Secretary General of Snark: Lessons Learned (and not Learned) from the Iraq War

In honor of the ten-year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, a look back at what the US government should learn from the loss of nearly 4,500 American lives and over $2 trillion.

The United States government celebrated its ‘tin’ anniversary with Iraq this week.  In line with the overall degradation of marriage in the US (I’m looking at you, Kim Kardashian), it was not a pretty anniversary.  Many Americans looked back on the past ten years and wished they hadn’t said “I do.”  But what lessons has the US government learned from this mutually abusive relationship? Is there a silver lining to be found? Multiple officials from both the Bush and Obama administration have voiced their opinions on the issue this week, but it appears that Washington still hasn’t learned many of the lessons of the Iraq War.

I Regret Nothing

First, let’s look at some of the lessons the US appears to have learned from the Iraq experience: 1. Massive invasion of a foreign country may not be our best bet. The staggering costs of waging simultaneous wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan has taken its toll on the US, racking up over $3 trillion in national debt, draining a massive amount of government resources, and resulting in the loss of over 4,500 American lives as well as the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.  The specter of the ‘Iraq experience’ now hangs over the head of everyone, making the federal government far more reluctant to engage US troops in any sort of military intervention

I've Made a Huge Mistake

In light of this, the Obama administration seems to have learned that serious American manpower should only be utilized when a quick success is guaranteed, as in the Libyan intervention.  This reluctance to commit US troops has led to an increasing reliance on targeted Special Ops as well as unmanned drones.  So basically, instead of sending in a bunch of troops to overthrow your government when they don’t agree with you, the US will just stay on their side of the pond and throw rocks at you like One Direction.

1D Throw Rocks

2. Trying to force a country to change doesn’t work. President Bush and Vice President Cheney seemed to think at the time that by invading Iraq they could bend the politics of the Middle East to their will.  What they failed to recognize before embarking upon a decade-long odyssey, is that the US can’t force a country to change just by holding them at gunpoint, especially a country whose culture and traditions are so wildly different from American culture. To be fair, I don’t even understand American culture some times.  Case in point: Honey Boo Boo

Honey Boo Boo Drink

Instead, the Iraq War created a hotbed of terrorist activity in a country that previously had very little (relatively speaking.)  Rather than quashing terroristic violence in the region, the US effectively provided a training ground for any and all extremist groups who had beef with the US.  Even after ten years of fighting, Iraq is still plagued by acts of violence.  It appears the US has finally recognized that, even if the US doesn’t like what’s happening in another country, they can’t necessarily guarantee a better outcome by invading and imposing their own values.  Maybe we should stick to running our own country?

Mind Ya Business

3. Check, double check, and triple check your sources. This is something you’d that the US government would have already figured out by now, but apparently it took a decade-long war spurred by completely baseless accusations of WMDs to remind the US government that intelligence is not a perfect science.  After missing the nuclear developments in Pakistan, the US Intelligence Community was clearly overly cautious of being caught with their pants around their ankles again (figuratively, not literally like David Petraeus), and jumped to conclusions about Saddam Hussein’s fictitious claims about possessing WMDs.

I've Made a Huge Mistake

The Obama administration does seem to have learned its lesson though, as reflected in their more measured handling of the nuclear developments in Iran.  Apparently, we’ve decided to actually read the intelligence reports now before launching an invasion.

Bush I Didn't Read It

But there are also plenty of lessons the US has failed to learn from the Iraq War. Let’s look at a few of them: 1. NATO: What is it good for? For the US’s European allies, the Iraq War served as a reminder that Edwin Star was right about war. Despite the fact that both France and Germany opposed an invasion of Iraq, the US did it anyways. Despite the fact that NATO is a multilateral institution, no country but the US has any real power to shape the actions of its members.  As it has essentially since WWII, the US does what the US wants. Instead of using NATO as a legitimate forum to discuss international security concerns with a multilateral perspective, the US continues to act like a single lady, and Europe cannot put a ring on it.

Single Ladies Obama

2. It’s not that hard to push a whole country into a foolish war Somehow, a relatively small number of officials were able to convince the entire country and the federal government that invading Iraq was a justified preemptive move that would somehow solve our problems of security threats stemming from the Middle East.  In reality, the broken-down, isolated, and poverty-stricken dictatorship of a relatively small country posed very little threat to the American people, even if they had possessed WMDs.  But somehow, we were all convinced that the best course of action was to invade.  Still today Americans seem to constantly fall prey to nationalistic rhetoric and patriotic propagandizing.

Surprised Headshake Anderson

3. AMERICANS ARE SCARED OF EVERYONE! It’s lonely at the top, and despite the fact that the US is by far the single most powerful country in the world, Americans are terrified of anyone creeping up on us.  Whether it’s China, North Korea, India, or Venezuela, Americans view everyone and everything as a threat.

Scared Kid

While acknowledging that there are many very real threats to national security, it’s probably time that Americans spend less time looking for monsters under the bed and more time dealing with the ones out in the open.

Scared Monster

In summary, Jennifer Lawrence is not impressed with you, United States government.


Secretary General of Snark is a bi-weekly column authored by IRC senior Randy Crooks.  The purpose of the column is to discuss international affairs in a way that is entertaining and accessible to everyone, even those who are not International Relations wonks, with the end goal of sparking informed debate about IR through a healthy dose of sarcasm and snark.  The views expressed in this column do not represent the views of the Georgetown International Relations Club.