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The Iraq War is still ongoing so it is difficult to determine if it is a success. The Iraq War can be seen as an unexpected detour from a previous, serious war—the War on Terror that began with the terrorist attacked on the September 11, 2001, when Islamic jihadists hijacked airplanes and flew them in the Twin Towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in rural Pennsylvania. At the time it was not obvious a target in the developing war would be Iraq. Nevertheless, it would soon be the central front in a war that it was originally very marginal to. The arguments for and against the invasion were bitterly put forward and defended.

For those who believed the war was necessary, Saddam Hussein was a menace and was hurting his own people.. This argument played upon the noblest American sentiments and called for a sense of American exceptionalism: the idea that the rules and norms of international law should not always apply to the United States because its instincts are more noble than other countries. Indeed, there is something to this, but it is also important to realize that taking over Iraq would be very useful for additional American foreign policy purposes.

In Iraq what appeared to be a simple mission of liberation soon turned bloody. Defeating Iraq’s conventional forces was simple; defeating a wide array of disgruntled guerrillas was much less so. The Americans had trouble understanding and gaining sympathy from the local population who saw them as invaders and colonials. In the beginning they used a heavy hand and did not spend enough time trying to improve the lives of the local population by building up services and improving the quality of life. It was not until General Petraeus came along and put in place a policy of “build and hold” which began to treat the Iraq mission as not just a war, but an operation that required significant local construction, development, and negotiation, that Iraq began to turn around—much as the Philippines had a century before. It appears Iraq is now on the same path as the Philippines, towards a functioning democratic state that will allow its people countless more opportunities than the previous regime could ever offer.

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But that is not how opponents of the war see things. They feel that the war was for oil or was to avenge Bush's father's failure to kill Saddam in the first Gulf War. They see American foreign policy as driven solely by economic motives. They also point out that the war was based on a “lie” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. For man opponents of the war, the subsequent deaths and set backs throughout the first few years were very demoralizing. They do not believe that the qualified success that Iraq now enjoys has been worth it.        

The war in Iraq led to profound debate and discussion about America’s role in the world. One side believed America has a special place in the world as a defender of freedom, the other that America should turn a blind eye to tyranny. In the end, it appears the first argument has won out over the second argument.

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