Consequences of the Iraq War

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The Iraq war began on March 20th, 2003 and extended until December 18th, 2011. President George W. Bush had imposed a deadline for Saddam Hussein to either leave Iraq or go to war. Not long after the Americans invaded, Hussein went into hiding and his regime was overturned (History). This was a huge success for the U.S., as Hussein was considered a substantial threat to the Middle East and was suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction. As well as the overthrowing of Hussein, President Bush also used the lack of democracy in Iraq as a justification for the war. He thought that by overthrowing Hussein he could use Iraq to set an example to other countries by scattering ideals of pro-Western democracy (Perle). While in the end the main goal of ending Husseins dictatorship hold over Iraq may have been met, the invasion of Iraq was not justified.

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“Consequences of the Iraq War”

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No matter what type of view one takes, every sensible theory points to the war in Iraq being unjust. Starting with the obvious, from a pacifist point of view, wars and violence in general are morally wrong. Considering how Iraq was in no way an immediate threat to the United States, a pacifist who already thinks conflict should be settled by peaceful means, would disagree with how it was handled.

The main normative principle that would argue against the justification of the Iraq war would be the just war theory. According to the Just War Theory, there are six main criteria a war must meet in order to be considered just: Just cause, proportionate cause, right intention, right authority, reasonable chance of success, and last resort (Carter). This could also be tied to a consequentialist view, as the proportionality is just the weights of costs of the war in comparison to benefits. During war, many lives are lost and the effects of war can torment countries for years after they end, forever changing the lives of their citizens. Because of this the idea of turning to war cannot be something taken lightly and must hit every requirement of the just war theory.

The first part of the just war theory states that the war must be just and initiated due to the correct reasons. The effects of war can be so destructive it can leave countries in ruin for years to come. By initiating war with the correct reasons, the chances of a meaningless war that leaves permanent damage is lessened. In terms of the Iraq War, this one is more of a grey area. At the time Iraq was under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, a man who in 1988 sent poison gas to the Northern Kurdish village of Halabja, causing a massacre of around 5,000 of his own citizens he suspected of being disloyal (MacFarquhar). President Bush gave Hussein 90 minutes to decide to either leave Iraq or face war with the United States. Bush also suspected Iraq was hiding unconventional weapons of mass destruction that could become a threat to the States. However, CIA director George Tenet later claimed Bush was lying by testifying We said that Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009 (Matthews).

This did not stop President Bush from passing the Iraq Resolution in October of 2002, a declaration that allowed the United States to use any means necessary against Iraq. The resolution would be justified if Hussein did have these weapons, but with most evidence pointing against Iraq and Hussein being an immediate threat against the United States, the cause for the war seems to be for the profit of the U.S. By removing Saddam Hussein from power, the U.S. hoped to use Iraq as an example and push them towards democracy in the Middle East. However, this would only be possible with long-term commitment from the United States, and as will be shown later in this essay, that is not what happened.

Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq for more than 30 years and in that time it is estimated around 500,000 Iraqi people perished under his regime, many due to the war with Iran (Burns). This justifies the second part of the just war theory, the last resort. If the situation isnt one of last resort, one can argue there were other means to an end besides violence in destruction. In this case, it was thought that the only way to save the innocent civilians was to kill the aggressors; in this case, Saddam Hussein. In examples of other wars, such as World War II in the case of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one can argue the bombings were unjust, as Japan was willing to negotiate, but instead of taking that opportunity the United States instead dropped two bombs on these Japanese cities. This caused long term effects of radiation poisoning in civilians that many historians claim could have easily been prevented. However, unlike Japan, Hussein was unwilling to end his regime, claiming he was destined by God to rule Iraq forever (Burns). The Bush administrations primary reasonings for the Iraq War may have been suspicious, but the situation surrounding Iraq and the treatment of civilians would justify it as a last resort.

For a war to be just under just war theory, there must also be an announcement of intention. Without such an announcement, there is no chance for a peaceful solution to be sought out or for bloodshed to be avoided. The Iraq war meets this criteria since, as stated before, Bush did give Hussein an ultimatum: resign from power or be prepared for war. In his speech given from the Cross Hall in the White House, he declared Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. The message was heard in Iraq through a translated radio broadcast and included messages for both Iraqi citizen and militia. Bush stated that if things were to turn to war, the war would be against the Hussein regime and during the war the U.S. would work to send food and medicine to civilians and help rebuild Iraq. In regards to the military, he warned the war was an uphill battle and encouraged them to listen to United States instructions on acts such as allowing entry of coalition forces in order to avoid attack.

The fifth criteria suggested by the just war theory is the weight of costs vs benefits, also known as the proportionality. If a war has more predicted costs than benefits, a consequentialist as well as a just war theorists would argue it was overall unjust. A consequentialist believes the entirety of determining if a war is just or not relies on what the consequences are and if the positives outweigh the negatives. For example, if a war ends with hundreds of thousands of casualties, many of them civilians, and the only good that comes from the war is a minor conflict between the two countries is solved, the war was unjust. Therefore, it can be argued the Iraq war did not meet this criteria and was unjust in both a just war theorist and consequentialist point of view.

Looking at the positives that came out of the Iraq war, there were very few and most benefits came as a double edged sword. A good example of this double edged sword, would be the banding of ISIS after the fall of Hussein. After the war, Iraqs destroyed political system led to an insurgency and a civil war which gave rise to groups such as ISIS (Helfont and Brill). Husseins reign may have ended, but without assistance the U.S. had promised in rebuilding Iraq, the country fell to chaos. Saddam Hussein may have ruled Iraq with an iron fist, but his extreme measures against those who opposed his rule and his intolerance for extremist groups made it difficult for groups such as ISIS to rise up. A common misconception links Hussein to extremist group Al Qaeda, but a 2006 report of Phase II by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that there was a lack of solid evidence connecting Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda (Weisman). Better the devil you know than the devil you dont is a common saying that can apply to Iraq in the time around the war. While Hussein was a terrifying and destructive dictator, once he was overthrown and extremist groups took over, the citizens of Iraq were faced with new instability they were unprepared for.

Further consequences of the Iraq war were the suggested over 250,000 deaths that resulted from invasion and societal collapse (Matthews). The Bush administration promised to help build Iraq and create democracy, a feat that would take years of commitment, and they failed to do so. This effort would be such a long running one, as Iraq was not in a state that was ready for Western democracy. Iraq has a historical divide between the Sunni and Shia Muslims and as the Shia are a majority, attempts at democracy would lead to an unequal distribution of power and lead to deposition (Byman and Pollack). To sum it up, the Iraq war cost the United States an estimated $5.6 trillion dollars and left Iraq with a political and societal collapse (Savell).

A main theme continuing through the Iraq war was President Bushs suspicious and somewhat unclear intentions for starting the war. If the war was just, another requirement would be the intentions must have been right and motivated by the justification. While the justness of his reasonings may have been more of an unclear grey area, Bushs intentions were not motivated by the justification. As was previously stated, one of President Bushs primary justifications for the war were the supposed evidence that Iraq was hiding weapons that were an immediate threat to the U.S.; a claim proven to be false. Due to this fact, it can be argued that Bushs intentions were indeed not motivated by the justification he proposed. So much of Bushs motivation for the Iraq war was held by Saddam Husseins weapons and their power over the Middle East and the United States that knowing it has been disproved that Iraq possessed such weapons toppels his argument.

In any war, side constraints are necessary for the just conduct criteria to be met. These constraints whether following guidelines set by Murphy or those by Anscombe, are to prevent unnecessary deaths, especially among civilians. According to Murphy, The Duty not to Kill states that no matter what the situation it is always morally wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being (Roojen). These constraints are required in times of war, because there must be limits to what violent acts can be committed. There must be some set of boundaries set aside, many in the form of laws, to prevent the slaughter of innocents. If these constraints were not created, there would be nothing holding forces from any side back from committing immoral acts against even the most defenseless of citizens.

When applied to the Iraq war, the largest disregard to Murphys constraint would be the war crimes committed on November 19th, 2005, by a unit of Marines in the town of Haditha. In retaliation of the death of a comrade, these United States forces killed 24 innocent Iraqi civilians, including children and women. A report was issued by the U.S. military denying the crime and stating the civilians died in accidental crossfire, but investigations of the bullets showed they were only fired from two rifles (Baghdad). Direct attacks against civilians are deemed unlawful and a breach of the Geneva Conventions: international laws created to establish humane treatment of people during war times. A violation of these protocols is a primary offense of both Murphys principle and the just war theory just conduct criteria.

Subsequently, while due to differences in political opinion and all the happenings that still remain unclear there is no way to objectively declare a war to be just or unjust, in terms of pacifism, just war theory, and even consequentialism, the invasion of Iraq cannot be vindicated. Even with so much apprehensiveness surrounding many aspects of what really happened during the war and theories encompassing President Bushs rationality for it, too many constraints of both moral and legal value were broken. One may take into account how outcomes cannot always be foreseen, but the great majority of these could have been predicted and taken into account. Even to this day, the effects of this war can be seen and it can be used as an example of how consequences like these stick around for years to come.


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Consequences Of The Iraq War. (2019, May 17). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from

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