In Iraq, the sectarian guerrilla war set off by the invasion goes on, the suicide bombers continue their work, hundreds of Iraqis die in horrific violence every month. That most Americans would prefer to ignore this does not alter the reality that we live in a world the Iraq war has made. Before the war, Iraq had served the United States as a check on the revolutionary ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran—a “tilt” to Iraq that Donald Rumsfeld had personally set on course, during talks with Saddam in Baghdad in 1983 as President Reagan’s special envoy. It took the American invasion two decades later to make of Iraq an Iranian ally.
Under Saddam, Iraq had been devoid of Islamic jihadists; it took the American occupation to make of Iraq a breeding ground for jihadists and a laboratory for developing and honing their techniques of asymmetric warfare: the car bombs, kidnappings, improvised explosive devices, and other ruthless tactics in a cheap and effective “toolbox” that has been employed with considerable success from Afghanistan to Yemen to Mali. Iraqi jihadists, many of them former soldiers and officers in the Iraqi army that the American occupiers abruptly dissolved in the summer of 2003, have become the proud foot soldiers of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” a proclaimed zone of insurgency and Wild West lawlessness that stretches west from Fallujah through Anbar province and into the heart of Sunni Syria.
...Though Bush is long gone, replaced by a president who had seemed to voters to be in many ways his opposite, this geopolitical reality has hardly changed. As Rumsfeld remarks to [filmmaker Errol] Morris:
'Barack Obama opposed most of the structures that President George W. Bush put in place: Guantánamo Bay, the concept of indefinite detention, the Patriot Act, military commissions. Here we are, years later, and they’re all still here. I think that has to validate, to some extent, the decisions that were made by President George W. Bush.'
One needn’t accept such “validation” to concede that more than a dozen years later we still live in the world that Bush’s “war on terror” made. The “state of exception” that began on September 11, 2001, has not ended, owing not only to the political compromises and misplaced priorities of the Obama administration but to the terribly misbegotten and self-defeating way the “war on terror” was conceived and waged.