The two biggest travesties of our 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I think there’s a chance I’ve come across some facts that just boggle the imagination regarding our invasion of Iraq.

Since this is potentially a controversial post, I feel the need to explain how I got here. It began with me noticing Iran’s far-stronger influence in the Middle East of late, and the explosion of violence between Sunni and Shia in several different countries. (None of this is news to my devoted readers.)

But what caused my head to nearly explode was when I stumbled upon a single sentence written back in the early ’90s. I was reading Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography recently, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” when I came across this paragraph:

“Though no one had told us, ‘We don’t want you to destroy Iraq as a nation,’ my assumption in directing the planners had been that the United States would continue to need Iraq as a regional counterbalance to Iran.” — From Chapter 17.

Think of that. This book was published on Nov. 1, 1992. Thus, we knew in the ’90s — long before the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam — that Iraq was needed as a counter to our most dangerous regional enemy: Iran.

Furthermore, one of the big rationales for the current invasion was to set up a democracy. The only problem with this concept is the solid majority of Iraq is Shia. Likewise, Iran is Shia. This isn’t rocket science. It’s 9th grade geography.

So, we should have known going in that if we established a democracy in Iraq, we’ve created a Shia state. A huge one, which happens to be adjacent to Iran.

That consequence alone — practically doubling Iran’s power and reach — should have given us serious pause. It should have been known and understood by our strategists.

I have no idea how this was somehow overlooked or ignored, but that’s not all that’s been troubling me of late.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Because of where Iraq is situated, it served as a buffer for one of the most important borders of Shia and Sunni civilization. Consequently, when we toppled the country’s strong man (Saddam), we set up the perfect situation for a massive regional war between Shias and Sunnis. That regional war has been spreading like wildfire, as everyone now knows, with Shia Iran supporting Shia fighters and the Sunni Saudi Arabia (and other Sunni countries) supporting Sunni fighters.

Now you might say, “But, Stan, who could have known how ugly that would get? How could we have known that religious fighting would spread from Iraq to Syria to Yemen to pretty much you name it in the Middle East?”

But I’d argue that this religious divide, and it’s subsequent clashes (see video below), began 1,400 years ago, and surely someone at the CIA — probably a lot of someones — tried to highlight this fact to the Bush Administration. (If they did, I really want to know this. And if they didn’t, I even more want to know this.)

So, in summary, let’s ignore all of the regular arguments on this issue. Forget arguments about WMD, oil paying for the war, being welcomed as liberators, etc. I can understand how we got much of that wrong.

But, what I want to know is how in the world our leaders overlooked these two potential problems, which seem incredibly simple and easy to see:

  1. That Iraq could become a second state strongly allied with Iran. (And how this would hardly be a good thing for us, Israel, or our long-time ally Saudi Arabia.)
  2. And that toppling Saddam could lead to an ferociously large civil war between Shias and Sunnis. One that will probably rage for years and years and kill (and displace) who knows how many  hundreds of thousands.

We’re already dealing with these consequences, and they’re already getting worse.

Now, we’ve got Russia arming Iran with anti-air missiles and conflict exploding across the Middle East faster than a wildfire with a strong wind behind its back. Iran is ascending and the rest of the Middle East is worried about this growing tiger in their midst.

It’s my strong suspicion that history will want to know how we overlooked these two potential problems, which we should have known.

So, please, dear readers, tell me where I’m wrong on this and what I’m unfairly overlooking.

Oh, and here’s a super short video on the Shia-Sunni divide:

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

About me: I’m a full-time, action-fiction author with books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years writing every day in the newspaper business. Please consider subscribing for email alerts — I mostly post about things American foreign policy, national security, and all things Marine Corps.

P.S. You should really consider buying this book: The Shaolin Workout: 28 Days to Transforming Your Body and Soul the Warrior’s Way. It’s absolutely changed my life for the better.


6 thoughts on “The two biggest travesties of our 2003 invasion of Iraq.

  1. If I had to hedge a bet with my layman understanding of geopolitics, I would say this: Deadly combination of 1) shortsightedness (as Americans we tend to be more about there here and now, not the 50 yrs from now – hence our attention span); 2) cherry-picking your intelligence (it’s easy to ignore what you want and believe what you want when you’re consciously choosing to do so); and 3) a climate or culture that makes it hard for the right info to get up the chain to where it needs to be.

    And an overall ignorance of understanding the dynamics there, through lack of interest. Thanks for digging around on this one.


  2. Stan, some people outside government, Marines in fact raised your points in 2002 and 2003 – General Zinni was one, another was Jim Webb.


  3. What is not mentioned here is that Iraq and Iran fought a major war not long before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. This war, while strategically inconclusive, caused upwards of a million casualties for each belligerent. There was certainly no guarantee that Shia Iran might not eventually try to topple Saddam’s Sunni government and replace it with a Shia puppet regime, and in fact that is exactly what is taking place right now. The problem with all the “it’s our fault this is happening” theories is that they assume that the Shia-Sunni conflict that is now erupting all over the region would never have happened with a strong, if corrupt, Sunni-led Iraq in place; in fact,
    Shia-Sunni 1 was fought in the 1980s and Sunni-led Iraq was right in the middle of it.


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