This Week: Lessons Learned From the Iraq Invasion

This Week: Lessons Learned From the Iraq Invasion

This Week: Lessons Learned From the Iraq Invasion

One decade later, one of the most devastating tragedies in recent memory–a look back and plan forward.


This week marked the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion and the beginning of a war that The Nation opposed fiercely and early on. Running scores of articles and editorials against the misguided mission, our writers sought to create an intelligent dialogue around the issue and provide alternative policies to move us forward in a more peaceful way.

The Nation’s first editorial on the subject ran on June 20, 2002: “War on Iraq Is Wrong.” In clear and certain terms, the editors outlined the glaring weaknesses in the administration’s argument for war and its obtuseness over the consequences of invasion. “If the United States proceeds alone or with only tacit support from others, Iraq’s collapse into anarchy cannot be ruled out,” warned the editors. “Democrats and Republicans, and all citizens with civic courage, must challenge a policy that poses a clear and present danger to international and American interests.”

In an open letter to Congress on September 25, 2002, the editors continued their informed criticism of the overthrow of the Iraqi government. Though the passage of an authorizing resolution seemed a foregone conclusion, they urged the members of Congress to speak out and stand together against the invasion. The silence of party leaders in the face of a simple, clear, and strong case against the war was troubling and The Nation demanded that our representatives act in the interest of the country, rather than fall prey to egoism and power politics. “Reject the arrogance—and the ignorance—of power,” urged the editors. “Show respect for your constituents—they require your honest judgment, not capitulation to the executive. Say no to empire. Affirm the Republic. Preserve the peace. Vote against war in Iraq.”

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Several years after the invasion, in a piece written for AlterNet, John Tirman, executive director of MIT’s Center for International Studies, recognized The Nation’s prescience in a list of the “heroes of resistance” who opposed the war before it began. Alongside the select members of Congress who voted against the initial war resolution (thirty-one senators, 133 representatives), he cheered on many who have contributed to The Nation over the years. “In the face of severe opprobrium and intimidation, a sizable number of Americans saw the charade for what it was and rued the oncoming disaster. We need to understand why this fiasco occurred, and listening to the voices of those who opposed it for ethical and strategic reasons from the outset helps to unravel this puzzle.”

Today, ten years later, our criticisms of US involvement in Iraq been shown to be tragically prescient. This week’s print issue features Patrick Cockburn’s reporting on the American legacy in Iraq. The picture is not positive. The country is mired in a permanent crisis of sectarian violence, pervasive corruption and dysfunctional government. There is little to show for the reconstruction projects that the US has invested over $60 billion in, and Iraqis are living with a catastrophically broken infrastructure, in a state of dissolution. But, Cockburn contends, the establishment of this parasitic state dates to well before the US invasion.

Veteran antiwar activist Tom Hayden, CODE PINK’s Jodie Evans, foreign policy blogger Robert Dreyfuss and activist-writer Nathan Schneider further reflect on the legacy of the invasion and the destruction, and disillusionment, that followed. In OpinionNation, their responses explore the range of emotions that many have looking back on the past decade, and the lessons to be applied to the future. Hayden argues that long wars require a long peace movement; Evans considers all that she’s witnessed, and all that was unimaginable at the time; Schneider looks at the life of one young peace activist and the consequences of her engagement with the antiwar movement; and Dreyfuss argues that the point is moot: Iraqis won’t be debating whether the invasion was good or bad, because they are dead.

Many more contributors offered smart and salient commentary on the anniversary of the war this week on, and Greg Mitchell’s prolific assessment of the lead up to the war deserves highlighting. He covers who got it right (the Dixie Chicks, select national newspapers) and who got it wrong (Bob Woodward), and reflects on the mea culpas of the media and warmongers.

So are there any benefits to be found in this unbroken record of waste, futility and shame? Nation peace and disarmament correspondent Jonathan Schell looks within the borders of Iraq to find lessons that can prevent the same fate in Iran. To avert catastrophe in the postcolonial era, he argues we must recognized that counterinsurgency (“COIN”) warfare is “a fool’s game” and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction cannot be stopped through military force. While the parallels between Iraq and Iran are striking, the fates of the two countries are not intertwined. It is a moral imperative that we avoid a second Iraq and heed lessons learned from history.

For ongoing thoughtful and measured reporting on the role of the United States in the world, check back in regularly with The Nation as we continue to examine the government’s actions.

The Nation interns select their favorite articles of the week.

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