How the Iraq War Changed American Policy and Led to the Rise of Trump | american politics
Twenty years ago, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski was working as a desk officer at the Pentagon, when she learned of a new secret department called the Office of Special Plans.
OSP was set up to produce the kind of information the Bush administration wanted to hear about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Kwiatkowski, then 42, saw firsthand how the disastrous war was crafted.
“I had this huge faith in my superiors, that they had to be there for a reason, that they had to be wise and strong and all that fairy tale type stuff, but I found there were very incompetent people in very high positions,” she said.
Kwiatkowski, who became a Pentagon whistleblower during the war, is now a farmer, part-time college professor and occasional political candidate on the libertarian side of the Republican Party in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. She says she was somewhat cynical about war and politics even before she was seconded to the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia department in 2002. But seeing subverted US governance up close has greatly deepened her disillusionment.
“There is a crisis of faith in this country,” Kwiatkowski said. “As always, when you have these crises of faith, you see populist leaders, and the emergence of Trump was certainly a response to a crisis of faith. It will be interesting to see what happens next, because Americans have a lot less to be proud of than we think.
Overall, she thinks the experience of the Iraq war has imbued Americans with a healthy skepticism about what the establishment is telling them — but not enough.
“I could go to Walmart right now and ask everybody about WMD in Iraq and probably three out of ten people, maybe more, will swear it’s all true,” she said. “Our public propaganda in this country is extremely good.”
Polling figures over the past two decades suggest that overall attitudes toward foreign policy are fairly stable. When the Chicago Council on Global Affairs asked Americans if “it would be better for the future of the country if we actively participated in global affairs or if we stayed out of global affairs”, 71% supported activism in 2002 and 64 % still supported him in 2021.
More generally, the invasion of Iraq coincided with a breakdown in public confidence in the government which had very briefly recovered from its post-Vietnam crisis following the September 11 attacks. Survey data from the Pew Research Center shows that the post-Iraq malaise is deeper and more enduring.
“He told young people first and foremost that the government cannot be trusted,” said John Zogby, another American pollster. “He also said that the US military may be the strongest in the world, but it has serious limitations and cannot impose its will even on smaller countries.”
He added: “Americans will go to war, but they want their wars to be short and they want them to make a positive difference.”
There are still American soldiers on counter-terrorism missions in Iraq and Syria. The authorization to use military force that Congress first granted to the Bush administration on the eve of the 2003 invasion has yet to be repealed by the Senate and has been cited by Obama administrations and Trump to justify operations in the region.
Coleen Rowley, an FBI whistleblower who exposed security flaws leading to the 9/11 attacks, wrote an open letter to the FBI Director in March 2003, warning him of a “deluge of terrorism” resulting from the invasion of Iraq. She now says that two decades later, no one has been held accountable for the fatal mistakes.
“I think the real danger is that their propaganda has been very successful, and people like Bush and Cheney have now been rehabilitated,” Rowley said. “Even the liberals embraced Bush and Cheney.”
The terrible mistakes made before and during the war in Iraq forced no resignations and neither George W Bush nor his Vice President, Dick Cheney – nor any other senior official who argued for war and then oversaw a disastrous occupation – have never been detained. accountable by any form of commission or tribunal.
However, the taint of Iraq arguably changed the course of American policy by blocking those who supported it.
“In a way, you can argue that Iraq is what led to Obama becoming president as opposed to Hillary Clinton,” said Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at the United States. Tufts University. “I don’t think Obama would win the 2008 Democratic primary if Hillary hadn’t supported the war.”
The war also opened up a schism within the Republican Party, strengthening an anti-intervention faction that ultimately triumphed with the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
George W Bush and his former vice president attracted a positive liberal press for their quiet opposition to some of the excesses of the Trump era, but Kenneth Pollack, a military and Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, they paid a political price by marginalizing themselves within their own party.
“The system punished these people. If you were a Bushie, if you were a neocon, you’re not welcome at the party anymore,” Pollack said. “I would say there’s been a lot of liability, but it’s liability in a traditional American way.”
The excluded included traditional conservatives with less extreme national social positions than the Maga Republicans. The push for war was fueled by partisanship – the Bush administration despised Democrats and all opposition – but it also served as an accelerator for the extremism that led to Trump and the January 6 insurgency. .
“It’s very difficult to say how much Iraq was responsible for this, but it seems to me that it was a significant element that made our partisanship worse,” Pollack said.
Pollack is a former CIA analyst and Democrat who supported the invasion, believing Saddam Hussein’s WMD evidence and supporting the humanitarian argument for overthrowing a dictator.
Pollack jokes that he’s the only person to apologize since. That’s not entirely true as a few other pundits, like conservative commentator Max Boot, were also contrite, but there were no public expressions of remorse from former senior civil servants who took the fateful decisions. This is one of the important ways in which the United States still hasn’t had a true war record.
Pollack, who has stayed in touch with several members of the Bush team for an upcoming book on the United States and Iraq, said some express personal regret for specific decisions and choices, but others remain unrepentant.
“I heard it said across the way, ‘No, I wouldn’t change anything. I would do everything again exactly the same way, ‘which I find shocking,’ he said. “I don’t see how you look at American behavior during this time and have no regrets.”