America Needs to Reflect on Its Role on the World Stage


The U.S. still feels the Iraq War’s overall impact two decades following its end. (Courtesy of Twitter)

It was 20 years ago on March 20 that the United States military forces began the invasion of Iraq. President George W. Bush and his administration claimed that the dictatorship of Saddam Hussien was hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which threatened the stability of the world. The Bush administration communicated this narrative from Capitol Hill to the UN Security Council. American citizens picked up their newspapers, turned on their TVs and absorbed the president’s message. Officials like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made announcements in which he claimed the war would only last a time period of five days to five months. The marketing campaign for war succeeded in growing support amongst the public. By the time it had started, 72% of Americans fully supported the war effort. The initial stage of the invasion moved swiftly throughout Iraq. The Iraqi army quickly crumbled, and on May 1, 2003, President Bush declared the major combat offensive was victorious, while a large banner saying “mission accomplished” was proudly displayed in the background. However, the war and its effects had only just begun. Iraq was unstable due to the rapid change in leadership, which meant U.S. forces stayed in the country until 2011. The war cost the lives of 4,600 U.S. military members and at least 270,000 Iraqi civilians. Although troops officially left 12 years ago, the president is still authorized to use military force in Iraq. It is time for Congress to repeal the combat authorization and allow for a new era of American diplomacy to begin. 

The aftermath of the war increased distrust from both American citizens and nations all around the world. President Bush’s justification of the invasion — Iraq’s WMD possession — was based on a falsehood. Former top U.S. weapons inspector Dave Kay told Congress “that we were almost all wrong” when it came to Iraq having those weapons. The most powerful nation in the world started a war costing $3 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives based on faulty data. This immense error instilled a lasting doubt in the U.S. government and its abilities both domestically and internationally. Support for the war began to wane. By the latter half of the decade, Americans who had once supported the war disagreed with President Bush’s decision to send a “troop surge” by a two-to-one margin, and President Barack Obama won the 2008 election while running on a promise to end the war. 

America’s international reputation also took a large hit from the war. The optics of a war based on false intelligence fed into many people’s perception that the United States was a warmonger that would say and do anything to invade nations it did not like. There was also an erosion of trust in American intelligence, which has led many people to disregard it altogether. The distrust is still lingering and was seen last year when some news commentators acted surprised by the United States’ ability to anticipate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Iraq’s instability did not help quell these doubts about America’s abilities.

The impacts of the war on Iraq were devastating. Although the war led to the end of Hussein’s government, the nation had to rebuild. Insurgent groups took advantage of the situation and prolonged the fighting for years. As a result, the nation’s rebuilding process was stalled, and more lives were needlessly lost. There have also been high levels of corruption and high levels of unemployment and poverty. Nevertheless, the country has been able to create a democracy that has peaceful transitions of power. Although Iraq was able to create a democracy, the instability caused by the war almost prevented democracy from being achieved.

Looking at the consequences of the Iraq war may feel overwhelming, but it is necessary to understand why Congress must overturn its authorization. America is trying to have its cake and eat it by leaving open the possibility of putting troops back in. Some politicians, like Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, have stated that repealing the authorization will make the region more dangerous. His view is a continuation of the misguided thinking that led to the high levels of distrust in America that are still pervasive today. The way to end this distrust is by revoking the 2002 law, which would show a commitment to ending the era of American military intervention. 

Although America should end its military intervention, it shouldn’t stop interacting with the world. It is still the most powerful nation in the world and should use that power to promote human rights and healthy societies around the world. One example of this would be PEPFAR. The Federal Government created it to improve the treatment of HIV around the world, and it cost $100 billion. Its price tag compared to the cost of the Iraq war is peanuts. PEPFAR has gone on to save 25 million lives around the world since its founding in 2003. When the United States puts its money towards programs like PEPFAR, instead of military interventions, it helps the world thrive. If Congress repeals the 2002 law and begins making more positive global investments, American citizens and the international community will begin to trust the government again.

Evan McManus, FCRH ’25, is a political science major from Dover, Mass.