Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Reflecting on Iraq at Ten Years

Montage of Iraq War Images.

Clockwise from top: Delta Force of Task Force 20 alongside troops of 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, at Uday Hussain and Qusay Hussein’s hideout.; Iraqi insurgents in northern Iraq; an Iraqi insurgent firing a MANPADS; the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square. PD.

Today’s guest post is by Nicholas Sparks, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and intern in the Presidential Recording Program. Sparks is a fourth year student studying History, Political Philosophy, Policy and Law at the University of Virginia.

This week marks the tenth anniversary Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 20, 2003, a U.S.-led invasion force entered Iraq through the Persian Gulf and began to secure southern port cities and oil fields in a quick and decisive operation. By April 9, Baghdad had fallen and Saddam Hussein’s 24-year reign was over. The Iraq War, however, would not end until late 2011, by which time it had claimed countless Iraqi lives, over 4,400 American lives, and cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars, not to mention other geopolitical side effects.

For good or for bad, the War in Iraq will forever be tied to the legacy of President George W. Bush. In his last year in office, Bush marked the ongoing war’s fifth anniversary by praising the coalitions forces that had “removed a tyrant, liberated a country, and rescued millions from unspeakable horrors.” Explaining broad, long-term strategic goals, Bush argued that by nurturing democracy in Iraq, “we will help free societies take root [in the Middle East].” He had stressed similar themes in his 2004 State of the Union address, framing the mission as a means of building goodwill and defeating seeds of terrorism in the region. “As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger,” Bush explained, “it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends.”

Ten years later, Operation Iraqi Freedom leaves a complicated legacy for many Americans. Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman remembers the lack of critical media coverage during the initial months of the invasion in 2003. To oppose the war in the media ten years ago, Krugman writes, was a “career-ending” decision. International news outlets continue to grapple with the ramifications of the Iraq War as well. This month, for instance, London-based The Guardian reported a public inquiry regarding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by British and American forces in 2004. More noticeable, though, is the general lack of intense media coverage of the anniversary. Krugman calls it suspect. Perhaps it is the product of a people that is eager to move on.