Iraq War Regrets?
Reflections on the present state of affairs

Refugees fleeing advancing ISIS forces near Khazair. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)



As Christians and other religious minorities are persecuted and forced to flee from Iraq, National Review Online asked a variety of veterans, theologians, academics, historians, and writers for their analysis: Should those who made the case for war in Iraq feel remorse, given the current situation there? How should we think about the recent past and future there and our involvement? Should people of religious faith who made the case for war feel a particular responsibility?

E. Christian Brugger

Few political blunders in the last 60 years have been more damaging to life and culture than the launching and prosecuting of the 2003 Iraq war. Aside from leading to the deaths of over 120,000 civilians and the “cleansing” of the Iraqi Christian community, it thrust our country into a debt crisis from which there may be no return; it discredited U.S. conservatism by linking it to the hawkish “Bush doctrine”; it alienated moderates and paved the way for the election of Barack Obama, which heralded social revolutions in sex, marriage, and anti-Christianity the successes of which I say the president himself could hardly have imagined when he first took office. 

Shame is the proper response to the judgment that we’ve done something wrong, not just to getting caught. But if nothing else works, public exposure can have salutary effects. Now that the definitive failure of our “nation building” experiment in Iraq has been devastatingly exposed, nobody but the most intrepid hawk would dare say we did the right thing in March 2003.

Defenders of the invasion should have felt shame long ago, certainly no later than September 2006, when the Senate released its second of two damning reports on Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs: There were no WMDs — anywhere! Many, however, including in my own house (i.e., among Christian conservatives), still clung to the conviction that at least the world was better off without Saddam. Is it now also better off without Iraqi Christians?

For our own souls and the souls of many thousands who depend upon our response, it’s time for people of religious faith who made the case for the 2003 Iraq war to confess publicly our error and unhinge our political carts from the horse of easy war.

— Dr. E. Christian Brugger is a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.


Robert Destro

All American politicians and pundits should feel remorse for the current situation in Iraq. By going into Iraq with no real sense of the ethno-cultural, religious, and political dynamics of the region, we unleashed forces that we still do not understand. We created — and our withdrawal guarantees — a power vacuum that hobbles the Kurds, disenfranchises the Sunni tribes, and treats the religious leaders of the Shia and the Sunni as if their views are irrelevant to the creation and maintenance of a pluralistic democracy. Small wonder that an Iraqi priest visiting Washington recently remarked: “Thank you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, for destroying my country.”

Speaking privately in late May, a high-ranking Iranian politician observed that the United States does not think strategically. “The United States is dealing with terrorism tactically,” he said, and “the failure of your efforts can be measured empirically. Has terrorism increased or decreased?”  The Islamic State–led genocide answers that question in blood.

What now? There is a war going on for the soul of Islam. Groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram are the result. People of religious faith on both sides need to think strategically about one overarching question: What does a good outcome in Iraq look like?  Actively engaging the religiously motivated actors in the region — especially Iran — should be our first priority.

Robert A. Destro is a professor of law and the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C.


David French

I don’t feel remorse for advocating that America topple Saddam Hussein. I don’t feel remorse that Americans also fought long and hard to defeat the subsequent insurgency and create a stable (though highly imperfect) Iraqi state. In fact, we largely succeeded. The Iraq of 2008 was a more stable, more humane, and more peaceful country than the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. In 2011, even President Obama was proclaiming the progress.

I don’t feel remorse, but I do feel rage. I feel rage that President Obama threw aside the pleas of coalition partners in Iraq not to pull American forces entirely out of Iraq. I feel rage that he persisted in his hands-off approach even if it became abundantly clear that the jihadist threat was growing once again.

In this war, as in virtually every American war, we made serious mistakes — especially early — but we corrected those mistakes and brought our enemy to the very brink of ultimate defeat. But unlike in prior conflicts, our political leaders chose not to finish the job. They chose to abandon Iraq, forgetting a fundamental truth: Wars do not end simply because one side chooses to stop fighting.

— David French is a Senior Counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice and a veteran of the Iraq War.


Yazidi Refugee Crisis
As ISIS forces continue their advance in Iraq, cutting a swath of terror and destruction in their path, the fate of a tiny Kurdish religious community trapped in a mountainous region of northern Iraq has refocused world attention on the fighting there. Here’s a look at the crisis facing the Yazidi people.
The United Nations estimates that some 400,000 people have been displaced since June when ISIS forces first began their drive into Iraq form neighboring Syria. Iraqi government forces have had mixed success standing and fighting, as have Kurdish pershmerga forces in the region.
When ISIS overran the city of Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis fled for their lives, and in the chaos as many as 50,000 became trapped in a mountainous area near the city without sufficient food and water and facing advancing ISIS forces at every turn.
Last week, President Barack Obama authorized airdrops of relief aid to to Yazidis trapped in the mountains as well as airstrikes on ISIS forces threatening the Yazidis and American military advisors working with the central Iraqi government. Pictured, an F/A-18 readies to launch from the USS George H.W. Bush.
F/A-18 Hornet fighters lift off from USS George H.W. Bush, currently on station in the Persian Gulf, for a mission over Iraq.
Pallets laden with water and other emergency relief supplies fill the cargo hold of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globdemaster II aircraft.
Said President Obama: “These innocent families are faced with a horrible choice: Descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.” Pictured, Yazidis crowd around a pallet that has delivered relief supplies from the United States.
Humanitarian aid is loaded into a Royal Air Force cargo plane in Norton, England.
Kurdish and Iraqi military have also delivered relief supplies to Yazidis trapped in the mountains, and have airlifted some to safety.
After success in an initial round of relief-aid airdrops and airstrikes on ISIS forces — with officials estimating as many as 20,000 Yazidis having successfully escaped — plans for a larger U.S.-led evacuation of Yazidis has been put on hold.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been on the front lines against the invading ISIS forces and have been instrumental in saving many Yazidi lives. Pictures, peshmerga fighters on the front line at Makhmur, 175 miles north of Baghdad.
A Kurdish peshmerga man shows a picture of his daughter, who lives with his family in England, from the front lines near Gwer.
Armed members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units guard Yazidis as they journey towards the Syrian border.
Female members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units tend to a woman and her child.
Kurdish peshmerga troops distribute water to Yazidi refugees at the Fishkhabur crossing.
Thousands of Yazidi are still on the move across northern Iraq. Pictures, Yazidi regufees on the outskirts of the Sinjar mountains near Eilerbeh.
Crossing the Iraq-Syria border at the Fishkhabur bridge over the Tigris River. Border officials believe some 45,000 Yazidis crossed the river in the past week.
U.S. and Kurdish flags stand on the Iraqi side of the border.
Though many have escaped to at least temporary safety, the toll has been staggering, both at the hands of ISIS forces and in the chaotic flight form the region. Pictured, a Kurdish flag covers the grave of a child in who died of malnutrition in a cemetery in the Kurdish city of Dohuk.
Yazidis gather in a refugee camp in Derike, Syria.
A young Yazidi girl near the Iraq-Syria border.
A Yazidi woman and child at the Bajid Kandala refugee camp.
A Yazidi woman and her child seek shelter in Zakhao, Iraq.
AN ANCIENT COMMUNITY: The tiny Yazidi community is centered in Iraq, mainly in the region of the city of Sinjar, where they settled in the 12th century. Pictured, Yazidi men kiss the ground at a temple in Lalish, the spiritual home of the Yazidi, in the mountains near Dohuk.
According to figures from the U.S. State Department, approximately 500,000 Yazidis live in the northern and largely Kurdish region of Iraq; another 200,000 live outside Iraq, including in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, and elsewhere. Pictured, Yazidi children at a religious school in Baghdad in 2006.
Yazidis, who are mainly ethnic Kurds, practice a monotheistic religion that draws from Christianity, Judaisim and Zoroastrianism. Pictured, the entrance to the Sheik Abi ibn Mussafir temple in Lalish.
According to CNN’s Belief blog: “Yazidis worship one God and honor seven angels. Unlike Muslims and Christians, they reject the idea of sin, the devil and Hell itself.”
CNN’s Belief Blog also notes that: ‘Many Muslims regard them as devil-worshippers because Yazidis revere an angel who, their tradition holds, refused to obey God.” Pictured, Yazidi men sweep a temple courtyard.
Yazidis have faced persecution around the world. In Turkey, they are looked down upon as both non-Muslims and ethnic Kurds. In Georgia and Armenia, they were brutalized by Muslim nationalist organizations after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Updated: Aug. 14, 2014