What did we gain in Iraq?

political analysis by Dr. Eric Baker

Editor's note: This commentary is part of a collaboration between the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and The City Wire to deliver an ongoing series of political-based essays and reports. Dr. Eric Baker joined the UAFS faculty in 2008 and has a doctorate in political science from the University of Florida. He teaches several different courses in the political science department, including American National Government, State and Local Government, The American Presidency, Public Policy, and International Relations. Baker previously taught at the University of Richmond in Virginia and East Carolina University in North Carolina.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

In May, my wife Cara and I had the pleasure of seeing her son graduate from the Army Academy at West Point. To watch so many young men and women dedicating themselves to the service of their country, in a locale of great historical significance, was a moving experience. Cara and I were proud of William, one of America’s newest 2nd Lieutenants.

We also had the honor of hearing America’s commander and chief give the commencement speech. President Barak Obama was introduced with all the ruffles and flourishes of his position. His address was a refreshing change from the usual back-slapping, “that a boy for making it, now go change the world” commencement speech. In tone and substance it was a sober appraisal of America’s role on the world stage, a perfectly appropriate speech for the nation’s commander in chief and chief ambassador.

When thinking about this week’s post, I had in mind a dispassionate analysis of American foreign policy in the past decade or so, in light of the president’s speech, and where we should go in the immediate future. But recent world events have reinforced with a vengeance many of the themes he broached. In light of these events, especially the deteriorating situation in Iraq, dispassion would be inexcusable.

In his speech to the West Point cadets, the president emphasized the need for restraint in the use of military force. Quoting General Eisenhower, the president said, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly…”  The cost of going to war must always be carefully counted, and used only as a last measure.

Given the obvious truth in this, where was the justification for our going to war in Iraq? What was gained? Peace in that country certainly has not been gained. A low voltage civil war has brewed in that country since the invasion. Now it seems to becoming worse.

Did it eliminate terrorism in that land? No it did not. Bombings and killings by various groups continued in Iraq, even during our occupation. And now it seems that most of northern Iraq could come under the sway of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS is well organized, highly radical and very violent.

It controls a number of key cities in Syria and Iraq, and may be on the verge of seizing Baghdad. We could see a state more radical than Iran.

Did America gain from this war? Given the trust, blood and treasure that have been sacrificed, it is difficult to see how. As the president pointed out, American leadership is vital in today’s world. But our refusal to honor international institutions such as the UN and other alliances – institutions we helped create – has led to a decline in trust in American leadership.

Oil, the lifeblood of our economy, has surged to $107 in just a few days; some analysts say it could hit $120 a barrel due to uncertainty whether ISIS will capture the Iraqi oil fields. Considering the importance of oil, recession could return to the nation. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in his book “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” argues that the Iraq war led to the Great Recession, in part because of the surge of oil prices

Furthermore he argues that the full costs of the Iraq invasion will be felt many years into the future. Many of these costs are hidden, such as the long term costs of caring for wounded Iraqi veterans.

The cost in human life is of course the worst aspect of the Iraq war. As an educator, I have had a number of students who have been deployed in the wars overseas, and I have been troubled. Now that I have family in the military, I feel a greater need to say something.