Should the U.S. have gone to war with Iraq?
Iraq’s alleged ties to 9/11 and the possibility of it having Weapons of Mass Destruction led many people to support the war in Iraq at the time, but many have since questioned the legitimacy of sending troops to the Middle Eastern country.
Rise of the Issue
Following the attacks on 9/11, Americans widely believed their nation’s safety and security was under threat. In 2003, seven in ten Americans thought Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. It was one of the reasons so many supported the start of the Iraq war. Ten years later, only about a third of Americans still linked Saddam to 9/11.
The significant amount of lives lost, the lack of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) found and the significant financial cost of the war leaves more and more people wondering whether going to war with Iraq was the right choice. Yet, the gross human rights violations committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime and the benefits of its fall for minorities in the country are still considerations when deciding whether the benefits outweighed the costs.
1990 - 1991
First Gulf War
After Iraq invaded its neighboring country Kuwait, the United States led a coalition of 35 countries that expelled the Iraqis from the territory they had invaded.
Attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon
Now widely known as ‘9/11’, on this day in 2001 hijacked commercial planes were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands of people.
Start of the Iraq War
The U.S. and its allies start bombing the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and President Bush announces to the world that they have started military operations in Iraq.
Death of Saddam Hussein
The former Iraqi president is captured and killed by the U.S. military.
End of the Iraq War
The U.S. military withdraws from Iraq, following President Obama’s statement that “America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Supporters cite Iraq’s potential possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a legitimate reason to have started the war, but opponents point out the lack of WMD found during the U.S.’s military operations.
The two sides differ on whether the attacks on 9/11 were connected to Iraq and were therefore a justification to wage a war.
While supporters claim human rights abuses by the Iraqi authorities against its people were part of why Iraq was invaded, opponents question whether this was a legitimate consideration.
According to the rules of international law, a sovereign state can only legally attack another out of self-defense. Although supporters argued the imminent threat posed by Iraq made it “preemptive self-defense”, opponents point out that no such concept exists under international law, thus making it illegal.
Views differ on how big of a role Iraq’s oil reserves played in the decision to start the war and whether access to Iraq’s oil fields should have been a consideration.
Saddam Hussein was taken out during the war.
U.S. forces eventually managed to capture and kill Saddam Hussein, considered a major threat to his own people and the world, in 2006.
The Iraqi people were subject to gross human rights violations.
Extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and mass murder were commonly known tactics used by Saddam’s Hussein’s government.
The economic benefits related to the Iraqi oil reserves did not outweigh the costs.
While there are undeniable benefits for the US when it comes to gaining more control of Iraqi oil, the costs endured by the United States are higher than the money the oil reserves brought in.
Minorities benefited from the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The Kurds were able to secure their own stable government in the Northern part of Iraq. Though the indigenous population of a large region in the Middle East have never been able to obtain a permanent nation state, their autonomous region within the Iraqi federal is as far as they have come to date.
Both sides of the aisle were convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Although no WMD were ultimately found during the invasion, both Democrats and Republicans at the time believed Saddam had them and that it posed a significant threat to world peace.
No weapons of mass destruction were found.
The potential of WMD and the threat that it caused was a major justification for the war in Iraq, yet no such weapons were ever found.
The war cost a tremendous amount of taxpayer money.
One report estimates it cost over $2 trillion, which is an average of $8,000 per taxpayer. The costs went over the budget set by the Pentagon, meaning it was taken out of other parts of the federal budget.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died.
Though precise numbers are difficult to come by, we know around 200,000 Iraqis lost their lives due to direct war-related violence during the war, though in reality it could be a lot more.
Thousands of American lives were lost.
Over 4500 American soldiers died during the Iraq war, in addition to the hundreds of members of allied forces that did not survive. Tens of thousands more were injured and/or suffered from mental health problems upon return.
The war was not backed by the United Nations.
The U.S. claimed that if it did not attack Iraq, it would ultimately be attacked itself, calling waging the war “preemptive self-defense.” This was not in accordance with the rules set out in the United Nations Charter, as confirmed by the then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan.