President George W. Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq five years ago was as hubristic as his current assessment that the “surge” has “delivered a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror” is a fantasy. The Iraq adventure is not only the longest and most expensive war in America’s history – the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has advanced a staggering estimate of $3 trillion – but is also the least conclusive.
The war has pulverized Iraqi society, dissolving it into an ethno-sectarian patchwork. The “surge” will end sooner or later, and the Iraqis, crippled by violence and corruption, will still be incapable of uniting their polity, and, with their military still unable to take over from the Americans, jihadi and inter-ethnic violence is bound to erupt again. As Iraqi Colonel Omar Ali, the Iraqi battalion commander in Mosul, the main focus of the insurgency today, recently put it, “Without the Americans, it would be impossible for us to control Iraq.”
Wars, as Winston Churchill defined them, are always “a catalogue of blunders.” History’s judgment of the Iraq war will therefore certainly dwell more on whether it has accomplished its strategic objectives of “reconstructing” a highly dysfunctional Middle East in America’s democratic image and consolidating America’s hegemonic position in the region than on its price in blood and money.
Strategically, the war was an utter failure. A clear case of imperial overstretch, the war strained America’s military, undermined the America’s moral standing worldwide and its reputation in the Middle East, severely threatened its economy, and showed to both friends and foes the limits of American power.