Anti Which War When?

by Daniel on August 15, 2006

Marc Mulholland makes a very good point and one that has to be frank left me stumped. Regarding the “Anti (this) War (now)” position, which I had hitherto believed was my own view on the Iraq War, the question is quite simple.

Looking at the way in which Iraq has progressed since the war, is it really credible to say that this is just the result of poor planning? Does it not, in fact, make a lot more sense in light of the facts to say that this was a fundamentally misconceived objective which could not have been achieved by any plan at all and should never have been attempted?

There is a further question, which is implied prudentially if not logically by the first two, which is that given the failure of the Iraqi experiment (and given that the success story in Afghanistan appears to also be drifting somewhat), is there not very strong evidence indeed for giving up on the entire project of democratic interventionism?[1]. This appears to have been John’s response to Marc’s question, but I don’t think it’s really open to me or anyone who agreed with me at the time, because I made a big deal of saying that I would have been in favour of the Iraq War under different conditions, and at various points argued quite strongly that ATWN was not a de facto “war never” policy.

I think that these are pretty difficult to answer. Although I do believe that some fairly serious mistakes were made, my original belief (that the Democrats would have fought a better war) is not really credible (this is one of the problems of developing your political philosophy through jokes). I also think it’s too easy to help oneself to “arguments from the generals” and say that everything would have been different if there had only been X hundred thousand more troops committed to the operation, or if the immediate post-invasion tactics had been adjusted in some way or other.. Looking at the way in which Iraqi civil society has gone, it just doesn’t seem right to me to believe that there was some technical fix early on which could have made everything go right. What we are looking for is a coherent story about how Iraq could have developed less fractiously, with less tension between the religious communities and without a big nationalist resistance movement developing. I will say straight up here that I am not at all happy with any of the suggestions that I’m making here and regard the ATWN position as shipping water quite badly at present; I’d be grateful for any suggestions to patch it up in comments.

The reason I’m not prepared to abandon ship yet, however, is that I don’t want to sign up to a particular fatalist view of interventions which gathers (in my opinion spurious) support from casual observation of Iraq, Congo and the former Yugoslavia. This is the “ancient hatreds theory”, which suggests that “artificial” states cannot be made to work other than as tyrannies, because they have an inevitable tendency to fragment into mono-ethnic or religious subgroups in a murderous way.

I think that this view mixes up cause and effect. These states didn’t fall apart because of the ancient hatreds; the ancient hatreds grew up because the state fell apart (my chief reason for believing this is the ludicrous historical lengths to which the Serbs had to go in order to dredge up a reason to have ancient simmering hatred for the Bosnians). When a state and its apparatus of law and order fall apart, there is a Hobbesian demand for security. Such a demand creates an opportunity for a thug with an eye for the main chance to grab a load of valuable things, and the creation of spuriously plausible Hobbesian proto-states is the way in which they are grabbed. Racial, ethnic, historic and religious group identities are not fundamental in failed states; they’re just a way for the gangs to delimit themselves and facilitate the business of grabbing anything not nailed down. Or to put it another way; if law and order broke down in the North of England tomorrow, it would not be at all difficult for some Thomas Friedman figure to pull out a folio of Shakespeare and write columns for the New York Times explaining how the ancestral hatreds between Lancashire and Yorkshire meant that England was never a viable state.

Similarly with Iraq. I don’t believe that communalism was an inevitable outcome. There were two real mistakes made. Of these, I think it’s pretty widely accepted that premature de-Ba’athification was one of them, but I don’t think enough comment has been made on the folly of picking a fight with Moqtada al-Sadr, a folly which John (and Juan Cole)[3] spotted the moment it came out of the trap and to which all manner of other problems (the gangsterisation of Basra, the Badr Brigades, the fundamental shift toward Iran and away from nationalist Islamism) can be traced.

However, the kind of Iraq that would have been left if these mistakes had not been made would have looked like … well, an uneasy coalition of Ba’athists and Islamists. It would not have been much of a democracy (true, Sadr’s position was always in favour of early elections, but there is more to democracy than elections and Iraq would certainly not have had a recognisably democratic constitution). It would have been an Islamist state and, after a short honeymoon period (lasting basically as long as the first military coup), an anti-Western one.

On the other hand, look at what we have now. The trouble in Iraq seems to have been that the perfect has been the enemy of the good (or more accurately, the barely acceptable has been overwhelmed by an alliance of the perfect and the terrible). The objective should have been to make stopgap repairs to the institutions destroyed during the war and then get out, leaving behind an humanitarian aid programme. It appears to me that more or less every day the coalition has stayed in Iraq since about Q3 04 has been spent making Iraqi civil society weaker, not stronger. Of course, there would be a substantial risk that such a course of action would result in a new dictatorship or in civil war, but it is not as if this can be guaranteed not to happen anyway. My intuition here is that when you undertake an intervention of this sort, you are basically swapping “what’s on the table” for “what’s in the box”, that this gamble has to be assessed on its merits ex ante (in my view, Saddam was bad enough that it was at least in principle worth taking) and that once you’ve found out what was in the box, there is no point in staying around to make things worse.[4]

So anyway, would the Democrats have done this any better? Would they thump. So it appears that “Anti This War Now” should have actually been “Anti More Or Less Any Version Of The Iraq War That Was Actually Fought, But Perhaps Not In Such A Way As To Generalise To A General Prohibition On Wars”. Or more succinctly, I should have withheld support for intervention in Iraq not pending more competent operational command, but pending a more sensible and proscribed theory of the limits of nation-building. (If I were more determined to rewrite history with myself on the right side, I might try to argue that this would be a likely outcome of the process of building a coalition in the UN around realistic war aims. But I doubt you lot would let me get away with it).

[1] One could even extend this to an argument against humanitarian interventionism[2], but I think that might be going too far. A humanitarian intervention is one with a specific aim or preventing a specific catastrophe rather than an attempt to remake a society. There is a tendency among intervention fans to tack one onto another, but it is not a necessary connection, it is a tendency which ought to be resisted and I don’t think that democratic interventionism ought to be allowed to drag humanitarian interventionism below the waves. I have my own scepticism about humanitarian interventionism, particularly after having seen some of the crazy non-plans cooked up for Darfur over the last two years, but this is a separate question.
[2] I am using the term “humanitarian intervention” because it seems to have a clear meaning, albeit one which is not respected anything like as much as it ought to be. The Euston Manifesto group and the Henry Jackson Society seem to prefer “responsibility to protect“, but they use the term in which “protect” has a wider and vaguer scope than “protect from a specific and imminent humanitarian crisis. The refusal to define what the responsibility to protect is a responsibility to protect from leaves me at least rather suspicious that the operational definition will be “responsibility to protect from a deficiency of convenience to US foreign policy objectives”.
[3] And Jim Henley, although I am mainly concerned with citing people who believed in one version or another of “not this war now”.
[4] This is the opposite of the “Pottery Barn Rule“, that having caused a disaster placed the obligation on the international community to make Iraq work. In fact, Pottery Barn does not operate such a rule, and even in china shops which do have a “you break it, you bought it” policy, they almost always demand cash compensation rather than help in mending the vase. This is probably on the basis that the kind of klutz who breaks one piece of china is probably the worst person to try to put it together again and will probably break something else in the attempt, and thus I should perhaps be thinking about reappropriating the analogy for more accurate use.

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Pithlord 08.15.06 at 11:49 am

I think you now have it exactly right. But if I were going to defend an “Anti This War Now” position, I would look at the disarmament justification, not the democratization justification. The trouble with This War Then was that it was carried out in defiance of the actual evidence about Iraq’s actual weapons capacity. But a war to force dangerous regimes to accept genuine weapons inspection might sometimes make sense.


Adam Kotsko 08.15.06 at 11:52 am

The idea that the Democrats could’ve done the Iraq War “right” is the most disastrous version of the general drift of Democratic policy-making in recent years — namely, the idea that Republican policies are all basically good and desirable, but only Democrats have the “competence” to make them “work.” Fundamental philosophical disagreement is political suicide, since the electorate is taken to be naturally Republican.

Thus, as a man in my mid-twenties, I always had an abiding and mostly unconscious fear that a Kerry victory would increase the likelihood of a draft, so that we could finally do the Iraq War “right.” In fact, before the election, I began the process of building up a case for being a conscientious objector (joining a pacifist group, etc.), and after Bush won, I put all that aside — not as a result of a conscious decision, but just because it no longer felt urgent.


blah 08.15.06 at 12:12 pm

I think that this view mixes up cause and effect. These states didn’t fall apart because of the ancient hatreds; the ancient hatreds grew up because the state fell apart . . . if law and order broke down in the North of England tomorrow, it would not be at all difficult for some Thomas Friedman figure to pull out a folio of Shakespeare and write columns for the New York Times explaining how the ancestral hatreds between Lancashire and Yorkshire meant that England was never a viable state.

Well, I don’t see why the ethnic hatreds can’t be both cause and effect. Why deny the obvious fact that ethnic/cultural/religious tensions are much more acute in some parts of the world than in others?

The Serbs may have dredged up some ridiculous justifications for their brutalities, but they did after all think that it was worth the effort to do so. Certain leaders may have been fanning the flames of hatred, but there were still enough people willing to follow.

Your counter-example of the Lancashire-Yorkshire hostilities is just not plausible and just about everybody would laugh at the hypothetical Friedman article.


Russell L. Carter 08.15.06 at 12:27 pm

So upon fantasizing that Gore was Prez, the House and Senate essentially in partisan gridlock, the Afghanistan War run similarly, and we’re now in September 2002, what can we surmise?

First, Saddam had no meaningful links to Osama. There would have been no urge in the executive branch to “fix” the intelligence. If, in the face of little supporting intelligence that Saddam had[1] WMD, a war plan was still floated, likely it would have been derived from the Powell Doctrine, which would have implied 250K troops. The costs would have been analyzed, the need for a draft floated, and the Republicans would likely have been critical. I conclude no war would ever have been launched. So the premise that the Democrats could have done it better is simply irrelevant.

The way the Iraq War ensued is the only way possible. Had integrity been applied from the beginning in the planning process, the conclusion would have been: No war.

I’ll leave the fact that the war wasn’t launched for WMD or humanitarian reasons, but instead for strategic control of oil supplies, to someone else.

[1] It’s irrelevant that there wasn’t supporting intelligence that he didn’t have WMD. See Cuban Missile Crisis.


abb1 08.15.06 at 12:34 pm

The main goals of “the Iraqi experiment” were to punish a disobedient dictator and replace him with an equivalent pro-American and pro-Israel dictator. The first objective has been achieved, the second hasn’t, not yet anyway.

What does it have to do with anything that can be identified as a “project of democratic interventionism”? Absolutely nothing. Who in the right mind would want to initiate such a project and why?


Ben P 08.15.06 at 12:35 pm

An important point which tends to mitigate against the success of this war under any circumstance:

Iraq has a literacy rate of 40%. Thats one of the lowest rates in the world.


P O'Neill 08.15.06 at 12:39 pm

D^2, I’m surprised you’re not listing more events from the late Spring and Summer 2003 when the trajectory could have been different with different policies. You mention de-Baathification and the elevation of al-Sadr as punk du jour for the pundits to fulminate against, but the failure to impose law and order in the infamous “stuff happens” weeks following the invasion is surely where the proto-Hobbesians got their start. I think that’s the key point in the timeline where “not enough troops” becomes more than just “it didn’t work because it hasn’t been tried” and is in fact the vital missed opportunity.


Adam Kotsko 08.15.06 at 12:40 pm

Wait, what? I was under the impression that the literacy rate was really excellent in Iraq. Was that just reflecting the situation before Gulf War I, when Iraq was basically on its way to reaching First World levels of education and economic development (accompanied, of course, by classic Third World brutal dictatorship)?


Fenelon 08.15.06 at 12:40 pm

For sure, Saddam was bad. But was he dangerous? Dangerous enough to justify war?

It’s clear now that we could have just left our troops in Kuwait and let Blix complete his work and ascertain the absence of WMD.

But still, even not knowing there were no WMD, we knew Saddam was deterrable. The counterexamples don’t work that well. The invasion of Iran was judged at the time not to be contrary to American interests. The invasion of Kuwait was cleared with the American ambassador, and only after it happened did Thatcher get Bush to reverse himself.

Saddam could be prevented from acting even before 1991. And after that, sanctions gravely weakened what was not anytime a state dangerous to the world’s only superpower. Not to mention a Kurdistan in the north and US domination of Iraqi airspace.

Even if we could have built a nation in occupied Iraq in six months and then pulled out, this war was utterly misconceived. Its purpose was always to demonstrate we could and would kick ass in the Arab world. That was always going to do the Islamist terrorists more good than harm.


Daniel 08.15.06 at 12:42 pm

I think there’s an interesting argument there, but I actually more or less agree with Rumsfeld’s assessment of what went on then; that liberation is a chaotic business and a degree of near term anarchy was inevitable. My implicit view I guess would be that if successful intervention requires law and order to be established much quicker than it was in Iraq, then it’s impossible. But I am not so sure of my ground on this one.


Daniel 08.15.06 at 12:43 pm

internet sez 63% adult male literacy, 48% adult female. Not great but not 40%.


JR 08.15.06 at 12:50 pm

CIA World Factbook says 40% literacy:

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 40.4%
male: 55.9%
female: 24.4% (2003 est.)


abb1 08.15.06 at 12:56 pm

What does the literacy rate have to do with success of the war?


blah 08.15.06 at 12:57 pm

I guess he means they are too ignorant for democracy, or something like that.


Marc Mulholland 08.15.06 at 12:59 pm

On P. O’Neill’s point no. 7, my objection still stands, I think. It MAY be true that a whole load more troops would have prevented a Hobbesian moment, and it MAY be true that this would have prevented an insurgency / imperial stand-off that defined as politically salient and murderously conflictual the pre-existing religious-ethnic divide. This however, is not obvious. (Stuff does, indeed, happen, and anyway the insurgency was militarily effective against a first-world army far too soon to be an outgrowth of anarchy – it was obviously based upon pre-existing bureaucratic structures).

The standard should be very high: if you punch out the regime a stable successor or substantially less homicidal environment will arise more or less spontaneously. Otherwise you’re relying upon imponderables and fine-tunings. This cannot be a justification for a war of choice.


sglover 08.15.06 at 12:59 pm

Thus, as a man in my mid-twenties, I always had an abiding and mostly unconscious fear that a Kerry victory would increase the likelihood of a draft, so that we could finally do the Iraq War “right.” In fact, before the election, I began the process of building up a case for being a conscientious objector (joining a pacifist group, etc.), and after Bush won, I put all that aside—not as a result of a conscious decision, but just because it no longer felt urgent.

Neither party can muster the chutzpah to even whisper that a petroleum tax might be a good thing, and you think they’re going to impose conscription?!? Get real. Suggesting sacrifice of any kind is a quick ticket to political oblivion. Nowadays, a “political leader” is a guy whose solution to the old problem of raising public revenues is proposing new state lotteries — way more advanced than the quaint, tedious approach of financing services through taxation.


roger 08.15.06 at 1:03 pm

I opposed the Iraq war because it wasn’t in the American interest and there were better ways of speeding up Saddam’s inevitable collapse and helping to mould the aftermath. But that didn’t happen. However, the idea that any war that happened after the invasion would have been, essentially, the same war doesn’t seem to me at all true.

Let’s take four interrelated things: the lack of sufficient troops, the American promotion of Ahmed Chalabi, de-bathification, and the demobilization of the Iraqi army. They are inter-related because: the decision makers in the Pentagon that decided to radically under-resource the war were relying, partly, on Chalabi to run the country, taking pressure off them, and Chalabi was promoting the radical de-baathification, part of which was the immediate de-mobilization of the army. Now, when Donald Rumsfeld points to WWII as an analogy, he is mostly doing his doddering senile Defense Secretary act, but in one way there is an analogy, a big one, that points against his whole plan: after WWII, allied forces were used to round up as much of the Nazi army as possible. This was considered essential to securing the country. If the Americans had simply demobilized the German army by decree, instead of physically impounding their equipment and their manpower, the war could actually have restarted. Instead, resistence was nipped in the bud.

Since this elementary rule of warfare wasn’t followed, de-baathification gave an armed and loose group within the country, with access to weapons from similarly unsecured arms dumps, both a motive and immense leaway. At the same time, the occupying force, justifying itself by claiming to have liberated Iraq from a murderer, a liar and a thief, Saddam, proposed to put in his stead a liar and a thief, Chalabi. The Iraqis are not only literate, but they are, let us say, aware of Chalabi’s record — he is, after all, a wanted man in a neighboring country, where his financial crimes brought about the greatest crisis in Jordan’s modern history.

This isn’t, really, a democratic/republican issue. The difference there, if there was one in 2003, was, perhaps, a democratic willingness to work with other powers, which might have meant true internationalization of the Provisional Coalition Power, earlier devolution to the Iraqis, etc. But there’s no need to extend analysis to touch all the ways in which the Bush adventure in Iraq, in those early months, showed its essential corrupt, negligent, and futile aspects, to point out that there are very specific causes of the extent of violence now, planted in 2003. Remember, there was a civil war in Kurdistan after it split, basically, from Iraq in 1995 — and it was bloody, around 6,000 killed in a year — but it was limited partly because the motives to continue the war, and the means, hadn’t been supplied by the Americans.

The penchant in America to merge the invasion and the occupation as one seamless thing is a way of avoiding looking at the choices made after the invasion, seeing who was responsible for those choices, and really analyzing the motives behind those choices.


Steve LaBonne 08.15.06 at 1:07 pm

Daniel, re #10, you give Rummy far too much credit. Here are a couple of damning paragraphs from Peter W. Galbraith’s piece in the current NY Review of Books.

In the three weeks that followed Baghdad’s fall, I was able to go unchallenged into sites of enormous intelligence value, including the Foreign Ministry, Uday’s house, and a wiretap center right across Firdos Square from the Sheraton. All three had many sensitive documents but even weeks after the takeover, the only people to take an interest in these document caches were looters, squatters (who burned wiretap transcripts for lighting), journalists, Baathists, Iraqi factions looking for dirt on political rivals, and (possibly) agents of countries hostile to the United States. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA had a workable plan to safeguard and exploit the vast quantities of intelligence that were available for the taking in Iraq’s capital. That information might have provided insight into terrorism—the Foreign Ministry documents included names of jihadists who had come into Iraq before the war—and the incipient insurgency.

As we now know, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon had no plan to secure any part of Baghdad. It allowed looters to destroy Iraq’s governmental infrastructure and to steal thousands of tons of high explosives, weapons, and radioactive materials. And it had no coherent plan for Iraq’s postwar governance. Gordon and Trainor retell very clearly the now familiar story (at least to readers of The New York Review) of the Bush administration’s cavalier approach to postwar issues, but they also provide stunning insights into one key aspect of the postwar failure: the decision to invade Iraq with too few troops.

Now, I myself don’t think a succesful intervention, in the sense of establishing a decent, stable polity in Iraq, was possible. But even from a brutal realpolitik perspective considering nothing but the selfish interests of the US, the utter lack of planning ahead for the day after Saddam’s fall was an inexplicable and disastrous cluster***k.


jim 08.15.06 at 1:18 pm

I think you’re confusing your desires with actual policy options.

This war now was the only one on offer. A different war (more men, better executed) later wasn’t available. The war was sold as being necessary right away (the smoking gun being a mushroom cloud), and being short and cheap (our troops being greeted with roses). A less urgent, costlier, longer war wouldn’t have been saleable.

Since you opposed the only war on offer, you’re on the side of the angels. That you would have supported a war that wasn’t actually going to be proposed, let alone occur is sort of a venial sin.


Daniel 08.15.06 at 1:23 pm

to steal thousands of tons of high explosives, weapons, and radioactive materials

and yet the damage they ended up doing has been done mainly with IEDs.


Francis 08.15.06 at 1:26 pm

France and Germany fought on a regular basis for what seems like ever until 1945. Then peace.

We have available within living history (just) one of the greatest feats of nation building. Why not examine those lessons?

The neo-cons appear to believe that Germans were ready for peace because of exhaustion. (shock and awe anyone? was it the intensity of the attacks or the duration of the war?)

Was it the fear of the Soviet Union?

Or was it the success of the Marshall Plan?

Put another way, where was the plan to put Iraqis to work rebuilding their own country?


Steve LaBonne 08.15.06 at 1:29 pm

The point is that even if they didn’t give a rat’s about the Iraqis, they also didn’t even plan to protect intelligence and military assets presenting substantial value and/or threat to the US. The chaos, and- this has to be stressed- the literal absence of any actual plans whatsover for the occupation- this must have few antecendents in the history of warfare!- went beyond either the excusable or the explicable.

One can rightly doubt that the war would have been a defensible project no matter who executed it- yet also be aghast at the utter fecklessness of the people who actually did. These are not mutually exclusive positions. (As I’m sure you realize.)


roger 08.15.06 at 1:43 pm

19 — it is important to see why the war was the only one on offer, however. Why was Rumsfeld so enamored of the “lean” troop idea?

I think this connects to the general politics of war in America. War that requires mass mobilization — such as the Vietnam war — actually resulted in mass resistance, and the diminution of executive power. The idea of being able to conduct wars that, in a sense, wouldn’t be noticed by the American population would be of enormous benefit if your idea is to expand executive power, especially in the realm of foreign policy. Essentially, the army becomes the executive’s own personal mercenary force. This not only has the advantage of enormously increasing the president’s power, but it makes it more likely that the use of that power is shielded from investigation — because investigating anything the military does requires some political will on the part of the legislative branch, and that will evaporates if there is no public constituency.

As the war was promoted — with lies and secrecy — so it was executed. The crisis of the theory of democratic intervention is that it rests on a very undemocratic, indeed, an autocratic extension of executive power. The eggheads and press nabobs who supported the war – Hitchens being an exemplary model — were concerned less with pursuasion than with denigration, since they all have a very non-whiggish idea of an expanded leader, and contempt for the 18th century insight which lead the founding fathers to tie the executive up with regard to making war. The FF knew that an irresponsible executive will inevitably tend to aggrandize power by making war — and the democratic interveners are happy with that. In their hearts, they just want an equilibrium — much less democracy at home, and more, if possible, abroad, among the natives lucky enough to be targeted for bombing by their liberators.


P O'Neill 08.15.06 at 2:02 pm

To bring in another example: Kosovo (which the Israelis are now claiming was one of their role models for how a mostly air campaign could achieve a military objective). Maybe Kosovo is an example of this type of war done correctly. Or maybe it’s not a good analogy — it was a subnational, not a national government; the ethnic composition of the population was somewhat simpler than Iraq, and it was a NATO, not a Coalition of Willing operation. And George Bush wasn’t the C-in-C when it was carried out.


abb1 08.15.06 at 2:10 pm

#21-France and Germany fought on a regular basis…greatest feats of nation building

But Germany and to lesser extent France have been – via NATO – sort of satellite states of the US. In 1979 one could similarly argue that Yugoslavia was one of the greatest examples of nation building.


Uncle Kvetch 08.15.06 at 2:36 pm

The objective should have been to make stopgap repairs to the institutions destroyed during the war and then get out, leaving behind an humanitarian aid programme.

True…assuming that eventually “getting out” was, in fact, an objective of the people who actually prosecuted this war. All evidence to date points to the contrary.

Missing from your post was an acknowledgment of the growing evidence that the US intends to maintain a large military presence in Iraq indefinitely. Which makes the war that was actually fought even more wildly divergent from the one you might have supported, since the ultimate objectives are, frankly, diametrically opposed.


Matt Kuzma 08.15.06 at 2:42 pm

The war in Iraq is one of the least justified wars in modern times, so I find it ridiculous to ever conclude that opposition to it generalizes to opposition to all wars ever. There are many different types of wars, and many justifications that are sufficient for going to war, and the Iraq war is several standard deviations from the norm of justification and rationale.

We could start with being opposed to wars of aggression, which I think is a valid position to take. Yes, it requires that you actually wait until an enemy successfully kills some of your people before you start killing theirs, and that means some of your people are now dead who otherwise wouldn’t be, but I think that’s still a fair criterion for justifying a war. Far easier to explain and validate that “because we were reasonably sure they might someday try to kill some of our people and maybe their attempts might succeed”.


mpowell 08.15.06 at 2:56 pm

So I’m still not convinced that Iraq couldn’t have been done right. But here are two things to consider: democratic intervention in a smaller state might require fewer troops. This would avoid one of the biggest problem w/ the Iraq war. So even if Iraq couldn’t have worked under any circumstances, that doesn’t mean democratic intervention is never an option. The second is that if you adopted the not this war right now position, but regret it, I think you can use the administration’s misinformation campaign as a bit of an excuse. You didn’t really trust them enough to conduct a war, but you may have believed that it was more likely to succeed in different conditions based on intel they were providing. But if those conditions obtained and we had a responsible administration, we would have had better intel about the likelihood success or the WMD threat.


greensmile 08.15.06 at 3:13 pm

should never have been attempted. the military had a plan which involved far more troops and could have come closer to success but since we can’t really afford the current level of deployment, that plan is not a good standard to measure the present mess. See Jareki’s Why We Fight for an account of how pentagon had some pretty sharp analysts before bushleague inserted civilians where it could not simply oust more realistic intel veterans. the DoD actually had far clearer picture of political realities in this place where it already had fought ten years ago than any of the neocons that bush was listening to.

But the generals who made the original plans are prominant among those now calling for Rummie’s head. In that sense those better plans live on.
Bush et al knew they could not sell their war with the pentagon’s original price tag….so they lied, or chose not to believe which is much the same in effect but stupider.


Walt 08.15.06 at 3:18 pm

I think Anti-This-War-Now looks pretty good at this point. Iraq is sliding into civil war, but the slide has taken a long time, which shows that there were contervailing forces of civil society, forces that have taken several years to degrade. If the US hadn’t disbanded Iraq’s existing government and army, and pulled out sooner, it certainly seems possible that Iraq would have been a democracy on the level of Indonesia, say. If the project was by its nature doomed from the start, then the civil war would have broken out sooner.


neil 08.15.06 at 3:36 pm

Although impressed by much of the argument I take issue with “These states didn’t fall apart because of the ancient hatreds; the ancient hatreds grew up because the state fell apart…”

That’s not quite the situation with Iraq. Saddam’s Sunni-based regime was actively and ruthlessly repressing the Shi’ite population. The ethnic hatred was being fueled by the state in this case.

I’m not sure that in such circumstances whether a post-Saddam Sunni-Shi’ite conflict was not inevitable. But that just makes the case for a better handling of the post-war phase stronger.

Another question is what sort of end-of-regime situation would have minimised the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict.


dsquared 08.15.06 at 4:00 pm

Saddam’s Sunni-based regime was actively and ruthlessly repressing the Shi’ite population

It’s just not true that Saddam’s regime was “Sunni based”. The one thing that would reliably get you shot if you were one of Saddam’s henchmen, no matter how close and loyal, was trying to play sectarian politics. There were plenty of Shia members of the Ba’ath Party at all ranks (the Ba’ath was so ubiquitous it couldn’t have been any other way). This myth comes from two kernels of truth.

1. Most of the very highest echelons of Saddam’s power structure were old trusted friends from street-fighting days in Tikrit, and Tikrit is a Sunni town.

2. Most of the victims of the very worst of Saddam’s brutality were Shia, because the 1992 revolution was put together by Shia organisations.


rupes 08.15.06 at 4:15 pm

Daniel said:
I think that this view mixes up cause and effect. These states didn’t fall apart because of the ancient hatreds; the ancient hatreds grew up because the state fell apart . . . if law and order broke down in the North of England tomorrow, it would not be at all difficult for some Thomas Friedman figure to pull out a folio of Shakespeare and write columns for the New York Times explaining how the ancestral hatreds between Lancashire and Yorkshire meant that England was never a viable state.

I think there is a lot of truth in that: certainly as regards Yugoslavia.

As a spookily appropriate anecdote: I used to work in Boston with a good friend who had left Yugoslavia to do his PhD at MIT, then post-Doc, then got married & got a job.
His passport expired in mid-90s and he was confronted with a very symbolic fact: for all that he knew the events were happening from the news and family, but a passport is a very powerful symbol. “I am not a Serb. That is from the middle ages – it would be like you saying you were from Yorkshire and must fight Lancaster”
(This was about the time Richard III was at the cinema)

Ancestral hatreds may exist, but if they matter depends on circumstance.

I know Mississipians (?) who are bitter against the Yankees but would not say that another civil war was likely to break out because of that.

But if tensions rise from other causes, then socities will fracture along existing fault lines rather than create new d

Maybe less so for Iraq: altough Saddam’s re


abb1 08.15.06 at 4:23 pm

…because the 1992 revolution was put together by Shia organisations.

Also many Shias sympathized with Iran (and still do) and many Kurds had separatist tendencies (and still do). Clearly the underlying reasons were political rather than ethnic or sectarian; or, rather, they were only superficially ethnic and sectarian. And they are still present.

This is similar to Stalin’s treatment of the population of the Baltic states in 1940; a matter of loyalty rather than ethnicity or religion.


novakant 08.15.06 at 4:34 pm

I was against the war because I knew that they would mess it up, it was perfectly clear to me. I’m not necessarily against the violent overthrow of genocidal dictators though and I found the disregard for the plight of the Iraqi people in some circles of the left as well as the current islationist trends almost as disturbing as the callous disregard for human life on the right.


Quo Vadis 08.15.06 at 4:36 pm

“These states didn’t fall apart because of the ancient hatreds; the ancient hatreds grew up because the state fell apart…”

I think the trend toward civil war is being driven by relatively small groups of extremists who have agendas other than revenge for past atrocities. I can’t imagine that the average Iraqi Shiite would be willing to turn their city into a bloody battleground in order to extract retribution from whatever Sunnis happen to be living there.

This situation underscores the fragility of democratic institutions in the face of an entrenched insurgency that is willing to resort to acts of extreme brutality to bring them down. The kind of response required to subdue such an insurgency tends to be incompatible with democratic principals.

What will it be, a civil war or another strong man? Either way it’s a complete failure.


neil 08.15.06 at 4:39 pm

In reference to #32

1) Fair enough that Sunni-based is a bit of a generalisation but the current conflict is between Sunnis – who generally have lost power and privilege and want to regain it, and Sh’ites who generally fear a re-emergence of Sunni power.

That is broadly the Sunni-Shi’ite divide at present. It has roots that go back to long before Saddam but he did use it to maintain power. This conflict did not just suddenly appear once his regime ended.

Doesn’t 2) support my view?


dearieme 08.15.06 at 5:50 pm

Was it legal, was it right….? All beside the point; it was lousy judgement to fight that war. War is such a deadly, expensive, coarsening experience that the burden of proof falls on its advocates, and they got nowhere near making a decent case for it. From Democrats, I could have understood it: from people who described themselves as conservatives it was unforgiveable. Shame on them and all who agreed with them.


ed 08.15.06 at 8:19 pm

OK, I’m one of those people who weren’t sold on the 1991 Gulf War. That is because when the “Saddam is worse than Hitler” rhetoric started, I really thought the US was going to go to Baghdad and depose Saddam, not that we would just push him out of Kuwait (by the way its time to acknowledge how much long term damage that rhetoric did).

I get surprise how rarely three things are pointed out in debates on the Gulf:

1) There are three big powers in the Gulf, in the sense of having lots of oil and a population of some size. They are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. You have to be friends with at least one. Good luck picking that one on the basis of how the regime treats its citizens.

2) Historically, the Iranians or Persians have run Mesopotamia more often than not, for reasons of demographics and geography. The only reason Iraq could fight Iran to a standstill in the first Gulf War was the aftereffects of the Iranian revolution.

3) The Europeans gave their colonies independence after World War II for a reason. The reason is valid today, and its also why the US did not choose a more obviously imperialist strategy in the post war era. After World War II, the share of the world’s population in Europe and North American started to shrink (it had been anomously high in the 19th century). Its simply more difficult than in the nineteenth century to impose your preferred regime on third world countries by force, they have several times the population, both absolutely and relatively, than they did during the “white man’s burden era”.

Given these three factors, I honestly don’t see how a western power can conduct anything other than an extreme realpolitik strategy in the Gulf. If Saddam becomes a problem, help the Saudis or the Iranians handle him, in the same way the US is basically letting China take the lead on North Korea. Whatever you do, don’t try to introduce ground troops to the area.

And if you really want to get rid of Saddam, then recognize up front that this will mean Iran taking over. You don’t even have to know the history of the region to see that, just looking at an almanac and seeing the relative populations of both countries should tell you that.


Ragout 08.15.06 at 9:44 pm

Overall, I completely agree with Daniel here.

1. We’ve screwed-up lots of things in Iraq, but the biggest and most fundamental problem is the attempt to make Iraq into a US puppet state, and the plan to keep troops there forever. Understandably, this has pissed off lots of Iraqis.

If we had pretty quickly reduced the number of troops in the country, and made it clear that we were leaving as soon as possible, we would have been mainly fighting Zarqawi, and not rest of the Sunnis and al-Sadr. Iraq wouldn’t be a democracy, or especially friendly to the US, today, but it wouldn’t be the current nightmare either.

2. Another example showing that “ethnic hatreds cause conflicts” has the causality backwards is the genocide in Rwanda. Jared Diamond makes a good case that the conflict (and the drummed-up ethnic hatreds) were caused by overpopulation and a shortage of land.

3. It’s important to keep in mind that the Bush administration is especially malign and incompetent. So you ought to avoid generalizing from their screw-ups. You wouldn’t want to conclude that the government is incapable of disaster relief just because of Bush’s response to hurricane Katrina.


otto 08.15.06 at 10:48 pm

The main goals of “the Iraqi experiment” were to punish a disobedient dictator and replace him with an equivalent pro-American and pro-Israel dictator. The first objective has been achieved, the second hasn’t, not yet anyway.

Well, those are the foreign policy goals – but I’m more of a primat der Innenpolitik man myself. The main goals of “the Iraqi experiment” were to use popular nationalism in the US to bolster support for taxcutsfortherich etc and damage the Democrats, the party of a little bit more income redistribution, in both the short and long-term. If the Republican coalition had been secure without the need for war fever or Yoo letting the dogs out, Saddam would still be in power.


Robert McDougall 08.16.06 at 12:36 am

Marc Mulholland makes a very good point . . .

Is this different from Rosenfeld’s and Yglesias’s incompetence dodge?

I don’t want to sign up to a particular fatalist view of interventions . . . casual observation of Iraq . . . the former Yugoslavia . . . the “ancient hatreds theory”

Just citing “ancient hatreds” would be lazy of course. Slightly less lazy is noting that as in e.g. the former Yugoslavia that post-dictatorship dynamics can widen sectarian divisions, and in Iraq there were some specific factors tending that way (e.g., the different priorities the Sunni and Shi’i Arabs put on fighting the occupation, the role of the Shi’i militia).

But I don’t think many who pointed to “ancient hatreds” claimed to predict just how the enterprise would fail, merely that there were many likely modes of failure, and many strategic questions with no good answers. It wasn’t really fatalism at work, but an abundantly justified despondency.

Also, what Matt Kuzma said at 27.


chew2 08.16.06 at 12:39 am


The U.S. commenced the occupation with 130,00 troops. They needed at least 350,000. All else was/is secondary to providing adequate security.


Jack 08.16.06 at 2:21 am

Wasn’t ATWN mostly a way of dodging straw men like the concept of being “objectively pro Saddam” and the like?

More generally anyone who thinks that aid does no good should have had a hard time believing that a war would help. If it is difficult to help people with money it is surely much more difficult to help them with guns.

More generally we should demand that governments tell us why they are going to war precisely rather than floating a bunch of different reasons unofficially and hoping that the public looks the other way.


Martin Bento 08.16.06 at 2:46 am

Daniel wrote:

” I don’t think enough comment has been made on the folly of picking a fight with Moqtada al-Sadr, a folly which John (and Juan Cole)[3] spotted the moment it came out of the trap”

well, so did I. After the newspaper closure, on April 2, 2004 , I wrote

“This action will not actually suppress anything; it just attracts attention to what it opposes. The stupidity is breathtaking; it is as though the US *wants* to see civil war. ”

In looking that up, I came across another bit I wrote from April 14, 2004:

“I have an hypothesis that the way to predict what Bush will do next is to ask what is the stupidest thing he could possibly do. Right now, I would say that is cut a deal with Sadr to get him out of Najaf, and then break it to arrest or kill him anyway. So that is what I now expect.”

Which is pretty much what happened, eh? Make a truce with Sadr and break it several months later to try to get him again. Didn’t get that the second attempt would also fail, though. Still not aiming low enough. Even so, I’m going to have to apply this technique more often.

As for the general topic of this discussion, I agree with those who said the Dems would not have picked this war, primarily because they are more risk-adverse, whereas Bush, like most fools, is immensely daring. But if we grant the counterfactual, I think it matters whether you are talking about DLCers like Clinton and (the old) Gore or Democrats further to the left. For the DLCers, Blair is a good standin: he is cut from the same third way cloth, and though he might have been a bit more sensible had he got to be the big dog instead of the poodle, still, he has gone along with the program quite impressively. Had they been foolish enough to get into this war, I think Clinton or Gore would have pursued broadly similar policies, though they might have avoided specific blunders like picking the fight with al-Sadr while the siege of Fallujah was ongoing.

The big policy that Bush followed and that DLCers probably would have as well, but that more progressive democrats would not is the subjugation of Iraq to economic “shock therapy”, the part of this story that is frequently left out. Dismantling the system that held the society together was indeed a serious mistake, but deBaathification per se is only a part of it. State-owned enterprises were privatized, taxes went flat, preferential hiring of Iraqis was banned. Arguably, these things can produce greater economic efficiency in the long run, but they produce pain and chaos in the short, and are always contra-indicated for a society whose stability is already in doubt. And, of course, it was largely under Clinton that similar policies were imposed on much of the former communist world. But this is a far cry from what we did in the much-cited examples of Germany and Japan. A war to democratize can conceivably work, but not if wedded to a war for neo-liberalism. Of this war, though, I would be dubious anyway, because of the internal divisions of the society, and the potential for serious bad consequences elsewhere in the important region.


Martin Bento 08.16.06 at 2:51 am

Bad link above. Make it this for the first quote.

Also, saying we should have gone in with vastly more troops is like saying we should have had Superman lead the charge unless you are willing to specifically advocate a large-scale draft. We’ve been straining just to keep up the troop strength that we have in Iraq.


abb1 08.16.06 at 3:52 am

The main goals of “the Iraqi experiment” were to use popular nationalism in the US to bolster support for taxcutsfortherich etc and damage the Democrats…

They started their fearmongering in September 2002 and used it to win the mid-term elections. I was 100% sure that they wouldn’t invade and this was nothing more than an election campaign gimmick. I think at least some of the Democrats felt the same way when they voted to authorize the invasion.

So, if they did need it mostly for domestic politicking, the actual invasion wouldn’t have been necessary. No, I think they really wanted to punish that Saddam fella, to make an example of him, do a show of force. Certainly the neo-cons, no question about that; they don’t care about tax cuts and don’t mind redistribution.


bad Jim 08.16.06 at 4:04 am

We now know that the Bush group had their sights set on goddamn Saddam from day one. Did Osama know that too? Was September 11 just a tiddlywink launched in a long game to turn Iraq into a playground for terrorists?


James Wimberley 08.16.06 at 6:04 am

There’a nother lesson from WWII, in addition to No.!7’s good point about about organised demobilisation. The British (starting in 1941!) and the US Army from early 1942 trained thousands of officers in civil affairs to run the military government of occupied countries. Top commanders argued about the lines of accountability of a function they all saw as important. Eisenhower found the time before D-day to tell his waiting civil affairs officers that they were “as modern as radar and just as important to the command”.


otto 08.16.06 at 6:18 am

They started their fearmongering in September 2002 and used it to win the mid-term elections… So, if they did need it mostly for domestic politicking, the actual invasion wouldn’t have been necessary.

I see what you are saying about the 2002 mid-term elections. But Republican fearmongering did not end in 2002, it certainly was part of their 2004 strategy, and is likely to be a card in their hand for a decade or more to come. For those longer term effects, the actual invasion was necessary.


TomChicago 08.16.06 at 7:14 am

Bill Clinton made a distinction between ideology and philosophy in an item I heard last week. Ideologues, to paraphrase him, are a whole lot less likely to examine a position which may turn out to have been wrong. The current American regime’s “stay the course” mantra is demonstrative of this and has simply served to strengthen the resolve of the ideologues of the Islamic team to set up a potentially cataclysmic worldwide head-butting.


Brownie 08.16.06 at 10:41 am

dsquared, @32 you say:

It’s just not true that Saddam’s regime was “Sunni based”.

Without getting into semantics of exactly what constitutes “Sunni based”, the broader point is that you are downplaying the pre-war Shia-Sunni antipathy to support your assertion that something approximating civil war was not inevitable following Saddam’s removal.

You claim the “kernels of truth” whence this myth of a “Sunni based regime” sprang are:

1. Most of the very highest echelons of Saddam’s power structure were old trusted friends from street-fighting days in Tikrit, and Tikrit is a Sunni town.

2. Most of the victims of the very worst of Saddam’s brutality were Shia, because the 1992 revolution was put together by Shia organisations.

I’m particularly interested in the second of these. Specifically, why do you suppose there was a “Shia” rebellion if Saddam’s regime could not be justifiably termed “Sunni based”? How many Sunnis joined the 1992 revolt?

Saddam was a fruitloop who ordered the murder of members of his inner-circle, including family members, and the specific denomination of his victims was indeed irrelevant to him. Notwithstanding this, Saddam’s regime was “Sunni based” as any reasonably objective reader would understand the term, which probably explains why no Sunni organizations joined the 1992 revolt.


Ralph Hitchens 08.16.06 at 12:03 pm

Your answer to the question you posed is most likely correct. More troops and smarter planning for the immediate post-Saddam administration (e.g., not disbanding the Iraqi Army & governmental hierarchy) would have kept the lid on for a while, but if we moved ahead with “democratization” I think we would eventually reach the same point at which we find ourselves. Sectarian violence seems all but inevitable.


derrida derider 08.16.06 at 7:17 pm

brownie, don’t forget that just a few years before the 1992 revolt Iranian efforts to provoke mass Shia defections failed dismally. Those same Arab Shias fought extremely hard for Basra against the Assyrians.

Which makes me think this meme about Sistani et al being Iranian puppets is not quite true. And (along with the fact that Saddam – yes, a fruitloop – retained power for 30 years, most of those years with relatively little oppression) it also made me sceptical in advance of the claim that his power base in the population was very narrow.


Roy Belmont 08.17.06 at 5:36 am

“More generally we should demand that governments tell us why they are going to war precisely”

And then we should demand that they be honest about it into the bargain.

“What will it be, a civil war or another strong man? Either way it’s a complete failure.”

A complete failure to achieve what they told us they were going to war precisely to accomplish. Unless, perish the thought, they were being dishonest about it.

“…where was the plan to put Iraqis to work rebuilding their own country…?”

Ask the boys at PNAC.
Maybe it was hidden under the paper that talked about reducing Iraq to an impotent fragmenting body of internicene chaos.
One thing’s for sure – Hizbullah’s not getting much support from that quarter these days.


bakho 08.17.06 at 7:58 am

If we go back to our own Civil War, the position of Sherman was that Secession was lack of respect and obeyance of the rule of law. Ending the Civil War required that the states in rebellion return to respect for rule of law. It was from this point of view that Sherman (not Grant) negotiated the terms of the final surrender of the Confederate Army. Respect for rule of law was the condition for readmission of states and state government to the Union.

In Iraq, there is not only widespread disrespect for the rule of law but serious disagreement over what law should be. It is always more difficult to halt violence once it has started than it is to nip it in the bud. Iraq was a failure to establish rule of law and the failure to establish a political process that was a viable alternative to violence. The belief of Rummy and Bush, that respect for rule of law in Iraq would be a given, led to a failure to plan and implement. Violence spiraled out of control and became a volatile mix of political, criminal and tribal fued violence. The US authority fails to understand the complexity and therefore is having difficulting halting the violence.

Your question can be addressed by asking, “What resources and policies would have been necessary to establish respect for rule of law in Iraq?” and “Could the US have marshalled those forces and brought them to bear in Iraq in a timely manner?”

In general, wars are a bad idea because it starts a violence that is difficult to halt, it is destructive and it is much more expensive than the alternatives. For what it is costing us to fight the war in Iraq, we could have bribed the entire population. A better strategy would be to support international institutions that support human rights and keep a consistent set of economic carrots and sticks to move governments to better human rights positions. Occasionally, governments (Milosovic, Rwanda, Pol Pot) engage in such massive violations of human rights or that a crisis ensues or governments foment violence against other countries (Taliban) so there is no choice but to take them out. Taking them out actually prevents violence or puts a stop to already out of control ethnic cleansing or other violence. War should be reserved for only those truly “last resort” cases. Iraq was not a last resort case (neither are Iran or NKorea) so other strategies should have been pursued more vigorously first.


Chris Bertram 08.17.06 at 8:17 am

If we go back to our own Civil War …

Ok so I know this is ot, but please cut the US-centric parochial assumptions. For some of us “our own civil war” was between 1642 and 1651 (roughly speaking) others had a civil war between 1922 and 1923.


abb1 08.17.06 at 8:38 am

Another weird thing is that the phrase “the war of 1812” always refers to a bunch of relatively minor skirmishes between the Americans and British instead of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia – a major event in European history.


Tracy Lightcap 08.17.06 at 9:23 am

Two things.

First, it is not the case that our occupation of Iraq has made civil society weaker. Indeed, quite the contrary is the case. A prolonged civil insurgency of the kind we find there can only be sustained by strong non-governmental institutions. The problem is that civil society doesn’t always have the kinds of connotations we often ascribe to it. A strong civil society that is based on functional entities with ties to an already established sovereign state can be a real boon to democratization; a strong civil society tied to primordial entities in a situation where no sovereign government has appeared means … well, Iraq.

Second, the answer to the dilemma posed by the war is a simple one: follow international law and keep your hands to yourself. I could see some good reasons for invading Iraq and some real good reasons not to, but I ALWAYS opposed the war. Why? Because there was insufficient justification under international law to prosecute it. There is a reason why the nation-state system has a “you punch cows on your ranch your way” rule and has developed legal principles to support it: war between nation-states, especially given the destructive power of modern weapons, is an inherently dangerous and unpredictable business that everyone, no matter how powerful or morally justified, should avoid unless it is provably necessary to maintain national security. The Afghan war was and I supported it, despite the inevitable blowback. The Iraq wasn’t and I never supported it. I now get to say I told you so – at length – to everyone I know who argued otherwise.

And a fat lot of good that does me or our country.


Brownie 08.17.06 at 11:30 am


The intervention in Kosovo was de facto “illegal”, but given the alternatives to war and the ramifications of non-intervention, the legality can go hang.

Knowing what we know now, what would you say to a coalition of willing partners absent a UNSC resolution deploying in Rwanda circa April 1994? Imagine just under 3×9/11 happening everyday for 100 days and then imagine not preventing that for want of the agreement of, for example, the Russian ambassador to the UN.


RT 08.17.06 at 12:11 pm

Under a Dem Presidency, and with the assumption that 9/11 and Afghanistan in late 2001 play out exactly the same, where does the issue of Iraq even come up??

That is how the Dems would have fought this war better: by never considering it, because there was never much of a reason to.

This is the question I was asking, over and over again, during the run-up to war: how did Iraq jump to the top of the list, under any set of criteria imaginable?

Iraq’s supposed (and unquestionably non-nuclear) WMDs were far from being the most dangerous threat in the world. Loose nukes in the former USSR, near-nuclear powers in North Korea and Iran, and an unreliable (and already nuclear) Pakistan, let alone al-Qaeda, were all ahead of Iraq. Saddam certainly wasn’t the worst dictator in the world; would you rather live in Iraq under Saddam, or North Korea under Kim Jong Il? (Easy choice, isn’t it? And we haven’t even considered African hellholes like Zimbabwe under Mugabe.) Iraq was far from the most likely candidate to be forcibly democratized; Burma (with a government in waiting) and Cuba (with an educated, relatively homogeneous population) were way ahead there.

We may never know the real reason that Bush (or Cheney, or whoever really made the decision that Iraq should be next) picked Iraq. The only reasons that make any sense have to do with Iraqi oil reserves, but there seems to be some sort of Godwin-like law in operation here: if one says this war was fought for reasons having much to do with oil, one is labeled a paranoid, and ignored.

I don’t understand this: it may have made apparent sense in late 2002, when most of us still couldn’t quite believe Bush would drag us into a war for essentially no reason at all, but after the other possible nontrivial reasons have been considered and discarded, what else do you have? It’s either oil, or stuff having to do with the Bush father-son relationship (revenging the assassination attempt, or one-upping the old man, or whatever), or motivations that are even more obscure.


CalDem 08.17.06 at 4:37 pm

What’s the bet on the number of additional deaths that the Iraq invasion will cause (time lime 10 years?). I’m guessing a million between the civil war and attendant infant mortality, extra disease, etc.


Roy Belmont 08.17.06 at 9:34 pm

“The only reasons that make any sense have to do with Iraqi oil reserves,”
Being as how Iraq’s stature in the world would depend on its oil reserves no matter which specific arena was in question – sure.
But if you mean the only reasons possible, exclusive of any other – the oil and nothing but the oil – then, no.
Iraq as military power in the M.E. is no longer an imaginable thing. This was someone’s hope all along.
It is bizarre and near-pathological that this is virtually impossible to bring to the forefront of a debate that, however tangentially, touches on the reasons for the US invasion and occupation, given that the only “achievement” has been, in fact, a broken infrastructure and pretty much permanently disabled Iraq military. It may well be Mission Accomplished.
Different mission is all.


Uncle Kvetch 08.18.06 at 7:12 am

It’s either oil, or stuff having to do with the Bush father-son relationship (revenging the assassination attempt, or one-upping the old man, or whatever), or motivations that are even more obscure.

I don’t find the Oedipal drama between Bush père and fils to be all that obscure, frankly. It’s true that a lot of the armchair psychologizing about the family seemed glib or fanciful to me a couple of years ago, but as time goes on I really believe there’s something to it–maybe because, as you say, there are few other explanations that even remotely make sense anymore. After 6 years, we know Junior to be a petty, resentful and meanspirited little man, one who viewed his father’s defeat to Bill Clinton in ’92 in very personal terms (i.e., the way he views just about everything, from the looks of it). Iraq offered GWB the opportunity to transcend his wimpy father in the two ways that mattered: by “getting” Saddam, and by winning a 2nd term running as a “war president.”

And if you don’t like armchair psychologizing: there’s always the permanent bases. They want a permanent military presence in the region, which the Saudis used to provide. The Saudis wanted us out, and an alternative was needed. “Why don’t they just declare victory and get out?” profoundly misses the point: I think it’s increasingly obvious that “getting out” simply wasn’t part of the plan, at all.


wbb 08.19.06 at 9:48 am

Yes, roy belmont gets it right. Bush accomplished his mission a long time ago. It’s not like he hid the fact at the time, either. Everything that has ensued since is merely the messy footnotes to a succesful US landing in Iraq.

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