The Arrogance of Power: Iraq 10 years Later

As you probably know, this week is the 10th anniversary of the U. S.  invasion of Iraq.  Frankly, I don’t feel like writing about it, but feel compelled to say something, not just let it pass by.   Recent polls indicate two-thirds of us don’t feel the war was worth “the effort and cost”.   Iran seems the biggest winner, as Iraq used to be a counter balance to their strength in the region, but not now.   Beyond that point, I will leave it to others to go into the costs and gains  in two articles I link you to below.  However, I want to make a few points first about the use of national power in general.

M1A1 Abrams pose for a photo in front of the &...

M1A1 Abrams pose for a photo in front of the “Hands of Victory” in Ceremony Square, Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Arrogance of Power is a book by Senator William Fullbright, who became a staunch critic of the Vietnam War.   What he wrote regarding Vietnam seems equally applicable to the Iraq war:

“Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations – to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence. Once imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes that it has the means as well as the duty to do God’s work.”

You know the old expression “pride goeth before a fall?”.  The above is the pride.  Ignorance is what makes the fall hurt like hell.  The famed American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whose  career stretched from Vietnam to Afghanistan before his death in 2010, once said something to this effect:  The makers of American foreign policy know very little about the countries they are making policies for.   He undoubtedly said it better, but that was the gist.

That is a jaw dropping statement from someone who was in a great position to know.   We emerged from World War II the most powerful nation on earth and we have often employed this power like the proverbial bull in a china shop, largely because our policy makers could only feel our power and not see the complexities we were throwing it at.

Former Secretary of State Collin Powell had an inkling about Iraq when he stated his now famous pottery analogy prior to the invasion.  We ” broke it” and owned it for most of the last 10 years, an analogy that could be extended to Afghanistan as well, only we still own that broken pot as much as we’re trying to give it back, still in pieces.

In contrast to Powell’s sense of complex problems awaiting to unfold in Iraq,  Dick Cheney said he expected the Iraqi’s to throw flowers at us when we invaded.  Some of that did happen, but only for a few days.  Then it became bombs thrown and IED’s buried.  That is the extent to which Mr. “Often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt” understood Iraq.  Not surprisingly, he remains certain to this day that invasion was the right decision given what he knew at the time.  However, many would argue he only knew what he chose to believe, dismissing all evidence to the contrary.

These days we don’t seem to have the money to be quite as powerful as we have been and I would say that’s a good thing, since the arrogance of power wheeled ignorantly tends to spring up whenever possible like crab grass in an Illinois summer.


Brad Knickerbocker assesses the costs of the war in Iraq War 10 Years Later:  Was is Worth It?.    His article links to another by Dr. Andrew Bacevich, “a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, a career US Army officer who retired as a colonel, and a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.”  Also,… ” Bacevich’s son, a 27-year-old US Army 1st Lieutenant, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. ”

So, when Bacevich asks:  Ten years after the invasion, did we win the Iraq war?, he brings a unique combination of historical breadth and personal depth to the question.