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Iraq: Worth The Cost?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had a press conference in Turkey a couple weeks ago after participating in a ceremony in Baghdad marking the end of America’s official (but not unofficial) military presence in that country. And he claimed that the invasion of Iraq was worth the cost:

Speaking with reporters here a day after participating in ceremonies in Baghdad marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, the secretary called the milestone a time to reflect on what was gained, what was lost and the price paid during the effort.

“There is no question that the United States was divided going into that war,” he said. “But I think the United States is united coming out of that war. We all recognize the tremendous price that has been paid in lives, in blood. And yet I think we also recognize that those lives were not lost in vain.”

The result, he said, has been establishment of a sovereign and independent Iraq that can govern and secure itself and become “an important, stabilizing factor in that region of the world.”

“As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” he added.

This is what he has to say, of course, but he can’t really believe it, can he? A few days after he made those claims, Iraqi Prime Minister Minister Nouri al-Malaki tried to have Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi arrested. Malaki is a Shiite, Hashemi is a Sunni (the nation’s highest-ranking Sunni official, in fact). That sparked massive protests around the country and threatens to unravel a very fragile power-sharing agreement among the various groups in Parliament.

But even if we had managed to establish a stable government in Iraq, would it have been worth the cost? Glenn Greenwald looks at the ledger:

The “price” that Panetta believes is “worth it” includes dead civilians in the hundreds of thousands, countless more maimed, millions of Iraqis internally and externally displaced (a huge number who remain so), tens of thousands of American soldiers killed and/or injured, and at least $1 trillion spent, contributing to “austerity” so severe that Panetta himself has been urging cuts to core social programs. That is above and beyond future Saddam-like oppression, tyranny and sectarian strife under the Malaki regime. As the always-insightful military historian and former Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich put it this week: “Recalling that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to al-Qaeda both turned out to be all but non-existent, a Churchillian verdict on the war might read thusly: Seldom in the course of human history have so many sacrificed so dearly to achieve so little.”

I understand the moral argument for invading Iraq, one that was very compelling to Christopher Hitchens, who counted many close friends among the Kurds who had been tortured and killed by Saddam Hussein. Hussein was an incredibly brutal dictator and he was responsible for untold suffering. I was among those writing letters on behalf of Amnesty International against his barbaric actions in the late 1980s, when he was still an American ally receiving lots of money, weaponry and intelligence assistance from our government. The desire to end that brutal reign is entirely reasonable.

But wars result in a great deal of carnage and consequences, intended and unintended, that have to be weighed as well. I am not a pacifist; I believe that there are situations in which war is necessary, sometimes to end injustice. And I’m glad Saddam Hussein is dead and no longer able to engage in torture and institutionalized murder. But was it worth the costs listed above? I don’t think it was, and I don’t think the rationalizations offered for it make much sense.

We haven’t stabilized the region, we’ve destabilized it. Iraq is now going to descend into greater sectarian and tribal violence. Hussein’s brutality kept a lid on those forces for decades and the American military presence helped keep it from exploding completely for the last few years. But this result was made inevitable by our invasion. We could not stay there and occupy the country forever. Even our puppet government does not want us there anymore. But Iraq is going to be a bloody, violent mess for as long as anyone can foresee.

In the end, all the claims of Hussein’s strategic threat to us were nonsense (which was obvious to me at the time and should have been obvious to anyone paying attention); the imagined small cost of the war predicted by the Bush administration, especially Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, turned out to be “wildly off the mark” (as Wolfowitz once falsely claimed about Gen. Shinseki’s far-too-optimistic prediction that the war would cost $200 billion or so); the human rights situation has not improved a bit, as Hussein’s brutality was replaced by the abuses of American troops, contractors, the Iraqi government and the various factions fighting in the country; the country and the region are more unstable than ever; and we’ve killed tens to hundreds of thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands more and spent a fortune in the process. Worth it? Not even close.

Comments

  1. says

    I thought from the very beginning that the incursion into Iraq was nothing more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have a splendid little macho adventure at the expense of others. My family, however, insists loudly that it was a heroic and noble endeavor. It has to be. We lost a family member in it. No one wants to face the fact that my cousin’s life was thrown away in a random act of political opportunism.

  2. says

    How’d that $40 billion estimate — which would be paid for with Iraqi oil — work out for us?

    There’s not enough turd polish in the universe to make this one look presentable.

    Oh well, “American Idol” is on, and those Doritos aren’t going to eat themselves.

  3. d cwilson says

    No.

    Wait, let me rephrase that.

    HELL NO!

    No we’ll probably spend the next twenty years navel gazing over this question and how things could have been down differently, just like we did after Vietnam.

  4. Michael Heath says

    If we consider the following factors in hindsight, I find SECDEF Panetta’s justification at best disingenuous, at worst incoherent. Those factors are:

    The financial expenditure (about $800 billion)
    The economic costs (about $2 – $3 trillion)
    The cost in U.S. lives lost (about 4500)
    The cost of Iraqi innocents lost (about 400K – 950K according to Lancet article)
    The cost in U.S. casualties (about 32,000)
    The cost/benefit in increased influence and power in the region
    [I realize other factors also exist which should be considered in a full-blown analysis, such the costs to our allies and the strategic impact of decimating the Iraqi military.]

    SECDEF Panetta’s justification avoids the very factor that easily makes this a bad decision without having to consider any additional factors, at least at the present time though current conditions appear to validating this will be the case in the long term as well. That is the financial expenditure. Go to the second factor, the economic cost, and anyone still arguing for war is either insane or a war profiteer even at the expense of their country’s interests.

    I think if our predictions for the above costs were understood prior to the invasion, there’s no way the Bush Administration would have gotten authority from the Congress, specific to the financial expenditure.

    I do think the number of U.S. lives lost was an acceptable number given the scope of this war, however, I think the public and policymakers have yet to understand a change in paradigms regarding casualties which should dilute this factor and more strongly consider the cost in total casualties. We’re doing a fantastic job of reducing the number of lives lost in military operations; however that benefit also comes with a far more horrific cost by those wounded who now survive previously fatally injuries.

    In addition given the lack of support by the public, contra conservative lies, our military personnel did far too many tours, leading to far more horrific impacts to them personally such as PTSD, itself a casualty. This failure to properly consider all casualties makes me skeptical the cost in casualties was worth it though I’m not sufficiently informed to weigh-in; I only know our policy makers are mostly denying the enormous cost to military members who weren’t killed.

  5. Michael Heath says

    Ed wrote:

    In the end, all the claims of Hussein’s strategic threat to us were nonsense (which was obvious to me at the time and should have been obvious to anyone paying attention) . . .

    Do you recall considering and reacting to then-SECSTATE Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N. making the case for war? Did you blog on that speech?

  6. daved says

    I was immediately reminded of a Bill Maher “New Rules” segment from some years back (during the Bush administration). I hunted it up on YouTube and transcribed part of it (if you type “bill maher think tanks” into the YouTube search box, you’ll find the whole thing).

    You can’t call yourself a “think tank” if all your ideas are stupid.

    And if you’re someone from one of the think tanks that dreamed up the
    Iraq war, and who predicted that we’d be greeted as liberators, that
    we wouldn’t need a lot of troops, that Iraqi oil would pay for the war,
    that the WMDs would be found, that the looting wasn’t problematic, that
    the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last
    throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the
    government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got his kids,
    after we got Zarqawi, and that the whole bloody mess wouldn’t turn
    into a civil war, you have to stop making predictions.

    Richard Perle thought we could win Iraq with 40,000 troops. Paul
    Wolfowitz predicted in 2003 that within a year, the grateful people of
    Baghdad would name some grand square in their fine city after
    President Bush. And he was right when he said they’d be waving
    American flags — they were on fire. William Kristol pooh-poohed the
    fears that Sunnis and Shiites would be at each other’s throats as “the
    stuff of pop psychology.” Right, and having your head chopped off is
    just a quick way to drop eleven pounds. Kristol, of course, is
    revered by much of the right because he was Dan Quayle’s chief of
    staff, and was known as “Quayle’s brain.” Which sounded impressive,
    until I remembered: Dan Quayle didn’t have a brain.

    And now Mr. Kristol proposes “immediate military action” against Iran,
    predicting the Iranians will thank us for it. Hey, you know what,
    Nostradamus: why don’t you sit this one out?

  7. says

    Of course, the one time where Saddam Hussein actually did initiate military action against the United States (the Iraqi fighter jet firing a missile at the USS Stark), it was during the Reagan Administration. It was probably Saddam’s f-u to Reagan for giving arms to the Iranians during the Iran Iraq War.

  8. Michael Heath says

    fifthdentist:

    How’d that $40 billion estimate — which would be paid for with Iraqi oil — work out for us?

    I believe it was $58 billion, and it was never a formal budget item IIRC. Instead the Bush Administration successfully avoided budgeting the costs of the war, which I find far more egregious than putting this number out there.

    I think it’s important to note however that we did have an opportunity right after the invasion to successfully and cheaply extricate ourselves at this level of expense. However we failed operationally in the weeks/months post-invasion in spite of the fact the Iraqi’s were pretty much capable of taking over right after the invasion. Charles Packer’s book, Assassins at the Gate, provides an excellent analysis on how the U.S. mucked things up in spite of the reality that the Iraqis could have taken over right after the invasion. [Of course there would have been some blood still shed given the ethnic atrocities committed during the Hussein era.]

    A primary root cause failure was VP Cheney and SECDEF Rumsfeld cutting the State Dept. out of the post-invasion administration duties. Duties for which they have resources, experience, and excellence to handle. Instead Cheney and Rumsfeld managed it from through the Defense Dept. which was in no way capable of such administration. This is another example of how ideology gets in the way of competence, in this case Cheney and Rumsfeld’s belief the State Dept. was a liberal institution and therefore an “other” to be defeated – to hell with the consequences to the country. Another root cause failure was George W. Bush’s complete lack of executive skills which allowed such bureaucrats to run rough-shod within his Administration. President Bush’s incompetency and weakness as a leader and a manager remains vastly under-reported. In the end Bush did turn things around in terms of better managing foreign policy by handing the reins over to the far more competent Condi Rice, who was also unprepared to lead at the start of the Bush Administration where her and SECSTATE Powell were repeatedly beaten by Cheney and Rumsfeld. However by the time she had effective control of our foreign policy portfolio, around 2004-2005, the damage was already done.

  9. says

    I don’t believe that our country invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction or al-Qaeda. Not for a second. I believe that our country invaded Iraq for only one reason, which was to benefit war-profiteers.

    Nobody in the Bush administration gave a rat’s ass for Freedom, Democracy, Justice, or Life. It was all about money and nothing else.

    I would like to see a chart that shows the percentages of money spent on the military, suppliers, and contractors. I’ll bet that among them, the military itself got the smallest amount.

  10. says

    One of the things I said often around that time was that wars are almost always fought over financial and strategic issues, but they are always sold to the public as two things: a response to imminent threat and a moral crusade. The real reasons for going to war have little to do with the marketing campaign for the war.

  11. says

    @ Michael Heath
    From our liberal media in February 2003:

    Even so, many experts say they expect a conflict to cost $40 billion to $60 billion. They compare it to the 1991 Gulf War, which had a price tag of $61 billion — or $80 billion in today’s dollars when the past decade’s inflation is factored in.
    “I’m hearing costs in the $40 billion range from people in the Pentagon” who expect the fighting to end in a few weeks, said Dan Goure, vice president of the nonprofit Lexington Institute.

    For the cost to drastically exceed that would mean “the Iraqi military fights not like the Iraqi military of old, but the Wehrmacht of old,” he said, referring to the German army of World War II.

    Two other private analysts estimate that the war’s tab could run from $17 billion to $79 billion, with a mid-range prediction in the mid-$40 billion. That middle projection assumed 250,000 U.S. troops fighting for three months.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/21/iraq/main541584.shtml

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    … he was still an American ally receiving lots of money, weaponry and intelligence assistance from our government. The desire to end that brutal reign is entirely reasonable.

    The desire to put an end to the regime which creates & sustains such alliances – and which puts moral morons such as Panetta into office – has motivated many of us for decades. After each war, we’ve been proven right; before and during each war, we’re “dirty goddamn hippies” that every red-blooded American has to hate – just ask the majority of pundits about the Occupy movement.

  13. Aquaria says

    The only pleasure I can get out of Iraq is telling all the conservatards:

    We told you so.

    We told you it would be a costly, bloody mess. We told you there would be no WMDs. We told you there was no connection to Al Qaeda (although there’s probably one now!–WTG!). We told you that our military would act like animals. We told you the locals would suffer the most, lose the most lives.

    Everything that happened–everything that went wrong–we told you in February 2003 that it would happen.

    But because it was almost entirely the left saying it, well, of course we on the left were the crazy ones, we couldn’t possibly know what we were talking about.

    But we did.

    We told you so.

  14. acroyear says

    I’ve always thought that the core of the idea was that Iran had been the real target all along, but was always too big, too militarily stable, to deal with. The gist was that if we controlled Afghanistan with an army on that border, and controlled Iraq with an army there, and controlled the gulf, we could threaten Iran to back down from any of its policies we didn’t like.

    Of course, that was on the assumption that local people would actually support our occupation, rather than take advantage of the power vacuum to make up for 10-30 years of political repression. Iran comes out not as a nation in fear of imminent invasion but rather a stronger political force than any before.

  15. says

    d cwilson “No we’ll probably spend the next twenty years navel gazing over this question and how things could have been down differently, just like we did after Vietnam.”
    Exactly. It was those dirty goddamn hippies’ fault.

    Pierce R. Butler (paraphrased) “Blah blah blah! I rarely bathe! I hate America and Freedom and America!”
    Get out of here, hippie!

  16. d cwilson says

    The only pleasure I can get out of Iraq is telling all the conservatards:

    We told you so.

    Conservative response: You libtards cut n’ run!

    Yep, I’m looking forward for the next two decades.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Modusoperandi @ # 17: d cwilson “No we’ll probably spend the next twenty years navel gazing over this question and how things could have been down differently, just like we did after Vietnam.”

    Which reminds me of a favorite Anne Herbert quotation:

    The National Soul-Searching Over Vietnam has been canceled so that we may bring you Watergate: fascinating, bloodless, and Not Your Fault.

    Get out of here, hippie!

    You forgot to throw your digital beer bottle.

  18. freemage says

    At the time of Powell’s speech to the UN, a friend of mine whose father works in “the intelligence community” told me flat-out, “Saddam doesn’t have any weapons other than maybe the ones we gave him. But he thinks he does.”

    Essentially, she said, analysts looking at both Iraq’s resources and their behavior realized that Saddam’s behavior only made sense if he thought he had actual WMDs. However, there was no way he had the scientific or financial resources needed to actually produce such things. So the logical conclusion was that Saddam was telling his people, “I want bio weapons and chemical weapons and a nuke by next Friday,” and because any order from Saddam came with a subtext of, “Or it’s the woodchipper for you,” his subordinates saluted, said, “Yes, sir!” and then set up labs like a movie-set; beakers and bottles and flashing lights, things that would look to a military thug like a ‘weapons lab’. Then they crossed their fingers and prayed to whatever power they prayed to that if the invasion came, Saddam would die before he had a chance to execute their families.

    Which, by the by, is almost exactly what we found when we went in–faux-labs that looked like they COULD be used for something nefarious, if you had enough materiel and personnel to actually use them.

    So there were definitely people out there who knew exactly what was happening. Unfortunately, since those folks’ conclusions didn’t yield a line of reasoning that would justify invading Iraq, they were shut down and ignored.

  19. Michael Heath says

    freemage writes:

    So there were definitely people out there who knew exactly what was happening. Unfortunately, since those folks’ conclusions didn’t yield a line of reasoning that would justify invading Iraq, they were shut down and ignored.

    They weren’t shut down and ignored. Instead their work was sent to the Dept. of Defense under the direction of Doug Feith who was provided cover by Dick Cheney. Their intelligence findings were transformed from outlier probability of WMD capabilities to confidence with certainty Hussein had WMDs.

    Colin Powell and Congress was lied to, yet we encountered no impeachment and then no criminal proceedings in spite of the cost of blood and treasure based on these manufactured lies. Bill O’Reilly continues to claim we were instead “fooled”, that the president and VP used the same intelligence as Congress and therefore Cheney and Bush are not culpable, while ignoring the fact the intelligence was purposefully fixed by Bush and Cheney prior to their submitting to Powell and Congress.

  20. Michael Heath says

    Aquaria asserts:

    Everything that happened–everything that went wrong–we told you in February 2003 that it would happen.

    Not even close. The fact is the Iraqis were happy to see us after the invasion and eager to work with us to rebuild their country, contra the warnings of those reactively against the war. We instead performed so poorly post-invasion we eventually created chaos, anarchy, and an enemy; by disbanding the military, abu Ghraib which resulted in al Qaeda recruits streaming into Iraq in droves, not turning over power to local authorities who were eager to work with us, and not protecting Iraqi institutions and infrastructure.

    We could very well have achieved a relatively successful transfer of power in 2003/early-2004 if our State Dept. wasn’t cut out of the loop by Cheney and Rumsefeld (which Bush seemed oblivious to) and allowed to lead the administration and transfer of power as they’re chartered with doing and have succeeded at in the past.

    This doesn’t mean the strategy was correct and we failed only at executing that strategy. But it also doesn’t mean those reactively against the war were prescient about why we’d fail – they weren’t right on multiple counts. They were wrong on the ease we seized power and they were wrong on Iraqis not welcoming us. The fact is the Bush Administration’s incompetence was far worse than even those reactively against the war perceived, in fact they were unimaginably incompetent which is why no one predicted such incompetenece. We failed due to gross negligence and gross incompetence at administrating a post-invasion Iraq, not necessarily because the strategy was wrong.

  21. naturalcynic says

    But we must think of the costs that Obama has saved us by not trying and giving lifetime lodgings for Bush, Cheyney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Wolfowitz, Rice, Powell, Feith, Perle, …

  22. lofgren says

    But it also doesn’t mean those reactively against the war were prescient about why we’d fail – they weren’t right on multiple counts.

    Um, no. We were all pretty confident that we could topple Saddam’s tinpot regime simply by unfurling our huge American military dicks in his face, and naturally there were quite a few Iraqis who were happy to engage in some highly photogenic fellatio for the troops considering what they had put up with for the past twenty years.

    Your argument appears to be, “Those who prognosticated that Iraq would be a desperate sinkhole of ineptitude, greed, and worthless death were wrong because in hindsight there is one possible way that, if everything had worked out perfectly, the story could have ended in a somewhat positive light.” You’re crazy. What we “told you” was that we were about to unleash uncontained chaos that would virtually guarantee a travesty. Profiteering, torture, incompetence, and general authoritarian dickishness are exactly what we predicted.

    And before you object, yes, we would ALSO be saying “I told you so” if Bush had handed power over to the Iraqis in 2003-4 and then the competing influences of Iran and the various jihadi forces that saw an opportunity to take advantage of the chaos led to civil war or sectarian oppression. There were certainly a bunch of Iraqis eager to take to take the reins from the minute after that big bronze Saddam fell down, but their chances of holding the country together were never much more than hopeless.

    The idea that if Rumsfeld and Cheney had just involved the State department more then everything would be peaches and roses is nothing more than wishful thinking.

    The fact is the Bush Administration’s incompetence was far worse than even those reactively against the war perceived, in fact they were unimaginably incompetent which is why no one predicted such incompetenece.

    So those of us who said that Iraq would be a quagmire and Bush was incompetent were wrong because we failed to predict precisely how much of a quagmire and just how incompetent Bush? That’s a new definition of “wrong.” It would be more accurate to say that we were even more right than we knew.

  23. Michael Heath says

    lofgren writes:

    The idea that if Rumsfeld and Cheney had just involved the State department more then everything would be peaches and roses is nothing more than wishful thinking.

    I never made that claim. I did make the claim this country had a process for managing this sort of challenge and in the case of Iraq it was avoided due to bureaucratic in-fighting and due to the defectiveness of conservatives being dominated by their ideology.

    Properly analyzing history in order that we actually learn from it is imperative. I’m comfortable I properly understand that history and its resultant lessons when it comes to the Iraq War. I’m of course open to improving my position with a compelling set of facts. An emotional and reactive rant based on rhetorical fallacies in order to defend a liberal narrative, or any ideological- or partisan-dominated narrative, is not compelling. If you have some actual cites which falsify my claims which as noted before in this thread were primarily based on Packer’s Assassin’s Gate report and of course many sources as this played out, than I’d of course be happy to peruse. But I am not convinced by “clock stops twice” style arguments. Simply because I find it far too important to actually learn from what history teaches us which requires a nuanced and sufficiently detailed study as opposed to defending past ideological arguments.

  24. dingojack says

    Had Cheney et al. actually paid attention to the State Dept. misgivings about the folly the Bush Administration were about to engage in, perhaps they might have changed their minds (OK, it’s extremely unlikely possibility) and thereby saved millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.
    What would ave been the outcome in 2011 though, realistically? Better or worse overall?
    Dingo

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    Michael Heath @ # 22: The fact is the Iraqis were happy to see us after the invasion and eager to work with us to rebuild their country…

    Aw c’mon. Some Iraqis were happy to see foreign conquerors – many because they were naive enough to think the US had invaded with benign intent, the rest because they figured they could hustle their way to Quisling power and fortune, or just grab enough loot to end up ahead of wherever they had been.

    We could very well have achieved a relatively successful transfer of power in 2003/early-2004 if our State Dept. wasn’t cut out of the loop … and allowed to lead the administration and transfer of power as they’re chartered with doing and have succeeded at in the past.

    The rather distant past, namely the late 1940s. Since then, the US State Dept’s biggest success in “nation-building” has been, uh, Haiti?

    We failed due to gross negligence and gross incompetence at administrating a post-invasion Iraq, not necessarily because the strategy was wrong.

    Differentiating the strategy from its implementation gets us, at best, into Platonic idealism and other such fairylands. Remember the Contra leader (Bosco Matamoros?) who warned his colleagues:

    Don’t trust the Americans – they have no talent for empire.

  26. lofgren says

    Simply because I find it far too important to actually learn from what history teaches us which requires a nuanced and sufficiently detailed study as opposed to defending past ideological arguments.

    I am certainly not arguing against your facts, although I am disputing your apparent claim that nobody anticipated the ineptitude of the Bush administration. I am familiar with the rift between the state department and the department of defense, and Cheney’s role in it. I’m not disputing your facts, just your interpretation of them.

    One of the great lies that has come out of the disaster of the Iraq war is that nobody could have foreseen what a disaster it became. What I find offensive is your attempt to discredit the millions of Americans who absolutely foresaw that disaster. Sure, the exact details of the Bush administration’s incompetence weren’t precisely laid out beforehand. That doesn’t mean that the incompetence wasn’t tiredly predictable.

  27. KG says

    MIchael Heath’s claim that the USA could have got out of Iraq and left a relatively stable situation within a year is implausible: Sunni Arabs were bound to resent and contest their community’s loss of power, and the Shia were badly divided among themselves. But in any case, it’s not plausible that this would be attempted, because the aims of the invasion required a lengthy occupation; and in terms of those aims, apparently perverse actions such as disbanding the armed forces make much more sense. Those aims were (apart from some neocons’ imagined opportunity to play at philosopher-kings by crafting a free-market utopia) control over the Iraqi oil industry (oil industry sites were primary targets for capture in the invasion), and long-term military bases: the “need” for US bases in the Gulf is asserted in Project for a New American Century’s Rebuilding America’s Defences (2000), which also notes the political difficulties of bases in Saudi Arabia; and the scale of base construction, and the vast US embassy, make it clear that a long-term military presence was intended. Obama appeared to try and reach agreement for US troops to stay, but may actually have been content to remove all troops (other than mercenaries) for political reasons, so that aim was not achieved. However, the Iraqi armed forces will be heavily dependent on US spares, upgrades and training. Iraq’s oil industry has to a considerable extent been reoriented toward foreign oil companies (both private and state), but the long-term outcome is still unclear – disputes over drafts of an overarching oil law have continued for years, although this has not stopped contracts being awarded.

  28. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier:

    We could very well have achieved a relatively successful transfer of power in 2003/early-2004 if our State Dept. wasn’t cut out of the loop … and allowed to lead the administration and transfer of power as they’re chartered with doing and have succeeded at in the past.

    Pierce Butler responds:

    The rather distant past, namely the late 1940s. Since then, the US State Dept’s biggest success in “nation-building” has been, uh, Haiti?

    No, the reference was not to the 1940s but to recent and ongoing State and U.N. work in countries which were part of the USSR, not just Europe but also central Asia. Arguments from ignorance are never compelling.

    Besides cutting out State, VP Cheney and SECDEF Rumseld also had certain U.S. State Dept. Iraqi experts either fired after their DoD team hired them away from State to lead the effort, e.g., Tim Warrick, or put them in jobs well below their level of expertise, Barbara Bodine where she lacked the power to properly administrate.

    Pierce Butler:

    Differentiating the strategy from its implementation gets us, at best, into Platonic idealism and other such fairylands.

    Those who are capable of making these types of analyses invariably succeed since it’s critical in creating a proper set of ‘lessons learned’. This sort of analysis is both a critical and formal part of executive/upper-management training. The Iraq War provides a vivid case study since it’s so easy to parse the strategy from the execution and analyze each. Mgt. 401 teaches all strategies ultimately fail, even initially successful ones, so breaking down and understanding key factors and acting accordingly is a critical responsibility of those with executive power.

  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    Michael Heath @ # 30: … the reference was not to the 1940s but to recent and ongoing State and U.N. work in countries which were part of the USSR…

    Co-opting fledgling democracies from the previous overlord has voluntarily withdrawn is to the Iraq scenario as helping a neighbor clean up after a party is to rebuilding that neighbor’s house after you burnt it down.

    … VP Cheney and SECDEF Rumseld also had certain U.S. State Dept. Iraqi experts either fired … or put them in jobs well below their level of expertise…

    Pardon me while I endure flashbacks of the war on Vietnam, after all personnel with any experience of that country were purged as Cold War “unreliables”. Ah, gory days… In the Bush-Cheney master plan, anyone who tried to do anything for the Iraqi people as such would have been dumped, because the entire premise for the war was a set of neocon fantasies.

    Just like we told ya goin’ in.

    The Iraq War provides a vivid case study since it’s so easy to parse the strategy from the execution and analyze each.

    The “strategy” was to create a US puppet state: no execution could have achieved that, though the horrible B-C choices of policy and personnel would also have doomed a viable goal.

    Mgt. 401 teaches all strategies ultimately fail, even initially successful ones…

    I rather doubt B & C made it past Mgmt 101 and 201 respectively, never mind the Zen parables wherein grad seminars find amusement. The shallowness of the thinking before, during, & after the 2nd war on Iraq shows pretty conclusively that nothing more profound than “1-Bomb! 2-Glory! 3-Profit!” was ever allowed in highest-level discussions.

    I’m currently reading Efraim Karsh & Inari Karsh’s Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789-1923, which (though tendentious) shows clearly how true masters of the imperialist art such as Gladstone & Disraeli, given opportunities to make a grab for Mesopotamia, consistently backpedaled and propped up the local regime as the wiser course for their own Empire’s interests. The same advice could have been had from CIA, State, & parts of the Pentagon, but the cowboys in charge, and the yahoos in process of taking over their party, preferred the Hollywood/Texas approach – shoot first, shoot later.

  30. Michael Heath says

    Lofgren writes:

    I am familiar with the rift between the state department and the department of defense, and Cheney’s role in it. I’m not disputing your facts, just your interpretation of them.

    I realize many of us knew the Bush Administration was inept in some areas. But I do not recall any arguments that the incompetency of the Bush Administration would be the primary reason post-invasion operations would fail, or even a generic administration.

    Certainly there were debates about post-invasion outcomes which led to a large dose of healthy skepticism about the ramifications if we took out Saddam Hussein. Those had been ongoing since Operation Desert Storm where people I respected argued we shouldn’t invade, but instead contain Iraq. But again, no one I encountered who was against the 2003 Iraq War argued we’d be able to go in and depose Hussein as easily as we did, have Iraqis willing to engage us, and then have Bush fuck-up those actions. Instead opponents to the war, at least the ones whose arguments were pervasive enough they gained the consideration of people who see beyond tribalism and seek optimal results, argued we would not be able to easily seize power and would not have a populace willing and ready to work with us. Those two predictions fortunately failed – contra Aquaria’s claim which is what motivated me to fisk her comment post in the first place. Those opponents who made these failed predictions were primarily worthy of our consideration then and remain so now; so I don’t criticize those opponents but in fact think they made great points.

    Lofgren writes:

    One of the great lies that has come out of the disaster of the Iraq war is that nobody could have foreseen what a disaster it became.

    Well first off, I never lied. Second I never spread this lie. Third I was and remain perfectly cognizant of the very best arguments that we risked catastrophe in Iraq prior to the invasion. And fourth, I’m unaware of the fact any significant portion of the population thinks no one foresaw disaster in Iraq. This is the first time I’ve ever encountered this claim.

    The decision to go into Iraq was in fact the most hotly debated topic in America in 2002 and 2003. The most successful documentary ever was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which was a polemic against invading Iraq. Every single Fox News fan I associate with was and remains perfectly cognizant of the risk of going in Iraq. Opponents of the war were heard in spite of the conservative cocoon. If you have a cite this false meme has taken root in a significant part of the American consciousness I’d love to see it, I remain extremely skeptical of your assertion given I’ve never observed this with the possible exception of a handful of people with a bully pulpit where I quickly forgot their claim since it’s not true and doesn’t appear to resonate – contra your claim here though I remain open for poll results proving me wrong.

    Lofgren writes:

    What I find offensive is your attempt to discredit the millions of Americans who absolutely foresaw that disaster. Sure, the exact details of the Bush administration’s incompetence weren’t precisely laid out beforehand. That doesn’t mean that the incompetence wasn’t tiredly predictable.

    You are offended if we point out the difference that the results of the war properly analyzed by the experts reveals those results differ from what Iraq War opponents predicted? If I were making the case we shouldn’t go to war and the result was a net loss but for reasons different than what I predicted, I wouldn’t be offended and have a hard time discerning why I would be.

    I have an enormous amount of respect for those opponents to the war who put forth well-structured arguments. I have zero respect for those opponents who brag they were right when in fact their previous argument did not true out to be true, especially when they dishonestly conflate their wrong prediction as a true one. To me that’s a failure in character and exactly what Aquaria did which had me refuting her post, i.e., her false assertion,”Everything that happened–everything that went wrong–we told you in February 2003 that it would happen.” Well it didn’t.

    Lofgren, from my perspective and perhaps it’s unfair, your argument reeks of tribalism because I won’t give a fellow lefty some slack when she lies about history. Well I disdain tribalism as much from the left as I do from conservatives. In fact more so since our ability to not act in a tribalistic fashion is an important competitive advantage that helps us where conservatives can’t control their tribalistic urges.

  31. Pierce R. Butler says

    Michael Heath @ # 33: Citation requested.

    Read up on just about anything to do with PNAC ‘n’ Iraq, or just ponder the implications of the phrase “regime change”.

    the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East. … The hawks’ grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq …

    The U.S. has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in the Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

    Remember the plan to redesign the Iraqi flag with two horizontal blue stripes so it would more resemble the Israeli flag?

  32. Michael Heath says

    Pierce Butler,

    Your cites are my understanding, which is not my definition of a puppet government. Iraq is certainly not acting like one now either nor could I imagine them acting otherwise given the ethnic strife present both now and for many decades.

  33. Pierce R. Butler says

    Michael Heath @ # 35: … not my definition of a puppet government.

    Well, if you won’t accept anything less than a signed memo from GWB to DC specifying the Dark-Side Jedi-mind-control progress report, we may fail to reach satisfaction here. Pls recall the original scheme was to install everybody’s friend Ahmed Chalabi as the Saddam replacement – a man with no local power base in Iraq at all.

    The partial independence displayed by Maliki et al reflects more on the ineptitude of US handlers (always undermined by the ever-present example of the Israeli tail wagging the US dog) than on their goals (best illustrated by the immediate seizure of the Ministry of Oil when the rest of Baghdad was left to chaos).

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