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Legacy of Iraq

Putin has learnt nothing from Iraq

Somewhat premature: George W Bush announcing victory. Reuters/Alamy

In the weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, says Waleed Aly in The Sydney Morning Herald, I couldn’t help thinking about an “almost heretical” parallel with the Western invasion of Iraq. Of course, the two are very different, no matter what Vladimir Putin apologists insist. “Iraq was a brutal dictatorship; Ukraine is a democracy, albeit a flawed one.” But the similarities “bear contemplation” too. Both invasions relied on a “melange of dubious justifications”: that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and that Nato wanted to menace Russia by expanding to its borders. Both were wrongly expected to be swift: Putin “figured he’d take Kyiv in a few days”; George W Bush stood before a “Mission Accomplished” banner a mere six weeks into the operation.

Instead of demonstrating military might, the invasions “exposed the limits” of American and Russian power. Indeed, Iraq made the US “uncharacteristically gun-shy”: it did nothing when Bashar al-Assad crossed Barack Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in Syria. Given Washington sat idle over that, Putin “could be sure it would have no real response to him taking Crimea”. Yet the utter failure of the Iraq invasion, which created a “traumatised country, racked with corruption and sectarian bloodshed”, seems to have been lost on the Russian leader. His own aggression proves “he never fully learnt its lessons”.