I didn’t realize that the US closed its military bases in Saudi Arabia. What evidence do we have that that action stabilized Saudi Arabia?
“Irag was a vicious and poorly conducted war but
(apparently) victorious war. ” Could you not say the same about First and Second World War, the American Civil and most wars of recorded history? Do you think that the lessons learned from this war will really apply to the next one or will we be improvising and learning as we commit blunders and errors on our way to victory.Endurance and perseverance are necessary for success in war; do liberal elites who now govern have the right stuff?
I am surprised that in this entire post, Mr. Mead doesn’t mention how the American invasion of Iraq empowered Iran. Given our current preoccupation with Iran, this seems like an important oversight.
Since the American invasion of Iraq, Iran has stepped up its support of Hamas and Hezbollah; it has surreptitiously shipped weapons to those two terrorist groups through Syria and Egypt; it has morphed from a semi-democracy into an autocracy (or theocracy) and it has seriously contemplated obtaining a nuclear weapon that would destabilize the entire region.
With the Iranian Mullahs and Saddam Hussein focused on each other and with each deterring the other, Iran was too preoccupied to make alot of mischief in the Middle East.
Now, with their major enemy knocked off courtesy of the United States, Iran is emboldened. It feels free to treat the United States with disdain; it feels free to threaten Israel with destruction and it feels free to contemplate strategies to obtain hegemony over its Sunni Arab neighbors.
The proximate cause of all of this was the decision George W. Bush made to remove Saddam but leave the Mullahs alone. It was a bad mistake, but it was entirely foreseeable.
Right now, there is only one thing the United States can do to rectify its disastrous move to invade Iraq and thus strengthen Iran; the U.S. needs to build a permanent military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. The U.S. should also be an advocate for Kurdish independence. Doing this would give both the Iranians and Syrians a reason to fear the U.S. again and it would dramatically improve the U.S. strategic position vis a vis these two errant nations.
By establishing a permanent U.S. presence in Kurdistan, the United States would help restore the strategic balance in the neighborhood, deter Iranian and Syrian misbehavior and perhaps even provide these two nations with an incentive to make concessions in return for a U,S, promise not to aid Iranian and Syrian Kurds seeking freedom.
Iran played the role the Soviets played in Vietnam(or us aiding the Northern Alliance vs. the Soviets), in funding a uniformless resistence to launch IED attacks. That is the biggest reason why Iraq was such a headache for so long. How do you properly plan against that outside of going to war with both Iraq and Iran at the same time?
I would put more emphasis on the Sunni awakening than anything the Bush folks or the State did or could have done. If the various Al-Queda groups had mitigated their religious stance and not killed indiscriminately and their religious compatriots, I am positive the Sunnis would still be fighting.
Conversely, I think the heroes of the Iraqi Reconstruction are Al-Sistani, Maliki, Allawi and the Kurdish leadership. They have all shown great forebearance in their politics. The Kurds for the moment have not reclensed Kirkuk or assumed an immoveable position on oil revenues. Allawi and Maliki have successfully courted the recalcitrant segments of the Sunni population and create space for them inside an emerging government. And Al-Sistani, who should receive the Nobel Peace Prize were it to remain true to its founding, has beaten off the militant factions in the Shia’ community, preached reconciliation and forgiveness and unquestionly supported the secular nature of the Iraqi government.
Don’t you realize there is a prohibition on this kind of subtle and intelligent analysis on Iraq?
Repeat after me: The Iraq War is Immoral and Bush is Hitler.
Given that Powell enjoyed prestige and credibility comparable to Walter Cronkite’s at the height of the Vietnam War, and that he was as close to being a shoo-in for president as it’s possible to be, had he chosen to pursue a candidacy in 2000, I find it disappointing that he and his deputy Lawrence Wilkerson have tried actively to deflect blame for making the case for war at the U.N. It’s not evident to me that the U.S. could have gone to war without Colin Powell’s endorsement.
Wilkerson says his boss was blindsided by bad intelligence funneled to him by a cabal of neoconservatives, Powell says he had doubts about the War from the outset, and conveyed them to the President. If he did entertain doubts, should he have made the presentation arguing that Saddam had to be removed in the interest of averting some kind of nuclear catastrophe?
Unlike you I never thought Saddam had anything but chemical weapons, but I still supported the war. Like you I was disappointed in the poor strategy of the occupation, and was surprised at how slow the administration was to adjust. I attribute this to the dual nature of the war, a conventional invasion followed by an unconventional insurgency; the people who ran the very successful conventional invasion were the wrong people to run the war with an unconventional insurgency.
We should remember that this is only one battle in a long term cultural war against the backward Islamo-Fascist culture. I believe this battle will go down in history as one of the most brilliant strategic fights in history, using cultural jujitsu of the highest level, to instill Democracy, and other western cultural values in the heart of Islamoland. All of the people, brains, entrepreneurial activity, and energy of the surrounding lands, will now flow into the opportunity that is Iraq with increasing speed. Iran is only one of the surrounding nations, which are facing increasing pressures for Democracy, as backward Islamic culture fails in the face of a direct local example of Western cultural superiority. “Example is the school of mankind and they will learn at no other” Edmund Burke. A developing “can do” attitude in Iraq will supersede the In sa Allah “If it is God’s will” attitude which is used throughout the region as an excuse to do nothing, not even to try.
Better yet, with Monday Morning QB’ing efforts, you must also try to reasonably predict what things would be like if Saddam was still in power had the US bowed down to him.
Things that happened as a result, like Qaddafi handing over his WMD program for example. Plus the fact that Saddam would still be Funding, harboring and supported Jihadist Terrorist.
Karl, perhaps you should think long and hard on who you call fascist when you consider the very corporate and privatized nature of the Iraq War.
Mead’s McNamara-esque mea culpa is weak. So Mr. Mead, should there be any repercussions for those responsible? Any actual punishment, or will all we get is a bit of the lower-lip stuck out and “well, our hearts where in the right place.” We wouldn’t accept such an excuse from a 16-year old who just burnt down a house, nor should we from a bunch of adults. This sort of fast and loose behavior with American cash and future will continue until we get people punished, legally, but punishment with some teeth in them.
Powell was either a liar, a fool, or a stooge; perhaps a bit of all three. Now we’ve managed to add the bill for this little adventure onto our mounting debt, and those responsible for it act like the price of the war is something we should all pay for.
And regarding Bremer’s beyond lackluster performance. In the past, government officials have been hanged for less. Now I’m off to go work and pay my taxes and my part of the debt, whilst Chalabi swims in his pool.
The real question is why was W. so hell-bent on invading Iraq in the first place? I suspect his motives were not pure. Maybe some day we will know.
Has America fought many wars in which most supporters of the party in opposition did not claim that its conduct was mismanaged (and that, by implication, they would have done a better job)? It seems to me that in general the answer is no, and that quarterbacking from behind the safety of a desk, in Washington or New York, during and after the fact, has been the norm for 200 years. Nor has there ever been any persuasive evidence over the whole period that the critics would likely have done any better. Even had they avoided the errors they like to point out, there is plenty of reason to suspect the critics would have made others of their own.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t argue cogently that this war or any other was “poorly conducted” (and perhaps you will go on to do just that), but just tossing out the phrase is a rhetorical gambit with a long and disreputable pedigree, cheapened by the way it has been used by contemporaries to besmirch the reputations of just about every talented political and military wartime leader the US has ever had.
I think that the strongest critique of the war in Iraq may be that it diverted attention from Iran and smoothed Tehran’s path to nukes and regional domination.
Iran was/is ready to fall, as predicted without a US led war. Problem is Obama got elected and refuses to aide any revolution, which any other govt., regardless of how imperfect it is, is better than what is there now.
Allowing that proponents of war did not pursue questions about Saddam’s suspected nuclear stockpile with sufficient due diligence, and ought not to have glossed over any gaps in their evidence when making their case, I think there has been a vocal, if not large, segment of the commentariat that seems to have a professional investment in seeing the Iraqi democracy fail. Success would mean having to retreat from their at times hysterical, and sometimes bigoted, denunciations of the Bush administration and its partisans.
Thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree with your assessment, however qualified, that the US was right to invade and right to perservere in the face of disapointment. We all wish it had gone more smoothly, but wars are messy, as history shows. Here are some quibbles with some of the points you made:
1. Deaths. There was much killing in pre-invasion Iraq under Saddam. The UN estimated that 5,00 children died monthly, due to the sanctions. There was also the genocidal killing of Kurds and marsh Arabs, in addition to the quotidian torture and murder of the Saddam regime. Even if the UN estimate is high, it seems likely that the US-led intervention actually SAVED lives. Recognizing this fact seems to me to put the sacrifices of our own men and women in better perspective.
2. WMD. You say Saddam’s WMD program was “moribund.” I think a better description is that it was “dormant.” The Duelfer Report said that Saddam wanted to “re-create Iraq’s WMD capability… after sanctions were removed.” To that end he kept intact the personnel and technology that could achieve that end. What, after all, did we fail to find? Stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons? Such stockpiles are easily disposed of in a desert country and quickly replaced when the heat’s off. Morever, there is some evidence that WMD were moved to Syria. Four high-ranking officers have so argued (2 Iraqi generals and 2 American). The Americans are Gen. James Clapper, then director of the satellite agency that monitored truck movements in Iraq, and Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy commander of Centcom during the Iraq war. (See the latter’s book for details.) I have never seen this possibility even brought up in the mainstream media, much less evaluated. And until someone does just that, we don’t really KNOW, do we?
3. Insurrections. You fault the Bush administration for its conduct of the counter-insurgency, but fail to put this in context. In the 20th Century, there were something like 20 major insurrections, beginning with the Phillipines. The average time to defeat such was 10 years. If memory serves, the Malayan insurrection took 12 years and the one in Sri Lanka over 30. The US operation in Iraq has taken 7 years and so, by those standards has done well.
4.Mistakes in war. You fault the Bush administration for its “mistakes and blunders.” Again, I think we need context. Consider the campaign in NW Europe in 1944-45. There were mistakes aplenty: Falaise (the gap we didn’t close), Antwerp (the port we didn’t open) and Market Garden (a bridge too far). There was also the bocage (hedgerows) in Normandy. Even after months of planning, the US command was apparently unaware of this obstacle, which was defeated only by American ingenuity in the field under fire. And then there was Patton rolling across France only to run out of gas. And the Bulge. And the Hurtgen forest. Would you call this “a long string of mistakes and bunders?” (I don’t remember FDR being blamed for any of it.) Nevertheless, the European campaign remains the US Army’s finest hour in its remarkably successful history.
5. Occupation. Do you think we were prepared for occupation of Germany in 1945? Reading or rereading the memoirs of Gen. Lucius Clay, the US military governor, might disabuse you of this notion; in particular, his reflections on the flight across the Atlantic to take up his duties. In effect, he asked “What now?” and, in the event, it took until 1949 to establish a proper government–and this without an armed enemy crossing the border.
The fact is that critics of the war and kibitzers routinely apply unrealistic standards, standards of perfection that no one has ever met. Often it is a case of misplaced expectations. War is nasty. Even the finest plans go awry. These situations cannot be choreographed as the critics seem to think.
Sometimes what critics call mistakes are really tradeoffs, in which any course of action has a downside. Your opinion that the invasion should have been delayed fits in that category.
If, as now seems to be the case, Iraq becomes a reasonably stable representative government, then that is game-changer in the Middle East. The “mistakes” will fade in significance beside this accomplishment.
“I supported it because I believed that the current policy of containing Saddam Hussein was fanning the growth of Al Qaeda and related forces in Saudi Arabia because of the presence of US forces in large numbers on Saudi soil.”
That has got to be the worst reason for supporting the Iraq War I’ve ever read.
“I significantly overestimated the capacity of the American government to manage the post-war transition in Iraq.”
Our capacity to manage the post-war was immense, our* will zero.
* Donald Rumsfeld, et al.
“it seemed and seems to me that it was the right argument to make.”
This is the central fallacy of punditry. A right argument is one thing, a right course of action, another. For instance, it is fine for a pundit to say:
“both the coalition military and the Iraqi people suffered many more deaths than I hoped would be the case” The pundit can brush aside all thoughts of worse-case scenarios or even contingencies. After all, it’s just an argument. Everyone besides the pundits knew that war is messy, hell, you name it. There is always a chance that things will go horribly wrong. In fact, it is likely that things will go wrong. That is a fact that those who decide to take actions must face before they say go. They may turn away from it, but they must face it. A pundit can say, well, I was wrong, and suffer nothing from it.
In fact, I can’t think of a single Iraq War supporter who has lost the slightest shred of respectability or doubt about their judgment. You should be grateful, WRM, by not being a tenured professor but going into punditry instead. You lessened your potential accountability significantly.
“The removal of US troops from Saudi Arabia helped stabilize the kingdom and frustrated Osama bin Laden’s fondest hope of establishing his brand of Islam in the Islamic Holy Land.”
No it didn’t. Secret police and brutal repression accomplished those feats.
“Terrorists need to win to gain recruits.”
This is THE question of Iraq. How do you define “win” ? For terrorism, I’d say an online video of a martyr operation is a win. Do you honestly think that terrorists are not gaining recruits because they don’t control parts of Iraq?
“To lose a war because they have lost the support of the Muslim population has been deeply demoralizing for the terror movement.”
This is THE question of your writing. Where is the support for this? I assume you don’t surf jihadi websites or talk to sympathetic fellow travelers – ever. So what sources support this statement? And by the way, it should “a Muslim population” not “the Muslim population.” Take the Ummah with a grain of salt.
“Iraq is in the center of the Middle East, historically as well as culturally.”
Then why isn’t its budding democracy spreading outward to all other Middle East nations?
“For the United States to be driven out of it by pro-Al Qaeda resistance fighters would have been an immeasurable catastrophe.”
No, this would be an impossibility. For one thing, who are the “pro-Al Qaeda resistance fighters” ? AQI? Ex-Baathists? Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army? Or anyone who supported him politically? The Badr Brigades? Who, sir, are you referring to?
Your phrase is intentionally misleading by inventing an ominous sounding imaginary group that we wouldn’t dare lose to, would we?
Another silly fiction you’ve accepted. As if foreign policy, much less the military’s actions as foreign policy, follows anything remotely similar to public opinion. But even if you continue to lean on this slender reed, you have to provide evidence. How many are “enough” ? What polls when show that “enough Americans” supported the course of action at any given point in the war?
“Both the military and the State Department are coming out of this harrowing and testing experience with much greater capabilities and a much deeper understanding of the Middle East than they had going in.”
Surely you’ve read “Politics and the English Language.” Maybe you’ve internalized the examples, but not the criticism. I suggest you re-read it.
“I believe that we have an iron-clad, inescapable moral obligation to do what is in our power to” do.
This mealy-mouthed moralism is the root of our blunder in Iraq. Unless you admit the powerlessness that any country, even America, has over something as big and messy as modern Iraq, then you have learned nothing.
“I am grieved and weighed down by the thought of the death and the suffering it brought. The cost of the American errors going in and in the first years of the war haunts me.”
How? What have you lost because of it?
An oxymoron from a moron.
Scott Horton agrees:
“The Beltway punditry believes, by and large, that no point is served in revisiting the decisions that were taken leading up to the war in Iraq–a war which the Beltway punditry largely sought and enabled through an aggressively false portrait of the facts and the options that the nation faced. If anything, seven years later, the hold of the war party on the essential outlets of opinion journalism is stronger than ever before. There has been no accountability for being wrong, being imprudent or being disingenuous. Indeed, those qualities appear actually to be rewarded.”
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