It was arguably one of the most influential acts of foreign policy in a generation. Certainly one of the most controversial. In 2003, under the long shadows of the fallen twin towers, George W. Bush invaded Iraq.
Not personally, of course, but in October 2003, under the rather small Texan eye of President #43, nearly 200,000 US personnel touched down under the baking Arab sun, ready to take down the WMD-harbouring Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people.
Let's take it back a step.
9/11 was a horror event, unfolding less than eight months into George W. Bush’s presidency. Almost immediately, Afghanistan was invaded. The radical Taliban were in power, and had been harbouring the September 11 mastermind, Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. The move was popular, and for the first time in history, the 'three musketeers clause' - Article V of the NATO treaty - was invoked.
So then, why Iraq? Bush Jr. and co. were adamant that the reason were Weapons of Mass Destruction. Hussein had 'em, they said. But the intelligence was dodgy, the rationale flimsy. Were WMDs the real reason Bush invaded Iraq? As it turns out, there was a much more influential reason Bush invaded Iraq.
Let's set some context.
From the fall of the USSR to September 11, 2001, America was undisputedly the world’s greatest superpower. No country came close. Following 9/11, America may not have been any less powerful by material, but their famed intelligence agencies were unable to prevent one of the worst terrorist attacks in history.
This is important. Think of the 'enemies of America' in the Middle East. There were, and are, many. The sight of the Twin Towers falling handed them one of the best recruiting tools they could dream of. You can bet visions of David and Goliath were elicited as tales of a weakened America left radical tongues.
Bush Jr. and his neoconservative administration weren’t having it. Some of the most influential figures in Cabinet - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al. - had previously been a part of a think tank called ‘Project for the new American Century’. Calls for the invasion of Iraq in the pursuit of regional power were emanating from the now-defunct think tank before Bush had been elected. The illusion that a post-9/11 America was on its knees was too much for Bush to bear.
In the 2002 State of the Union address, in which Iraq found itself a new member of the 'Axis of Evil', Bush vowed to protect the security of America, and the security of America’s allies. By that, he was almost certainly referring to Israel. Paul Wolfowitz, one of the most hawkish men ever to call himself Deputy Secretary of Defense, once said ‘the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad’. By their reasoning, Saddam Hussein was a mere roadblock on the road to peace in the Middle East. Iraq’s long-running dispute with Iran meant any diplomacy between Israel and Iran would be tricky. With Hussein out of the way, Israel and Iran may find peace, and the Middle East is a safer place.
Ask the average person on the street the reason for invading Iraq, and most will say oil.
Oil played but a small factor, and any role it did play was tied to previously mentioned quest for regional power. Sure, it can be argued that America wanted to sell off Iraqi oil fields and break up OPEC, but why? Money, money, money. Power, power, power.
Power was all that was focussed on by the Bush administration. Many, many foreign policy experts pleaded with #43 and his fellow neoconservatives not to invade. They argued that while Hussein was an evil dictator, the consequences of destabilising Iraq were unforeseeable.
Those words now ring true. The Middle East is further from peace than they have been in a generation. In the power vacuum that followed Saddam’s execution formed one of the most evil terrorist organisations we’ve ever seen.
Did Obama create ISIL? No. Did his predecessor? You make up your own mind...