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THE FIVE LESSONS
Of the IRAQI WAR
My latest (2008) observations:
1. Since I
posted a version of this piece in 2007, General David Petraeus (http://www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=23&Itemid=16
) has essentially rescued the administration from failure in
2. The new dynamic has begun the undermine the credibility of al Qaeda within the Muslim world and has given the heretofore many hidden Islamic “moderates” to moral courage to poke their heads above their foxholes.
3. My assertion that “Saddam lied and his people died” has been amply corroborated by subsequent information, for example his own private statements to an interpreter during his trial. Link: http://www.fbi.gov/page2/jan08/piro012808.html .
4. One can only hope that the next POTUS will be someone for whom these five lessons are already self-evident.
The Powell Doctrine Meets The Real world
Think for a minute about the Powell Doctrine –
Don’t get into a war unless you have overwhelming force – the resources needed to win decisively plus a margin for error – and always have a clear strategy to get out when the time comes.
This is a general officer’s utopian dream for all “wars of choice”. It is brilliant wisdom, but the kind that rarely applies in the real world. All too often, wars are thrust upon us.
Imagine coming to FDR after the destruction of the Pacific
Before the post-911 “Bush doctrine” was announced – governments
that covertly sponsor or harbor terrorists are not diplomatically immune from
US military intervention – the mischief makers of the world had grown
accustomed to a softer, gentler America.
Saddam himself miscalculated by actually promoting leaks of
misinformation that his field commanders had fearsome WMD’s.
He was evidently thinking — in his “king of my world” thug-logic — that he
could bluff a wounded
Why fear the
After 911, this widespread misperception of American
capacity and will had to change. We can argue endlessly whether Iraq was
the right place at the right time to demonstrate that the Bush doctrine had
teeth, but an additional demonstration (more than the obvious invasion of
Afghanistan) was clearly necessary. Make no mistake here: Had Bill
Clinton (or Hillary, for that matter) been in office, the core reality (We’ve
got to change the “
A Bush Bungle?
(1) Was the quick removal of Saddam by military force an appropriate and necessary demonstration that the Bush Doctrine had teeth?
At the end of the Clinton administration, the president, John Kerry, most other democrats and republicans and indeed the entire congress had agreed that regime change in Iraq was official American policy, and that Iraq controlled stockpiles of dangerous WMD’s.
Even in 2004-06, a plurality experts agreed that it was appropriate to have
deposed Saddam. Part of the fallout from the successful invasion was then
(2) Was the attempt to inaugurate a democratic
That was not the assessment in 2004-5. Remember the purple, “I have voted” fingers? And it is not the assessment for now, either, now that the elected Iraqi government is functioning.
(3) Given the current turnaround in
No one knows yet, but it looks vastly more promising than it did 18 months ago.
It is possible to identify the snapshot of a dark period
in any major war in our history when the pessimists hold sway and eventual
victory seems out of the question. There were such moments in WWII when
the battles in Pacific theater seemed desperate, and there were pre-D Day
moments when the prospect of actually invading Europe seemed like deadly
folly. Lincoln almost lost the Civil War. And (as the memoirs and
published comments of some North Vietnamese generals have recently revealed)
At least this much is now clear:
(a) Saddam’s regime has been replaced by a nascent quasi democracy.
(b) The new government – with the help of US forces – has finally achieved a degree of stability and popular buy-in.
Qaeda’s efforts in
(d) The Iraqi government has begum to act confidently as a sovereign – noting that the push for an eventual American exit is a clear sign of success.
(e) The new government shows no inclination whatsoever to support terrorism or invade its neighbors and appears capable of acting independently from its Iranian neighbor.
The foregoing gains are reversible if the
American presence is seen by outsiders as impotent.
I promised Five Lessons. They are both domestic-political and geopolitical in nature:
1. When you fly something under the radar it
always surfaces at an awkward time.
I still can’t forget my reaction to the last minute disclosure, made by the democrats when Gore was behind in the polls in the 1999 election, that “W” had a youthful conviction for driving under the influence. “What the hell were the Bush handlers thinking?” How could any advisor have not known? Obviously this damaging information was going to be released by the democrats at the most damaging moment possible. No doubt, I thought, the “drinking and carousing” problem was debated within the campaign earlier. Surely someone had argued for disclosure.
What the public got was a vague fog ball about “W” having turned a corner in his life and moved into a new adult chapter. This was an ill advised attempt to have it both ways: Irwas the disclosure/non-disclosure that flies the bad news just under the radar.
I remembered this during the critique of the pre-Iraq
invasion run up. This was déjà
vu all over again.
Recall that there were a number of important justifications for the Iraqi invasion, among them these:
(1) Saddam had tried to assassinate a former American president, arguably an act of war, the act having been redressed half-heartedly by President Clinton via an ineffectual missile strike. [This was very awkward for Bush the younger since Dad was the target.]
War I was not officially over (having been suspended at the gates of
(3) Saddam was in calculated and deliberate violation of several Security Council resolutions.
(4) Iraq was complicit in the first World Trade Center bombing and because it had provided low level assistance to the 2001 hijackers (they had Iraqi travel documents), only a fool would believe that Iraq intelligence did not have foreknowledge of the forthcoming 9-11 attack on the US.
of a new democratic regime in the region was a smart countermove to the jihad
under all the circumstances.
hadn’t accounted for his WMD’s, the ones that the UN
and others knew he had — before he kicked all of the inspectors out.
Moreover, Saddam had actually used poison gas to kill thousands of Kurds.
At the time of Gulf War I,
But I believe that this there was a different core animating reason for the invasion:
A robust demonstration of the Bush doctrine that states that give support, aid and comfort to terrorists are going to be punished.
The demonstration argument was flown under the radar and the WMD argument was flagged and flogged because of the need to bring the most liberal democrats on board – especially the military ambivalent crowd for whom a “power demonstration war” would have been seen as “immoral and unnecessary”.
Proof of the vitality and appropriateness of an American
post-911 power-purpose demonstration was later demonstrated by events:
LESSON: That which flies under the
radar always surfaces.
2. When there are uncertainties – and there always
are uncertainties – play them, don’t hide them.
Think about it. President Bush might easily have said:
need to go in and take out this dangerous regime. I can’t promise
(because we can’t know for sure) what deadly weapons we will be able to find
destroy, but I can promise that we
will eliminate the dangerous leaders. I can’t promise (because wars
are unpredictable) whether this is to be a short or a long struggle, whether
casualties will be low or high, whether we will have enough forces to finish
what we have started, or whether I will have to ask the Congress and American
people for more resources. But I can promise that, after the attacks of
3. Make the selfish part of the effort clear as a
bell and don’t apologize.
The president might have told us:
“We are in this
battle as part of the larger war to defend
4. Make the unselfish part of the effort clear as
a bell and don’t expect gratitude.
The president could have said:
“We are a good and generous people. It is both in our
strategic interests and the right and moral thing to do to support a form of
democratic government where there once was a brutal tyranny. We promise
our best efforts to make that happen. We expect cooperation but not
5. War is a ruthless, imperfect exercise in coercion through blunt force. Let the people know what we want our enemies to know: We’re not afraid to hurt some innocent people if that’s what it takes.
A really gutsy president would have said:
“At the end of the day, there will be unwanted pain, death and
destruction. This is so in all wars. It was so in our Civil War,
the War against the Nazi conquerors of
intend to win because we must. Be forewarned. On
could not be more wrong.”
The Radical Jihad against the West,
Whether that ugly scenario is averted in four years or
twenty, there is no acceptable, realistic option short of a
counter-transformation: A variegated,
When the geopolitical history of the
The logic is straightforward.
(A) There will be military action to preemptively disarm Iran (military action that necessarily involves US forces even if it initially begins with an Israeli strike) and that set of events will be followed by turmoil and further military challenges, or –
(B) There will be a major Middle East war after an emboldened Iran acquires its nuclear capability a war from which no American government, no matter how pacific its policies and inclinations, could remain unengaged.