Ten years ago today the United States invaded Iraq with the goals of toppling its tyrannical ruler Saddam Hussein, destroying its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and freeing its people to establish a democratic government. Now, a decade later, Saddam Hussein is dead, but no WMDs were ever found, and the country has devolved into a de facto civil war.
In February 2003, polls showed Americans overwhelmingly favored an invasion of Iraq. The Bush government had linked Hussein to al Qaeda, the terrorist group that launched a series of terrorists attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 Americans. The administration had made the case to the world that Hussein was arming Iraq with WMDs, and that he was conspiring with al Qaeda to launch further attacks on the United States and the western world.
In October 2002 the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002" easily passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. The resolution authorized President Bush to use the U.S. military to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."
In February 2003 I traveled with a Telemundo news team to the White House to interview President Bush, one month before the Iraq invasion. War fever had built to a crescendo in Washington, and the White House wanted to make its case to Hispanic Americans.
President Bush entered our interview location, a room on the ground floor of the White House, with a swagger and a smile. He was very friendly and at ease. During the interview he went through his justifications for an invasion, but said that no final decision had been made.
Following the interview, while President Bush chatted with our group. I raised the issue of opposition to the pending war from the French, asking him, "What about President Jacques Chirac?" President Bush slapped me across my upper right arm with the back of his hand, cocked his head and said, "Don't worry, he'll come around." With that, he quickly said his goodbyes and confidently departed.
I turned to my team and said, "We're going to war!"
On March 20, 2003, American forces invaded Iraq and defeated Hussein's army. But U.S. forces were not greeted as "liberators," as Vice President Dick Cheney had predicted on NBC's Meet the Press prior to the war. The Bush administration failed to grasp how difficult, how complicated it would be to establish a unified government and a lasting peace in Iraq. In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet, the man who once called the evidence justifying an Iraq invasion a "slam dunk," admitted to CBS's 60 Minutes, "We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America. Period."
To date, nearly 4,500 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq, and more than 30,000 have been injured. The Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to be well over 100,000. Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies estimates that the Iraq War has cost more than $1.7 trillion to date, not counting an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans.
The last U.S. combat troops left Iraq in December 2011. But thousands of veterans are struggling at home with the after effects of war, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll shows that 53 percent of Americans think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, while 42 percent still support the war.
In Iraq, American influence is low, while violence continues daily, and tensions among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are at an all time high. One day, maybe, they'll come around.