In recent days, the Republican Party has decided to resurrect the invasion of Iraq as an excuse to take potshots at President Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State and to “celebrate” George W. Bush’s foreign policy blunders. It’s a blatant attempt to rewrite history and the narrative surrounding the ongoing chaos in the Middle East, which makes it an ideal moment to look back and remember who is really to blame. Every single Republican presidential candidate has been voicing their support for the war and attempting to pass the buck to Obama. It’s important they don’t succeed, because the George Bush administration unleashed eighty years of simmering sectarian tensions and escalated it with their ham-fisted attempts to instill order in a situation they had no real comprehension of.
The violence and suffering of Iraq is a product of a long history of incompetent overlords. Its borders are artificial, created through colonial scheming which merged three distinct provinces sliced off from other entities- Western Syria, Eastern Kurdistan, Upper Mesopotamia, and Iraq each with their own unique peoples, customs, and beliefs. It’s the classic story of colonialism, where ignorant Westerners drew lines on a map regardless of any organic divisions or traditional borders. In 1968, Saddam Hussein and a cadre of Baathist (pan-Arabic Socialism) party members took power in a coup. During the next few decades, Hussein built an oppressive totalitarian state that ruled with an iron fist and a terrifying secret police, establishing total control over all aspects of life. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the rise of a Shiite theocracy across the border, Saddam feared a similar uprising among Iraqi Shia (which make up 65% of the population) and took measures to terrify and repress them, raising Sunnis to positions of power and played divide and conquer to keep the population occupied.
In 2003, Saddam’s regime was isolated, heavily sanctioned by the United Nations, and slowly withering away. If we had let it be, the Arab Spring revolutions that blossomed in 2011 would probably have deposed him and Iraq could have assimilated to a democratic system in an organic and self-determined fashion. Instead, George W. Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove, and the rest of the neo-con coven orchestrated a devious fear and misinformation campaign, fabricating evidence that Saddam was building WMDs and was plotting to attack America. With a coalition of international support, American troops landed in Iraq on March 19th, 2003.
The hubris of the Bush Administration and the utter arrogance that the invasion was handled with was obvious from the start. In a rapid deployment that aimed straight for the oil infrastructures and the Iraqi government, cities were left unoccupied and there was no real plan for aftermath. The biggest delusion was that you could just roll in, uproot a decades old regime, and be out in a few months leaving a happy and peaceful democracy- or else the neo-cons simply didn’t care what would happen to Iraq after Saddam was gone.
The country exploded on the day Saddam fell. In a vacuum of power, nobody stepped up to fill it, and factions across the country all made their moves to secure themselves a place in the new Iraq. Decades of suppression of the Shia by Sunni Muslims came to a head with frightening speed, beginning the civil war that still continues to this day. Because US troops had moved so quickly, key sites were left unsecured and Shia and Sunni alike raided military depots, arming themselves for the bloodbath that was to follow.
The Coalition Provisional Authority, the temporary occupation government, made some key mistakes in the first few days, including dissolving both the Baathist party and the Iraqi army, suddenly plunging millions into unemployment, many of whom still had their service weapons. The Bush Administration, high on their “victory”, began withdrawing troops from Iraq far too early, leaving a small force behind to deal with the anarchy of a heavily armed populace with little opportunity and chips on their shoulders.
When elections were finally arranged amid the brutal insurgency, Nouri al-Maliki took control of the Iraqi government. He immediately began playing sectarian politics himself, denying Sunni Muslims a voice in the political process and supporting the Shiite militas carrying out retalitory bombings and shootings across the country. The Bush Administration sat back and supported al-Maliki in everything that he did, praying for some kind of stability but failing to realize that the Iraqi government was escalating the situation.
Political, economic, and civil discrimination against the Sunni population quickly followed, which promptly led to the uprising in 2004 and the rise of Sunni militias, one of which, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, would one day grow up to become ISIS. The Bush Administration was forced to authorize the “surge”, redeploying American troops who should never have left in the first place. The billions we poured into Iraq for reconstruction were entirely wasted, because there was never enough stability to put them to good use. There was never enough stability because the invasion was atrociously mismanaged from the start, and the Bush Administration never bothered to consider the consequences of their actions.
So it’s really galling to see all the Republican candidates speak out in favor of the invasion and criticizing Obama for refusing to draw us back into the maelstrom of hate and blood that we have created in the Middle East. George W. Bush’s administration is responsible for the creation of ISIS, and President Obama is just trying to pick up the pieces.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.