yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq,” but the report’s findings were “ignored by Pentagon officials.”  The “military office initially charged with rebuilding Iraq did not learn of it [the State Dept. plan] until a major government drill for the postwar mission was held in Washington in late February, less than a month before the conflict began.” [NY Times, 10/19/03]

$8 Billion in reconstruction funding disappeared under the Bush administration’s watch.
According to Iraq’s Public Integrity Commission, roughly $8 billion of the country’s reconstruction funds were “wasted or stolen” between 2007 and the beginning of the invasion. [AP, 4/04/07]

Haliburton, after receiving no-bid reconstruction contracts from the White House, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.  A 2005 report by Senator Byron Dorgan and Congressman Henry Waxman cited internal Pentagon audits that questioned “more than $1 billion of the company's bills for work in Iraq.” [NY Times, 6/28/05]


“Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state.” – President Bush 2/26/03

Failed policies in Iraq have strengthened Iran. According to a Brookings Report by Ray Takeyh and Suzanne Maloney, because of the instability introduced by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the country is no longer a “bulwark against Iranian influence,” and “Tehran now has acquired the means to influence all of the region’s security dilemmas.” [Brookings Institution, 12/08]

The region has been profoundly destabilized. Widespread sectarian violence combined with the movement of millions of Iraqi refugees has had a destabilizing effect on the entire region.  Millions of Iraqi refugees have strained governments in Syria and Jordan, introducing instability that fuels unrest and challenges US relationships in the region. [IRIN, 6/28/07. Washington Post, 7/27/07]

Terrorism in the region is on the rise.  The nation’s 16 intelligence agencies agree that the war in Iraq has made al Qaeda stronger by creating a recruiting tool and “cause celebre” for terrorists.  Terrorism experts Dan Byman and Ken Pollack assert that “Iraq has fostered a new brand of jihad, providing a place where budding Salafi insurgents gain combat experience and forge lasting bonds that will enable them to work together in the years to come.” [National Intelligence Assessment, 7/06. Annals of American Political Science, July 2008]



Global respect for the United States is evaporating, even among our closest allies. In 2008, only 31 percent of Germans had a positive view of the United States, down from 78 percent before Bush took office in January 2001. In Turkey, a Muslim democracy and NATO ally, only 12 percent had a favorable view, down from 52 percent in late 2001. Just 53 percent of Britons – our partner in Iraq and our most reliable ally - held favorable views of the United States, down from 75 percent before the Iraq invasion. [Pew Global Attitudes Project, 12/18/08]

Our image in the Muslim world is hurting our ability to fight al Qaeda. In countries across the Muslim world, from Pakistan to Morocco, our image is so tainted that local politicians who work closely with the United States are viewed with suspicion or simply discredited, making it far more difficult for us to win the ideological struggle against al Qaeda. [Rand Beers, Testimony Before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, 2/28/08]


What We’re Reading

Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of being linked to a deadly suicide bombing in Kabul last month.  Pakistan’s ruling party attempts reconciliation with the opposition.

A roadside bomb in Afghanistan killed five, including a member of the Afghan parliament.

As the Obama administration works on its strategic review of the war in Afghanistan, the new comprehensive strategy is expected to include strengthening the Afghan security force and sending more diplomats and civilians for non-military projects.

Hundreds of thousands of workers strike across France, protesting President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic policies.

The dollar falls as its “haven status” slips following the Federal Reserve’s decision to intervene in the U.S. Treasury market, undermining the dollar’s value.

Banks in Austria are highly exposed to Eastern Europe and its financial problems.

Britain will publicly disclose its secret guidelines for interrogations by intelligence officers.

The U.S. Army will phase out its controversial “stop-loss” practice.

Israel faces isolation and tension with European nations and Turkey after the Gaza war.

In a new message, Osama bin Laden encourages Islamist militants in Somalia to overthrow the government.


Commentary of the Day

Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman say that the “minimalist path” is wrong for Afghanistan, argue that a narrow focus on counterterrorism is not enough.

The New York Times is worried about the Obama administration’s “ambivalence” to trade and the trade spat with Mexico.

The Christian Science Monitor examines how Russia’s proposed arms buildup will actually end up hurting the country’s stagnant economy
and will hurt Russia’s bargaining position with the U.S.