I will admit that, in the beginning, I supported the War in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had demonstrated himself to be an enemy of freedom when he invaded Kuwait without provocation in 1990, he’d used chemical weapons against both Iranians and his own countrymen, and, at least as presented by the people who are supposed to know such things, it seemed pretty conclusive that in 2002-03, he was trying to develop WMD’s once again.
Then, reality set in.
The initial invasion itself was a stunning success, but things quickly unraveled after that.
Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks, in his book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq chronicles what went wrong, and how we ended up in a world where the United States continues to occupy Iraq, three thousand American soldiers are dead, and we seem no closer to an end than we were on the day that Saddam’s regime fell.
If nothing else, Ricks’ book makes clear that there was a stunning lack of postwar planning on the part of those in the Pentagon and Bush Administration who were pushing for war. Whether they were just stunningly negligent, or whether they actually believed that American troops would be greeted as liberators and showered with rose petals is unclear, but the fact that nobody seemed to bother to plan for what might night to be done with Iraq after we deposed Saddam arises to a level of incompetence that is almost criminal.
Ricks does not limit his blame to the Bush Administration though (although there are plenty of targets there from Rumsfeld, to Wolfkowitz, to the President himself) but also points out the mistakes made at the operational level by military commanders who clearly didn’t understand the type of war they were fighting. Singled out for especially severe scrutiny are Raul Sanchez, who commanded the troops in Iraq in 2003-04, and Raymond Ordierno, who commanded the 4th Infantry Division during its first tour in Iraq.
After reading Ricks’ analysis of countless volumes of official military records and interviews with officers who served in Iraq, there are only several conclusions that one can reach.
First, the initial justification for the invasion of Iraq was entirely mistaken. There were no weapons of mass destruction in 2003. They didn’t go to Syria. They just never existed.
Second, while the United States may have had a great plan to defeat the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard in 2003, there was absolutely no plan for what we would do with Iraq afterwards. Instead, we got the statements of people like Paul Wolfkowitz, who apparently believed that American troops would be greeted as liberators the minute the crossed the Iraq-Kuwaiti border, and refused to admit he was wrong years later despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Finally, whether we like it or not, Iraq is America’s tar baby. Ricks argues that we can’t just withdraw now and leave the Iraqis to sort things out themselves, at least not until the nation is stablized and there’s a real Iraqi Army in place to defend the state. The consequences for the region and, by extension, American national security, of a fragmented Iraq are simply too great at this point. Iraq is not like Vietnam for one very important reason —- abandoning South Vietnam was not a significant strategic loss for the United States. Abandoning Iraq very well could be.
The unfortunate truth is that America has placed itself in a position that it didn’t need to be in, and finding a way out will prove far more difficult that anyone really wants to admit.
Like it or not, this is a problem we’ve handed to ourselves, and one we’re likely to be dealing with for some time to come.
Cross-posted at The Liberty Papers