How The Iraq War Crippled U.S. Military Power

Nathan Freier | Defense One | May 1, 2014

...Among world events nudging global insecurity toward new levels of danger are the tense rivalry between China and Japan, Russia’s ongoing proxy invasion of Ukraine, North Korea’s continued provocations, and the greater Middle East and South Asia’s persistent threat of contagious civil conflict. The U.S. appears paralyzed in the face of potential catastrophe, responding timidly with one arm clearly tied behind its back. In almost every case, bold collective action, including a potential show or limited use of military force, would serve to communicate resolve, reassure friends and, if necessary, compel adversaries to back down. Among our still-potent instruments of power, U.S. armed forces still have the most distinctive competitive advantage.

Yet, Iraq’s long shadow has made consideration of even a modest use of force unpalatable to policy elites and the public at large.

The decline of American military influence actually began with 9/11 and the reflexive response to a growing threat the U.S. government never completely understood. It was exacerbated by the impetuous decision to go to war against Iraq in March 2003. Eleven years on, this course will be difficult to reverse. Iraq’s greatest risk, after all, was always less about whether or not we’d successfully destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime and much more about the future implications of choosing to fight in Iraq in the first place. From the very beginning, there was a real chance that great cost, misfortune or — worse — failure in Iraq would deter decisive U.S. leadership at a future time and place of much greater need...