The United States is still dealing with the consequences of the invasion of Iraq 20 years ago, including the strengthening of Iran, the erosion of influence in the region and the need to maintain forces in the country and in Syria to fight the "Islamic State" (ISIS) organization - this is what current and former American officials have said.
According to them, the decision of then President George W.
Bush to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime by force, the sectarian conflict that erupted during the American presence and the eventual withdrawal of the United States in 2011 all complicated American policy in the Middle East.
The fall of Saddam's Sunni minority rule and its replacement by a majority Shiite government in Iraq freed Iran to deepen its influence across the region, particularly in Syria, where Iranian forces and Shiite militias helped Bashar al-Assad crush a Sunni insurgency and stay in power.
The USA was based on false and incorrect intelligence. Bush against the background of the "Mission Accomplished" sign, 2003 (Photo: Reuters)
The withdrawal of the United States from Iraq in 2011 left a vacuum that was filled by ISIS, which captured about a third of the territory of Iraq and Syria, and increased concerns among the Gulf countries that they cannot trust the United States.
Three years after the withdrawal, President Barack Obama sent back troops to Iraq in 2014, and about 2,500 of them remained in the country.
A year later, he also deployed troops in Syria, where about 900 American soldiers are currently operating.
American forces in both countries are fighting ISIS militants, who are terrorizing from North Africa to Afghanistan.
"Our inability and desire to act quickly in terms of the security of the country opened the door to chaos, which led to the growth of ISIS," said former US Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who cited Washington's failures to maintain Iraq's security.
Armitage, who served under Bush during the US invasion of Iraq, said the invasion "could be a major strategic mistake" like Nazi Germany's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, whose failure led to its defeat in World War II.
"The worst mistake after his overthrow - the withdrawal in 2011".
Saddam during his trial, 2006 (Photo: Reuters)
The price of American involvement in Iraq and Syria is enormous.
According to estimates published this month by the "Cost of War" project at Brown University, the amount invested by the United States in these wars is 1.79 trillion dollars, including the expenses of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, care of veterans and the interest on the debts accumulated from their financing.
Calculating the expenses for the care of veterans until 2050, the amount reaches 2.89 trillion dollars.
According to the project's estimates, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Syria in the last 20 years is 4,599, while the total number of dead in both countries - civilians, military personnel, police, opposition fighters, journalists and others - ranges between 550 thousand and 584 thousand.
These include only those killed directly as a result of the conflicts, but not indirect deaths resulting from disease, displacement or starvation.
The level of credibility of the United States was also damaged by Bush's decision to invade based on fake, exaggerated and ultimately wrong intelligence about weapons of mass destruction allegedly in the possession of the Saddam regime.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed.
Displaced persons in a refugee camp in the Mosul area, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
John Bolton, one of the supporters of the war who served under Bush, said that although Washington made mistakes - by failing to deploy enough troops and managing Iraq instead of quickly transferring responsibility to the Iraqis - he believes that removing Saddam justified the costs.
"It was worth it because the decision wasn't just 'Is Saddam a WMD threat in 2003?'" he said.
"Another question was: 'Will he be a WMD threat five years later?'
I think the answer to that was clearly 'yes'."
According to him, "the worst mistake made after the overthrow of Saddam was the withdrawal in 2011."
Bolton added that he believed Obama wanted to back down and used the inability to get guarantees from Iraq's parliament for immunity for American forces "as an excuse."
Pro-Iranian Shia militia fighters in Baghdad, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
Ryan Crocker, who was the US ambassador to Iraq, said the 2003 invasion did not immediately hurt American influence in the Gulf, but the withdrawal in 2011 caused Arab countries to limit the amount of their bets.
In the latest example of the decline of the influence of the United States in the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced this month the renewal of their relations at the end of secret talks mediated by China.
"We just decided we don't want to do these things anymore," Crocker said, referring to the United States' unwillingness to continue pouring blood and resources to keep Iraq safe.
"It started when President Obama announced that he planned to withdraw all forces."
"These were decisions that the United States made without being imposed on it through economic collapse or street protests," he said.
"Our leadership just decided we didn't want to do it anymore. And then the alarm bells started ringing in the Gulf."
Jim Steinberg, who served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, said the war raised deep questions about Washington's willingness to act unilaterally and about being a reliable partner.
"The result was bad for the leverage ability of the United States, bad for the influence of the United States, bad for our ability to cooperate with countries in the region," he said.
Among the members of the administration who were involved in the war throughout its years, there is still a lively debate about Obama's decision to withdraw, following the timetable defined by Bush, which was reflected in the failure of the United States to receive from the Iraqi parliament a promise to grant immunity to the American forces.
Not many share Bolton's belief that the overthrow of Saddam was worth the price the United States paid.
When asked what is the first word that comes to their mind in relation to the invasion and its consequences, Armitage replied "FUBAR", an English acronym that loosely translates to "screwed beyond recognition".
"A disaster," described Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to wartime Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"Not necessary," said Steinberg.
the Middle East