Robert D. Kaplan, (c) 2018, Foreign Policy, in the Chicago Tribune
The United States intervened militarily in Iraq in 2003, 15 years ago this month, and the result was war and chaos. But the United States did not intervene in Syria in 2011 when the regime there was challenged, and the result was still war and chaos.
Though the media has interpreted the past decade and a half of armed conflict in the Levant exclusively through the failure of U.S. policy, the fact that the policy in Syria was 180-degrees different from the one in Iraq and yet the result was the same indicates that there has to be a deeper, more fundamental force at work in both countries that journalists and historians must acknowledge. . . .
Of course, the very consequences of how Baathism had left a complete abyss underneath the facade of Saddam’s tyranny should have been foremost in Americans’ minds before we invaded. But it was the triumphalism resulting from U.S. victories over the other totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century – over Nazism in 1945 and communism in 1989 – that lay at the root of its hubris in Iraq in 2003. For if American intervention could heal Nazi Germany after 1945 and dramatically improve formerly communist Yugoslavia in the 1990s, nothing was off-limits, or so it seemed.
Thus, the dissolution of Iraq was a culmination of sorts: It revealed the utter emptiness of Baathist ideology on the one hand and the end of American imperial-like, unipolar dominance on the other. And as Iraq crumbled into bloody mayhem in the years following the U.S. invasion, the 20th century in the true historical sense finally came to an end.