How Iraq Was Won and Lost

2,858,085 Views
Aug 14, 2017

What if people have the war in Iraq backwards? What if George W. Bush and the U.S. military won it, and Barack Obama and the Democrats gave it away? Well, we don't have to wonder what if, because Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq, explains what happened.

While President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is subject to debate, at the time, the war had overwhelming support.

  • According to a Pew Research study, 72 percent of Americans saw the war as the right decision in March 2003.View Source
  • In the U.S. Senate, 58 percent of Democrats voted in favor of the Authorization of Military Force, and 39.2 percent of Democrats in the House. The list of Democratic votes included Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Harry Reid.View Source
  • A coalition of 30 countries supported the war, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Australia.View Source
  • WATCH: “Did Bush Lie About Iraq?” – Judith MillerView Source

MYTH: The Republicans forced America into the Iraq War. REALITY: 58% of Senate Democrats voted for the war, including Clinton and Biden.

  • In the U.S. Senate, 58 percent of Democrats voted in favor of the Authorization of Military Force, and 39.2 percent of Democrats in the House. The list of Democratic votes included Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Harry Reid.View Source
  • Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton on the Iraq War in 2002: “Any vote that might lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction."View Source
  • WATCH: “Did Bush Lie About Iraq?” – Judith MillerView Source

So did Bush drag America into the Iraq War? No. Over 70% of Americans supported it, as did a majority of Senate Democrats. 

  • According to a Pew Research study, 72 percent of Americans saw the war as the right decision in March 2003.View Source
  • A majority of Senate Democrats (58 percent) voted in favor of the Authorization of Military Force, as did 39.2 percent of Democrats in the House.View Source
  • A coalition of 30 countries supported the war, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Australia.View Source
  • WATCH: “Did Bush Lie About Iraq?” – Judith MillerView Source

Instead of accepting strategic defeat in 2007 and leaving Iraq in chaos, Bush sent more troops—and turned the tide of the war.

  • In 2007, Democrats were predicting disaster in Iraq. Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid claimed the war was already lost.View Source
  • But the Surge didn’t result in failure; instead, it became a major military turnaround.View Source
  • In June 2007, nearly 30,000 troops were deployed, mostly in the Baghdad area, to improve security and lower violence.View Source
  • American monthly deaths fell from around 100 to fewer than 11 a month. Civilian casualties fell from 1700 to 500 a month.View Source
  • In Baghdad alone, attacks fell 60% from pre-surge levels.View Source
  • Al Qaeda was considered defeated and pushed out of Iraq.View Source
  • WATCH: Pete Hegseth on the success of the Surge.View Source
  • Related reading: “Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War” – Peter R. MansoorView Source

Who lost Iraq? In 2007, Bush’s “Surge” beat back al-Qaeda. In 2011, Obama ordered the withdrawal of the last troops—and chaos ensued. 

  • Marc A. Thiessen on Obama’s Iraq: “[Obama] inherited a pacified Iraq […] Militarily, thanks to Bush’s surge, coupled with the Sunni Awakening, al-Qaeda in Iraq [now ISIS] was driven from the strongholds it had established in Anbar and other Iraqi provinces. It controlled no major territory, and its top leader […] had been killed by US Special Operations forces.”View Source
  • While Iraq was certainly no Western-style democracy, it was—as General Petraeus dubbed it—a functioning “Iraqracy.”View Source
  • In a February 2009 speech to Marines at Camp Lejeune President Obama said: “The relative peace and strong participation in January’s provincial elections sent a powerful message to the world about how far Iraqis have come….”View Source
  • Vice President Joe Biden was even more enthusiastic a year later, when he said in February 2010: “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s going to be one of the greatest achievements of this [Obama] administration.”View Source
  • WATCH: Pete Hegseth on abandoning Iraq.View Source
  • Related reading: “The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008” – Thomas E. RicksView Source

Was the Iraq War a failure? The U.S. won the war, but against military advice, Obama withdrew too soon—and ISIS filled the vacuum.  

  • President Obama vowed during his 2008 campaign that he would bring all the troops home.View Source
  • According to Captain Pete Hegseth, “Campaign rhetoric (Afghanistan is the good war, Iraq the bad war) replaced measured judgment, and naïve rhetorical comforts (Iraq is better off without continued U.S. presence) replaced difficult realities.”View Source
  • It started when the Obama Administration got into a dispute with the Iraqi government over the “Status of Forces Agreement.” The Iraqi government wanted to be able to prosecute American soldiers who broke Iraqi law.View Source
  • The Obama Administration said no. But instead of continuing to work towards an agreement, the President ended negotiations.View Source
  • Obama’s decision to end American troop involvement was made against the advice of his own general.View Source
  • On Dec. 18, 2011, the last U.S. soldiers crossed the border into Kuwait. For the U.S. Military, the war was over.View Source
  • WATCH: Pete Hegseth on abandoning Iraq.View Source
  • Related reading: “Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War” – Peter R. MansoorView Source

Bush’s strategy decimated Islamist terror in Iraq, but Obama’s politically motivated withdrawal allowed it to return in force in ISIS.  

  • After President Obama ordered the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which had been forced from Iraq, was replaced by ISIS.View Source
  • With lack of U.S. influence, the ISIS threat gave Iran a pretext to operate freely in Iraq.View Source
  • Obama initially called ISIS the “JV team,” refusing to acknowledge the threat.View Source
  • In a 2016 interview Obama admitted, “The ability of ISIL to not just mass inside of Syria, but then to initiate major land offensives that took Mosul, for example, that was not on my intelligence radar screen,"View Source
  • Soon ISIS took Fallujah, Raqqa, Mosul and many other cities that American troops had secured at great cost.View Source
  • One third of U.S. deaths occurred in the Anbar province where Fallujah and Ramadi are located.View Source
  • WATCH: Pete Hegseth on ISIS as a political problem.View Source

The Iraq War was an absolute disaster – a historic mistake.

That’s probably what most Americans – not to mention most people around the world – would say. But is it true?

President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is subject to fair debate. But it’s important to recall that, at the time, the war had overwhelming bi-partisan support in the House and Senate. Dozens of allied countries joined the coalition. That support, however, quickly faded as causalities mounted and the war started to bog down.

Criticism then turned to blame when the weapons of mass destruction that were expected to be found were not. Nothing seemed to be going right. I know – I was there, serving as a lieutenant in the United States Army.

As 2007 dawned, President Bush faced a near total collapse in both public and political support for the war. He had to make an impossibly difficult decision: accept strategic defeat and leave Iraq in chaos, or send even more troops into battle. He chose the latter, a decision that came to be known as “The Surge.”

The Democrats predicted disaster. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader at the time, said, “This war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything.” Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton agreed.

They were all wrong.

Led by General David Petraeus, and supplemented by 30,000 additional troops, American forces and their Iraqi counterparts reversed the course of the war. It was one of the most stunning and successful turnabouts in modern military history.

In 2008, I returned to the country to see for myself. I had seen the “before.” I could hardly believe the “after.”

Attacks on US forces were down 90%. American casualties were rare. Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods were secure.  Al Qaeda in Iraq was decimated. The oil was flowing again. Iraqis were rebuilding.  And new elections were held.

This was the Iraq that President Barack Obama inherited when he took the oath of office on January 20, 2009.

Now, Iraq was certainly no Western-style democracy, but it was—as General Petraeus dubbed it—a functioning “Iraqracy.” So much so that, in a February 2009 speech to Marines at Camp Lejeune, President Obama said: “The relative peace and strong participation in January’s provincial elections sent a powerful message to the world about how far Iraqis have come.”

Vice President Joe Biden was even more enthusiastic a year later, when he said in February 2010: “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s going to be one of the greatest achievements of this administration.”

To put it mildly, it wasn’t.

So, what went wrong?

It started when the Obama Administration got into a dispute with the Iraqi government over something called a “Status of Forces Agreement.” The Iraqis said they wanted to be able to prosecute American soldiers who broke Iraqi law. Appropriately, the Obama Administration said no; we will prosecute our own law-breakers. But instead of continuing to work towards an agreement, the president, against the advice of his own generals, ended negotiations.

President Obama had said during his campaign that he would bring all the troops home, and the status-of-forces dispute gave him the perfect excuse to do just that.

On Dec. 18, 2011, the last U.S. soldiers crossed the border into Kuwait. The United States military was out of Iraq. The Iraq War was over for America, but it was about to begin again for Iraqis.

Islamist terror, which U.S. soldiers had successfully crushed, returned with a new vengeance, most prominently in the form of ISIS. And the fragile peace between Sunnis and Shia fell apart.

With America nowhere to be seen, Iraq’s neighbor to the east and America’s mortal enemy, Iran, filled the political vacuum while ISIS brutally exploited the security vacuum.

Initially dismissed by President Obama as the “jayvee team,” ISIS took control of a large part of the country. Its black flag soon flew over Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, and many other cities that American troops had secured at such great cost.

The war that George W. Bush had won, Barack Obama had lost.

The painful lesson is this: resolve works, and retreat doesn’t. When America commits to military victory, as it did during the Surge, it can defeat its enemies. But when America retreats for political reasons, it loses. And so do millions of others.

I’m Pete Hegseth for Prager University.

Download a PDF of this Transcript

PragerU is changing the minds of millions worldwide.Help us keep our videos FREE!

More 5-Minute Ideas

How Do You Deal With Painful Truths? Left vs. Right #4

2M Views

Coolidge: The Best President You Don't Know

1.8M Views