Can the U.S. Claim Victory in Iraq?

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics, War

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Published on June 03, 2013 with 2 Comments


By Ralph E. Stone

June 3, 2013

Following the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq in December 2011, can the U.S. claim victory or did the Obama administration adopt the face-saving solution of “Just declare victory and get out,” a position proposed by the late Senator George Akin of Vermont at the end of the Vietnam war?

What does victory mean and why did the U.S. invade and occupy Iraq in the first place?  The reasons given by the Bush Administration proved to be contrived:  Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction; no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, or any Iraqi operational act against the U.S., was established; and, as Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, speaking on the Iraq invasion and occupation, said, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”

The costs of the Iraq war have been tremendous in terms of lives lost.  Since the war began in March 19, 2003, over 4,400 US lives have been lost, and over 650,000 Iraqis were killed.

The Iraq war cost U.S. taxpayers $810 billion and counting.   Imagine how much health care, social services, education, housing, fire and police this money could have purchased.

Additionally, we became the thugs the world when it was learned the U.S. used torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, at secret detention centers round the world, and the CIA conducted renditions or extrajudicial secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.

And in the aftermath of September 11, the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, which expanded government surveillance powers and the scope of some criminal laws.  We have held prisoners at Guantánamo without charges for over a decade.

Did we sow the seeds of democracy in Iraq? Iraq has had elections, but its lauded democracy is tenuous at best.  Elections do not necessarily a democracy make.

Iraq has three large ethnic groups:  Kurds in the north; Sunnis in the middle; and Shiites, the most populous group, in the south. Given the ethnic and religious rivalry among these three groups and the ever-presence of al-Qaeda, there is little evidence that an Iraq democracy will last now that the U.S. military has left.  In fact, there is little evidence that democracy will take root throughout the Middle East.

We did eliminate Saddam Hussein and placed Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as Prime Minister, a position he hopes to continue well into the future.  Al-Maliki has been trying to gain control over the armed groups in his country as a means to consolidate his power.  Instead of bringing the Shiite and Sunni Arabs together, al-Maliki has sought to marginalize the Sunnis.  He has resisted integrating Sunnis into the army. He has accused senior Sunni politicians of being terrorists, hounded them from power and, thus, lost the cooperation of the Sunni community.  Unless Maliki is forced to resign and replaced by a more conciliatory figure, there is the real possibility of civil war.

And there is the ever-presence of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi arm, known as the Islamic State of Islam, who are suspected of instigating a series of recent car bombings throughout Iraq.  More than 1,000 people have been killed in Iraq by al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents in May alone.  The goal of al-Qaeda seems to be to undermine Iraqi confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Finally, now that the U.S. has left Iraq, Iran has a market for its goods which is helping to relieve the U.S.-European Union boycott against Iraq.

It remains to be seen whether the Iraq “war” was won.  But, clearly, the U.S. had no moral or legal basis for invading and continuing to occupy Iraq.  Whether the war was won or not, the U.S. was right to leave Iraq.

Finally, I agree with President Obama that terrorism should now be treated as a criminal activity instead of a war on terrorism.  This recasts the terrorists as cowardly thugs instead of enemy warriors.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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Comments for Can the U.S. Claim Victory in Iraq? are now closed.

  1. Mr. West, that’s quite a snarky comment. With the collapse of the discussions about extending the stay of any U.S. troops beyond 2011, where they would not be granted any immunity from the Iraqi government, on 21 October 2011, President Obama announced at a White House press conference that all remaining U.S. troops and trainers would leave Iraq by the end of the year as previously scheduled, bringing the U.S. mission in Iraq to an end. Yes, the 5-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU does provide for high level U.S.-Iraq military exchanges; professional military education cooperation; counter-terrorism cooperation; the development of defense intelligence capabilities; and joint exercises.

    During the Iraq conflict as many as 170,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq and the last 13,000 left in December 2011. Yes, the MOU does provide for U.S. troops to be used as advisors and trainers, but the statement that U.S. troops left in December 2011 is basically accurate. Nothing in your cited websites says anything different.

  2. The US didn’t leave Iraq. I am so tired of that lie and I am so tired of uninformed people weighing in. Mr. Stone doesn’t know what he’s writing about. This column is an embarrassment. The New York Times reported in September:

    From the article, “Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could
    result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on
    training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to
    General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently
    deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with

    The US military has not left Iraq. How many times do we have to say it and point out before even the slowest among us can grasp reality. C.I. of The Common ILls has covered this in real time — she’s also the only one who covered the agreement being mentioned — it was signed in December. If you go to her April 30th snapshot, you’ll find her reviewing for the really slow one more time including links on the Memo of Understanding that got signed

    Or maybe you can just go to the April US Congressional Research Services report on Iraq written by Kenneth Katzman

    There you will find all that Mr. Stone ‘forgot’ because apparently you can write a column about Iraq in 2013 based upon what you think you saw in December 2011. Maybe before people publish columns they can fact check them?

    And on commenting: I don’t want Discuss password. If I can’t sign in with Facebook, don’t offer the option.