Iraq: A War in Three Acts

Americans love a good story. Pop culture is littered with the fictional tales of heroic characters. The majority of stories today still follow a three-act structure that dates back to Aristotle. Epic films start with the hero called to action in the first act; then the tension rises in the second (how will our hero get out of this situation?); and finally, in the third act,   a resolution. By the end, the hero will have achieved his victory (normally) but he will also be changed in some fundamental way before the story is over.

Unfortunately for us, this reality has followed this structure in the Iraq War. With the 14th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq upon us, we must recognize that the Iraq War of 2003 was not an isolated event but merely the second act of a war in three parts.

The first act was the call to action in 1991: Saddam Hussein was an international villain who demanded the attention of good and freedom-loving people. The hero, America, rose to the challenge in Operation Desert Storm. But, contrary to popular belief, the war didn’t end in 1991. The United States and Great Britain maintained a strict no-fly zone throughout the remainder of the decade. The hero and the villain merely continued battling during this period. In a way, then, the resolution of the Gulf War in 1991 was more akin to the peace deal at the end of World War I in that it was little more than a protracted armistice.

This set the stage for the second act in 2003. Per the three-act formula, the stakes were raised in Act Two. The world wondered how on Earth would America get itself out of Iraq?

The conflict, as George Friedman (channeling Shakespeare) claimed in his 2005 book America’s Secret War, was a tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” And, like Shakespearean tales, the only thing that determined whether the story was to be a tragedy or a comedy, was whether or not the story ended with a marriage.

Make no mistake: there’s nothing funny about war (and, to be fair, most Shakespearean “comedies” are not funny in the sense that we understand “comedy” today). However, there is something perversely humorous behind the political class and its telling of this three-act war. Remember, the United States invaded Iraq to prevent a genocidal madman from acquiring nuclear arms and destabilizing the Mideast. America also wanted to prevent both Iran and Sunni jihadists from exerting influence there after Saddam was toppled.

Yet—and here’s the darkly humorous part—by invading Iraq, America’s political elite likely set into motion the very outcome they sought to avoid. In the end, Saddam did not have nuclear arms (though, to be sure, he made everyone think he did). And with Saddam’s ouster, al Qaeda (and later ISIS) gained significant amounts of influence in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has steadily increased its control over Iraq.

In fact, things are verifiably worse in the region. Freedom is in decline. Syria has imploded. Jordan, Egypt, and Israel are all threatened by the instability that the Iraq War has caused. Oh, and Russia is back in the Middle East. (What’s next? Frogs falling from the sky?)

Meanwhile, as Iran gains the most from America’s three-act war in Iraq, an ethno-religious cold war is shaping up between the Sunni states (led by Saudi Arabia) and the Shiite-led Iran. This conflict is playing itself out in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Sunni-Shiite regional cold war could very well go nuclear, with Saudi Arabia seeking to purchase a handful of nuclear weapons from Pakistan. This is in response to the Obama Administration’s deal with Iran, which many observers believe gave Iran the green light to pursue building nuclear arms.

With America’s increased commitment to defeating ISIS in Iraq, one might assume that we would be in a position to dictate a postwar settlement. Not so. The United States is working with those already engaged in combat against ISIS in Iraq. While there are American allies (such as the Kurds) fighting in Iraq, the most prevalent force is the Iranian-backed Iraqi military (the Iraqi government, like neighboring Iran, is led by Shiites). Indeed, Iranian troops are fighting alongside the Iraqi forces and, in some cases, leading the fight on the ground. Plus, the larger presence of Russia in the region (as an ally of Iran) means that America’s ability to influence the postwar environment will be severely hamstrung.

President Trump has made clear that the United States will not become mired in yet another nation-building campaign in Iraq (or anywhere else). So we can assume that the Iranians—with its sizable military, cultural, and religious influence—will dictate the postwar order in Iraq.

What that means is Iraq will effectively become a proxy for Iranian foreign policy in the region. American military policy in the Mideast is effectively buttressing Iranian hegemony. U.S. victory over ISIS in Iraq will not stabilize the country. Rather, it will simply make Iraq ripe for Iran’s picking.

Alas, the three-act Iraq War will end in the “marriage” of Iraq and Iran. But this is no Shakespearean comedy. Instead, the 25-year American experience in Iraq is some kind of  dark, postmodern, geopolitical comedy. Let us hope that the Trump Administration keeps this in mind as it ramps up U.S. combat operations in Iraq. We must kill ISIS, but we must not miss the fact that Iran is not our friend.

About Brandon J. Weichert

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report. He is a contributing editor at American Greatness and a contributor at Asia Times . He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers). His second book, The Shadow War: Iran's Quest for Supremacy (Republic Book Publishers) is due in Fall of 2022. Weichert is an educator who travels the country speaking to military and business audiences about space, geopolitics, technology, and the future of war. He can be followed via Twitter: @WeTheBrandon.

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8 responses to “Iraq: A War in Three Acts”

  1. Since far more Shiites than Christians have been killed by radical Sunnis perhaps Iran, though it may not be America’s friend, might become an ally of the United States against our common enemy of radical Sunni Jihadists. President Donald Trump would be wise to at least explore that possibility.

    • America for everyone includes the Muslims who have opposed the criminals in their own countries, on our behalf. The Russians too

  2. Here’s praying that they all kill each other. There are no good guys over there. (I didn’t realize until a recent deep dive on the run up to WWI that the Kurds were also all in on slaughtering infidels. Google the Hamidian Massacre.) I supported the war on the notion that all people want to be free and, if just given a chance, Muslims were no different. With apologies to Bernard Lewis, oh yes they very much are. Islam is incompatible with secular democratic governance. Until and unless they have their own Reformation, nothing will change. In the mean time, they can just all stay over there and car bomb each other ’til the cows come home.

  3. “Iran is not our friend.”

    Please, for us readers, identify all of the Iran-backed terrorist attacks in the US over the last 40 years. Or even any Shiite terrorist attacks in the US during that time.

    • Oh come on. Seriously? I doubt any of your friends deem you to be a great Satan, and call you that publicly.

    • Search for any news item that has the word Hezzbollah, in it. Then, go to

  4. Your narrative is incomplete…in the final act, an agent for Iran throws away the peace and hands Iraq to it’s enemy. The loud and sad sound of a trombone can be heard.

    People have to start realizing that virtually no other country in the world benefitted more from an Obama Presidency than Iran. From getting nukes to being protected from the arab spring to getting ransom for soldiers…Obama did it all. And Obama’s removal of Mubarak and abandonment of Iraq fragmented the status quo and put the entire region into play.

  5. Back in 2014 I asked, in a blog post, would Barack Obama come to be known as “The President Who Lost the Middle East?”
    The answer is pretty clearly “Yes.” It is fashionable in some circles to blame George W. Bush for his ‘nation-building’ predilections, but he left Iraq with a modicum of hope, which the naifs in the Obama White House quickly squandered, while also creating confusion in Egypt, Libya, and Syria and allowing ISIS to grow. Into this swamp—the first use of “Draining the swamp” I can recall was Donald Rumsfeld’s prescription for ridding the MidEast of the feverish conditions that bred Islamic Terrorism—have come the Russians.

    The focal point now is not Iraq; it is Syria. This is a tinderbox not unlike the Spanish Civil War, which was a prelude to World War II, as the major powers vied for influence with proxy factions. Now we see both Russian and American high-performance aircraft supporting different factions in Syria, and coming dangerously close to each other. This is a recipe for disaster, and it should stop.

    Donald Trump, during the Presidential campaign, intimated more than once that he would be willing to work with the Russians to destroy ISIS. He should also stop supporting other Islamist ‘rebels’ and agree to let Assad regain control of the country. Assad is a secularist of sorts, and a known quantity for Israel. That he is allied with Russia and Iran is a worry, but not an insuperable one.

    Has President Trump caved in to the Democrats and Republican hawks like Senator McCain in their anti-Russian hysteria? I hope not. Putin’s Russia shares a border with Iran, and has military bases in Syria; they are not going anywhere, so our best bet is to come to some kind of modus vivendi that will create a basis for future cooperation, not confrontation.