Iraqi and American soldiers, 2007

Who lost Iraq? All of the above.

Supported by post-9/11 bloodlust among the American people, Congress and the media, the Bush administration invaded a relatively stable country amid the volatile Middle East.

Procounsel Paul Bremer almost immediately disbanded the two elements that held Iraq together—the civil service, including the police, and the army.

The U.S. military first stood aside as chaos and looting engulfed the country, then responded with ever-increasing violence, as represented by the medieval siege of Fallujah.

Near comic-failures in reconstruction by contractors, the State Department and USAID, outlined in my book.

Unnecessary violence toward civilians by mercenaries like Blackwater; and CIA torture in Iraq and elsewhere all ensured that no hearts and minds would be won.

Failing to impose a unity government through nine years of occupation, the U.S. Embassy stood on the sidelines as the Iranians brokered the election of Prime Minister Maliki in 2010, and then stood helpless again as the newly empowered Shias led by Maliki almost immediately turned against the violent Sunni minority, almost begging al Qaeda to come in as their protectors.

The Obama administration funded al Qaeda elements in Syria and clumsily unleashed stores of weapons from Libya into the mix.

The failure to close Guantanamo kept the pool of jihadi fighters well motivated. The final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 served almost as a mercy killing for our failed policy.

Given the foundational mistake of destroying a country in hopes of rebuilding it, perhaps we should better ask, prior to the next U.S. military action, “Could we have not lost Iraq?”

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Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is available now for preorder from Amazon.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jacob H. Smith