Over the past days while little real debate over the Iran crisis has happened in Washington or Congress (instead it's merely the default drones and "bombs away" as usual), the American public has been busy online and in living rooms debating the merits or lack thereof of escalation and potential war with Iran.
However, like with many other instances of US foreign policy adventurism, this is typically a "debate" lacking in necessary recent historical context or appreciation for how the domino effect of disasters now facing American security were often brought on by prior US action in the first place. As a case in point, it's not recognized often enough in public discourse that it was the United States under the neocon Bush administration which handed Iraq over to "Iranian influence" and the Shia clerics in the first place.
It must be remembered that Saddam Hussein was a secular Sunni dictator presiding over a Shia majority population, and he was enemy #1 of Iran. Team USA's short-sighted and criminal 2003 invasion and overthrow of Saddam based on WMD lies had the immediate benefit to Tehran of handing the Ayatollah the greatest gift that Iran waged a nearly decade-long war to accomplish, but couldn't (the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War).
And the neocons within the bowels of the national security state have ever since been attempting to salvage their failed legacy in Iraq by the futile effort of trying to contain Iran and roll back Shia dominance in Baghdad, as Seymour Hersh detailed in his famous 2006 New Yorker piece The Redirection, which accurately predicted the 'long war' against the Hezbollah-Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran axis which would unfold, and did indeed unfold, especially in Syria of the past eight years.
To "situate" the past week's dramatic events, it's also crucial to understand, as The Libertarian Institute's Scott Horton has pointed out, that "The U.S.A. has been bombing Iraq for 29 years. And it looks like it’s not over yet."
Below is an essential timeline compiled by Horton of that nearly three decade long history where Iraq has been consistently subject to American bombs and intervention — yet ironically (and some might say predictably) the situation is still getting worse, more unstable, and more dangerous.
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Iraq War I: January—February 1991 (aka The Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, liberation of Kuwait)
Iraq War I 1/2: February 1991—March 2003 (The rest of Bush I, Bill Clinton years, economic blockade and no-fly zone bombings)
Iraq War II: March 2003—December 2011 (aka Operation Iraqi Freedom, W. Bush’s invasion and war for the Shi’ite side)
Iraq War III: August 2014—December 2017 (aka Operation Inherent Resolve, the war against the Islamic State, which America had helped to build up in Syria but then launched this war to destroy, on behalf of the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, after ISIS had seized the predominately Sunni west of the country in the early summer of 2014 and declared the Islamic State “Caliphate”)
Iraq War III 1/2: December 2017—January 2020 (The “mopping-up” war against the remnants of ISIS which has had the U.S. still allied with the very same Shi’ite militias they fought Iraq War II and III for, but are now attacking)
Iraq War IV: Now—?
As Scott Horton suggests, the roots of the current crisis lie all the way back in the mid-20th century:
In 1953, the American CIA overthrew the elected prime minister of Iran in favor of the Shah Reza Pahlavi who ruled a dictatorship there for 26 years until in 1979 a popular revolution overthrew his government and installed the Shi’ite Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in power.
So in 1980, President Jimmy Carter’s government gave Iraq’s Saddam Hussein the green light to invade Iran, a war which the U.S. continued to support throughout the Ronald Reagan years, though they also sold weapons to the Iranian side at times.
But then in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait in a dispute over debts from the recent war with Iran, with some encouragement by the U.S. government, leading to America’s Iraq War I, aka the first Gulf War or Operation Desert Storm at the beginning of 1991.
And that was merely the very beginning.
Read the rest of the story and the excellent brief history of how we got here over at The Libertarian Institute.