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The Wrong Lessons of the Iraq War

WASHINGTON, DC – The Chilcot report was finally released this month, seven years after it was commissioned by the British government to “identify lessons” from the United Kingdom’s participation in the Iraq War. But in the frenzied focus on former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s errors of judgment and process in bringing the UK into the war alongside the United States, the real lessons risk being lost.

For many critics, the failure of the Iraq War proves that interventionist Western foreign policies are both futile and immoral. But interventions should never be assessed on the basis of the success or failure of the last one. That logic is what led Bill Clinton’s administration, following the failure of US intervention in Somalia in 1993, to fail to act the following year to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, which in retrospect could have been halted with quite limited action.

In the case of the Iraq War, the intervention killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and shattered the country, as well as costing the lives of thousands of US and British soldiers. The tragic legacy of the Iraqi intervention continues today, however, because it now stands as a cautionary tale against all intervention.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly justified his refusal to use force in Syria, other than against the Islamic State (ISIS), in terms of avoiding another Iraq. Moreover, his decisions have been affected by British reactions to Iraq.