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Iraq at 18: Iowans voted to end the war, but we’re still there
If the Iraq War were a person, it would have to register for the draft by now but still wouldn't be old enough to buy beer or marijuana. This week marks 18 years since the United States started dropping bombs near Baghdad.
On this date in 2003, George W. Bush went on television and promised to 'disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” It turns out our government was the grave danger.
It would become a historic foreign policy failure, claiming the lives of well over 100,000 Iraqis in addition to some 4,400 U.S. service personnel, including dozens of Iowans. Nearly two decades in, the war is officially over but America still can't seem to leave.
In Iowa, with our first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contests and our previous status as a swing state, we've had outsized influence on presidential politics over the past couple decades. Twice in my voting life, Iowans have helped nominate and elect presidents who promised but ultimately failed to end the Iraq War. I was in junior high when the war started, but I was old enough to vote in those elections.
Barack Obama used his opposition to military interventionism, flimsy in hindsight, as a key point of difference in his 2008 primary against Hillary Clinton, who supported the 2003 invasion as a senator. Iowans rewarded him with an upset caucus victory that helped propel him to the nomination.
'I'll be a president who ends this war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home,” Obama told a Des Moines crowd in his victory speech on caucus.
After winning the general election with Iowa's support, Obama failed to deliver on his 18-month promise for withdrawal. His administration eventually did draw down troop presence by the end of 2011, only to re-engage in 2014 against the Islamic State.
Donald Trump claimed he was against the Iraq War from the start. His stated aversion to military adventures marked a refreshing shift for modern conservatism. He placed second in the 2016 Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz, another Iraq War skeptic. Like Obama, Trump won Iowa twice in general elections.
Also like Obama, Trump's anti-interventionism was shallow. To his credit, he didn't start any new wars, but he didn't really end any, either. The Trump administration completed a partial drawdown in the final days of his presidency, but left 2,500 service members in Iraq.
The history of presidents prematurely signaling the end of this conflict goes all the way back to its early days, when Bush declared 'mission accomplished” during a media stunt on an aircraft carrier. That was in May 2003.
Joe Biden campaigned on ending 'forever wars,” but no close observer actually believed him. He backed the Iraq invasion as a senator and was a key part of the Obama team's foreign policy mismanagement.
Under the new Biden administration, the U.S. is likely to prolong or expand our presence in Iraq. NATO officials recently announced plans to significantly increase their boots on the ground.
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was executed 14 years ago. Weapons of mass destruction were never found. Our presence in the region only seems to make it less stable. If ever there was an achievable mission in Iraq, it's gone now.
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