Even active-duty U.S. military officers who fought there have growing doubts. “During the American occupation in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, as many as 250,000 Iraqis died and 1.4 million were displaced. Nearly 5,000 members of the American military were killed, with many thousands more suffering life-altering wounds, both physical and mental,” Army Colonel Gian Gentile wrote on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. “By most estimates, the United States has spent about $3 trillion on its nation-building efforts. What has this huge investment of blood and treasure achieved? Iraq is still mired in low-grade civil war, with worrisome indications that it is escalating.”
The U.S. has been down this path, in this country, before. The U.S. used Saddam for its own ends — largely to counter Iran — until Washington believed his megalomania threatened U.S. interests beyond his state.
That was the green light for U.S. involvement. When the U.S. pulled out of Iraq after nearly nine years of occupation, it declared al-Qaeda in Iraq on the run. “Al-Qaeda in Iraq is still operating, although at a much lower level,” President Obama said in December 2011 as the last U.S. troops headed home from Iraq.
Which makes the lead story in Tuesday’s Washington Post — “Al-Qaeda’s Iraq Affiliate Expands Presence in Syria” — all the more chilling. It suggests that the U.S.’s fervent wish to be done with Iraq doesn’t mean that Iraq is done with the U.S.