Dozens of cruise missiles were fired from carriers in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf on the morning of March 19, 2003—the first wave of strikes against Iraq and the first stage of a war that would permanently alter the fate of Iraq, the Middle East, and the United States.
"The peak of U.S. power was probably right after the invasion...Iran was frightened at the time, the Syrian regime—also very worried that American tanks would start heading out of Baghdad and up to Damascus," NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel recalled on The Daily Rundown. "(But) once Americans were caught in this quagmire, there was this myth of invincibility that started to break."
Former President George W. Bush later conceded that his administration failed to adequately plan for the unexpected insurgency. The failures of the Bush Administration in conjunction with a resilient enemy and the rise in sectarian violence led to a far longer, deadlier, and costlier war than most had envisioned.
Ironically, the Iraq war also undermined the Bush doctrine—the President's foreign policy vision that included a plan to spread democracy worldwide, through force if necessary.
Political change has now come to the Middle East, but it was through the Arab Spring, not through the United States showing its power.
"Events are taking place so quickly across the Middle East...the United States is not really a factor," says Engel. "The U.S. looked weak in Iraq and now, in Egypt and Libya and Syria, the rebels and revolutionary movements that are trying to become stable Democratic movements or stable Islamic movements are operating at a pace that is not one the United States is controlling. You can see a real decline in the U.S. influence in the region."