Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bush & Co Has Made Zero Mistakes in the Iraq Intervention

Go directly to the comments

UPDATE 2

A year and a half ago, the Center for American Progress listed 48 mistakes the President had made in the WOT, 23 having to do with Iraq.

A year ago, Noemie Emery took the stance of this post that Dubya has no "mistake" to apologize for and shouldn't.

In April 2004, Bill Kristol & Robert Kagan thrashed Bush for sending in too few troops.

In August 2004, T. Beven trashes the alleged mistake of "rushing into war".

Here's an abandoned blog devoted to the mistakes in Iraq.



The purpose of this post is to discuss the mistakes made by the Bush Administration in the lead up, conduct, and aftermath of the invasion.

The germ of this post is the heated discussion in the comments section of 24 Steps To Liberty's last post (read the whole post...it is excellent!). In the comments, Baghdad Treasure said:

I always respect the American people and the American army. I also respect the American government but at the same time I believe that this government committed many mistakes...

Then Jeffrey claimed that BT's and 24's view of the Bush Administration's conduct of the war in Iraq was unduly influenced by their liberal Democrat American colleagues at their newspaper.

This made me think....what were the mistakes this Administration made in the conduct of the Iraq Liberation? And that is why I have chosen to give this post it's absurd title.

I assert that most of the discussion of "mistakes" in the war, are arguments against the war by other means. This is because it frames any challenge faced in Iraq as misconduct on the Administration's and US military's part (who are the entities working hardest to make Iraq go right), rather than on the terrorists, rejectionists world-wide, and world leaders (who are doing everything in their power to make Iraq go wrong). I also assert that, in any case, open grousing of that sort are counter-productive and pointless.

By the way, I seem to recall an excellent detailed post at In the Middle Ground on this subject, but I can't find it. If someone gives it to me, I'll post it here.

Mistake 1 No WMDs.

Not a mistake. If I have any good reason to believe that a package delivered to my house is a bomb, it is not a mistake to get it out of my house. Even if I discover later that it wasn't a bomb. It was not a mistake. It was the right thing to do.

After 9-11, in Bush's famous "Axis of Evil" speech he said:

We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer.

I explained so eloquently here, Saddam was a growing threat. He wasn't the only one, but when a man is up to his eyeballs in borrowed money, the priority for getting rid of debts is "which one can I get rid of soonest?" That's the position the US found itself after 9-11. We found out that box cutters and a plane ticket could kill 3000 people in a go, shut down a major city, and eliminate 1 million jobs. We found out that a couple envelopes full of anthrax could slow the postal system to a crawl and shut down the Congress. After 12 years of attempting to get his full cooperation with inspections and then 9-11, Saddam wasn't worth screwing with anymore. There may have been hints that he had no WMDs, but there were good reasons to believe and assume he did, and he acted really guilty. There was simply no choice under the circumstances.

As VP Cheney said before the war, "Those who argue that we need more time to confirm that Saddam has WMDs will use the precence of those weapons, when they are confirmed, to argue that we cannot invade for that reason."

Mistake 2 Dissolving the Iraqi military

Not a mistake. If I fire someone for being a bloody-minded bully on the job, and he comes back with a shotgun and shoots up the company, that is not an argument that he shouldn't have been fired. Quite the opposite.

The claim is that the decision to dissolve the Iraq military caused a lot of disgruntled, out-of-work, mid-level officers to sit around with nothing to do but figure out how to get even with the U.S. But what was the U.S. supposed to do? Keep intact the very element Saddam used to terrify Iraqis and give them weapons and training? Should we have kept the secret police intact as well to help with law enforcement?

Mistake 3 Failing to stop the looting

This one is tougher to defend, but I'm quite prepared to do it. Most US soldiers are not trained to be police. Utilizing them that way would be playing with fire. Furthermore, rather than a mistake, this was an issue of priorities. Do soldiers hunt Fedayeen or do they place the entire country under lock down...and waste bullets on revellers?

Mistake 4 Revellers??! You call the looting of the museum treasures mere "revelling"?

Ho hum....Actually Jeffrey took down this museum kerfluffle about a year ago.

The point is that in order to properly secure the country, the US would need to become another Saddam. The advantage Bush's critics have is that they will never see the ways that their own sage advice could go wrong. They can point to the bad things that actually did occur and say "See? I told you you should have done [whatever]!"I had a cousin who would do that. He sat around and as soon as something undesired happened, he had a plan that would have avoided it and led to world peace. It was easy for everyone to see what an annoying jackass he was. I don't know why that fails to be obvious for some of Bush's critics who do the same thing: If the US military had cracked down and the populace turned on the foreign soldiers as enemies, the critics would be talking about the Bush Administrations heavy-handed cultural ignorance. That they had turned a great victory into a bitter defeat.

On the the other hand, the US military could permit a degree of mayhem until the Iraqis themselves demanded the US provide order (which is what they did). Waiting also provided the opportunity for natural Iraqi leaders to rise to the fore and take command. To the extent they did, the results were worrying...the two most prominent Shi'a leaders to rise in the South were al-Sadr and Ayatolla Sistani. But I am actually still impressed with Sistani and there is still plenty of time for al-Sadr to be unmasked as a paid Iranian agent. Anyway, the there were limited options with Saddam's inner circle still on the run.

Mistake 5 Not enough troops sent to Iraq

See Mistake 4. There are downsides to filling Iraq with occupation troops. Once again Bush's opponents do not have to address those downsides. However, those calling for a quick and non-tactical withdrawal of troops from Iraq keep insisting that the US troops are the cause of the insurgency. I realize that those who accuse the Administration of grievous mistakes do not always make that claim, but they don't say anything to argue against this alleged mistake either.

In this case, there are no hard yes or no decisions. Those who make this argument seem to put on a child-like innocence about how complex it is to remake a society and government completely centered around one man. How many troops is too much? How many is not enough? What are your priorities? Do you hunt for the elements of the old regime or immediately mobilize against the neighboring countries that are also necessary to rebuilding the Iraq economy? The Administration claims that they went with the numbers the generals said they needed. Those are the experts. People can claim they generals were pressured to give certain numbers, but they have no evidence on that. Their reasoning is: Some generals say they needed more troops, so the generals actually tasked with making the decision were pressured in that decision. A perfect circle.

Well, enough soldiers to seal the borders would be nice! Seal the borders from what?? How are US Marines supposed to know the difference between someone coming over the border to fight the infidel (like al-Sadr) or to enjoy Iraq's new-found freedom (like al-Sadr)? Iraq was already awash in armaments, so keeping out smuggled weapons would initially have been like damming the rivers to the ocean.

Anyway, the US (like everyone else) expected a hard fight with the committed Iraqi troops and Fedayeen, and then a mopping up exercise. They didn't expect Saddam and his devotees to abandon the army and immediately start an insurgency, which is what they did. Devious move, but a bedeviling move on your adversaries' part does not mean you made a mistake.

Politically, however, the loudest voices of those who argued before the invasion that more troops were needed (but absolutely not all), were against the war in any case. Their argument was a tactical device: They wanted to have the number of troops continually ramped up and up until it was high enough to turn public support adamantly against invasion. Ha! So are you saying that the number of troops initially sent was politically motivated? No, I didn't say that. But, if we assume that the invasion was right and necessary (as I do), I am free to argue (as I believe) that if a demand for more troops would have prevented the invasion from occurring for political reasons, it should have been done with fewer if feasible.

Mistake 6 No plan to win the peace

Don't be absurd. There were many plans. The US government had been working on such contingency plans for 12 years. But Saddam's Orphans are not automatons who are complacent to play their role in our plans. They figure out what our plans are and make brand new plans against them. That is not a "mistake". That's just the way it is.

Mistake 7 The Occupation was a mistake.

This is the argument of invasion-advocate Richard Perle. From very early on (2003?) he said publically that we should have toppled Saddam and left.

I think we made mistakes, and I indicated in my opening remarks that the occupation was a mistake. It's never a good position to be in-- an occupying power. I think we were greeted when Saddam fell, with great respect and affection by Iraqis, but that doesn't last when you're in an occupying position. So we've lost some time.

He has elsewhere argued that we should have moved on and toppled the tyrannies of Iran and Syria, but I don't know if the two are connected. This is another case of different strategies with pluses and minuses. Perle has noted the disadvantages of occupation. He hasn't detailed the disadvantages of removing the leadership and pulling out (heard of Afghanistan?). The list of minuses are so long and so obvious that it probably explains why Perle is the only one saying it.

Nevertheless, occupying and rebuilding Iraq has proven sooo complex, I think his argument has more merit than it is given credit for, even though I don' t agree with it.

*****

Ultimately, I think it doesn't matter if Bush made "mistakes" however one defines the term. We have to win this one. Focusing on "mistakes" rather than strategies for victory is pointless. Let the enemy celebrate over their feckless accomplishments. We don't have to commemorate them.

Finally I assert, that for all the alleged mistakes, the Iraqi Liberation has been been an astounding success so far. Were thousands upon thousands of US servicemen killed in urban warfare on the streets of Baghdad toppling the Saddam regime as many predicted? No. Less than eighteen hundred combat-related fatalities in three years. The 40,000 or so Iraqi civilians, servicemen, and police killed in the process of fighting Saddam's Orphans is appalling. But it is a pittance compared to what was predicted. In 4 years Afghanistan and Iraq have legitimate freely and fully elected representational democracies. Syria is on the ropes. Lebanon is being transformed. Libya is coming in from the cold. Iran's tyranny is in the process of ripping itself to pieces.

****

Okay. That's a good start. Please feel free to take on my proposal that the Bush Administration never made any mistakes in the ramp-up, conduct, and aftermath of the Iraq Liberation and rip into it with gusto. I'll update this list with new "Mistakes" as really good ones are posted.

UPDATE

Mistake 8 Deba'athification

This is the process of eliminating Ba'ath Party members from the key government positions...including professorships and such. Commentor Maury said:

[It was a] HUGE error was letting that squat little rat Chalabi have at Sunni society with his "debaathification committee". Over 30,000 teachers lost their jobs. Just about any civil position required Baath Party membership. What that sh**head did would be akin to firing all white (or black) civil servants in the U.S. ...at a time of 60% unemployment.

Well, I don't think deba'athification (DB) --anymore than de-Nazification in 1945-- is akin to firing people based on race. I think it is an importatant process in breaking Iraq from it's past. Like denazification, the process is a formality for most people. Patton was infamous for utilizing Nazis in his areas, and Salam Pax's parents are said to have worked in Saddam's government and now work in the current one. The value of DB is that (ostensibly) it puts the onus on the party member to prove that he wasn't a monster in the old regime. This is better than the other way around. See the comments for more on this alleged mistake.




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