Editor's Note: With the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq upon us, reason staffers look at where they were when the shooting began in 2003—and where they are now. In 2006, reason published an "Iraq Progress Report," in which "advocates for liberty weigh in after three years" and the June 2006 cover story featured three views on "'Mission Accomplished,' Three Years Later." For an archive of reason's Iraq coverage, go here.
Radley Balko, Senior Editor:
In the lead-up to the war, I was suspicious of the Bush administration's assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, dubious that the federal government is capable of building a liberal society in Iraq from scratch, and in general opposed to the idea of attacking a country that had no discernible ties to the September 11 attacks. Like most people, my positions were based on the assumption that there were actually weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That we now know there weren't only makes the decision to go to war more regrettable. My position hasn't changed at all.
As for what we should do now, I really can't see any option other than a plan to withdraw troops as soon as possible. Yes, it will be disastrous. But it seems to me this is a pill we're either going to have to swallow now or later, the difference being that swallowing it later will only mean more U.S. casualties in the meantime. We can't pay the Sunnis not to attack us forever (or maybe we can, but we shouldn't). The New York Times mentioned a striking figure in an editorial the other day. For all the talk about pork barrel spending, the total amount of federal spending in all congressional earmarks combined would fund the war in Iraq for about two months. This has been a colossal waste of blood, treasure, and global goodwill.
It's worth noting that it was the crazy, wild-eyed libertarian foreign policy experts who predicted what would happen in Iraq almost to the letter. Yet for reasons that escape me, the neoconservatives who got everything so massively wrong are still taken seriously, and get huge platforms from which to denigrate opponents of the war as "unserious."
Nick Gillespie, Editor, reason.tv and reason online:
After almost 4,000 U.S. deaths, and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and trillions of dollars poured into the desert sands, Americans have gone from "shock and awe" to something approaching "Aw, shucks." According to data from the American Enterprise Institute, the think tank often credited with providing intellectual grounding for the Iraq War, 59 percent of Americans say the war was a mistake and 60 percent want a timetable for pulling troops out. Given a similar percentage favored invading Iraq in the spring of 2003, that just might be too little, too late.
I was never in favor of invading Iraq, which I thought was a bait and switch from the 9/11 attacks engineered by a Bush administration whose "War on Terror" had run out of steam given its inability to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. When U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein (a man who makes me want to believe in hell, just so he can get what he deserves for all eternity), the Americans hubristically pulled a page from the playbook of Shelley's overreaching Ozymandias, and replaced one "colossal wreck" of a regime with another. It's incredibly dispiriting how arrogant and stupid the U.S. forces were when it came to losing the peace, but really, more of us should have seen it coming.
The question I worry about is what American foreign policy will look like five years hence. I'm not a pacifist, and I don't think that military intervention is always a bad thing (ideally, it should be used like Astroglide: sparingly and after a lot of foreplay). But I don't think we've learned very much as a country from the Iraq mess, other than not to rely too much on retreads from the Ford administration to call the shots. I certainly don't think John McCain, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, much less their advisors, have learned much from recent mistakes. Some of them are more ready to bow down to popular opinion but really, that's no way to conduct foreign policy. As a country, we're still a long way away from even starting a conversation that will yield a post-Cold War consensus on how the U.S. should act as a military power. That's not just a bad thing, it really dishonors those who have sacrificed life and limb over the past five years.
Kerry Howley, Senior Editor:
I don't remember where I was when the war started, or when the war turned one, or two, or three, or four. I was in college for the flashy beginning, in Burma for much of the following two years, where the war presented itself as a daily collage of gruesome black and white pictures in the junta's state press. The quality of the print was so bad that many of the pictures just looked smudged. You had to look for the black spaces, and imagine blood.
When I came back, the war was as it is now-hard to imagine and easy to ignore. Every liberty lost here is an abstraction. I have only the vaguest idea of what Nisour Square looks like; my image of Fallujah consists of charred bodies hanging from a single bridge. I can't fathom what it means for a collective to have lost 100,000 people prematurely, or for a state to waste $2 trillion it does not have. Few people I know have ventured out of the Green Zone, and no one I know has been hurt. What do I think about the Iraq War as it enters its sixth year? I think it seems tragic and brutal and criminal, and very far away.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, Associate Editor:
In March 2003, I was just a few months out of college and I had already helped start a war.