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Mar 21 2013

Wolfowitz Admits the Obvious About Iraq War

Paul Wolfowitz, probably the most important driving force behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003, is finally admitting that they may have made some mistakes. But he still thinks it was all worth it and that it would have been far worse if we’d let Saddam Hussein stay in power.

In an interview with The Sunday Times to mark the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, he said there “should have been Iraqi leadership from the beginning”, rather than a 14-month occupation led by an American viceroy and based on “this idea that we’re going to come in like [General Douglas] MacArthur in Japan and write the constitution for them”.

He accepted that too many Iraqis were excluded by a programme to purge members of the ruling Ba’ath party, that the dissolution of the Iraqi army was botched and that the “biggest hole” in post-war planning was not to anticipate the possibility of an insurgency.

“The most consequential failure was to understand the tenacity of Saddam’s regime,” he said.

Say what? Saddam’s regime was not the least bit tenacious. We deposed him and his henchmen almost immediately. What Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and the rest of the neo-cons failed to understand was the basic principle of “you break it, you buy it.” Deposing Saddam was the easy part; building a new government, a new civil society and finding a way to get the warring religious, tribal and ethnic factions to work together was the difficult part. They just never understood that. They thought that we’d be greeted as liberators, that we’d parade through Baghdad as the grateful Iraqis threw flowers at our feet and then they’d all join hands and sing Kumbaya in Arabic. When that didn’t happen, what they thought was going to be a quick strike with little cost turned into an 8-year occupation that cost trillions of dollars.

In February, 2003 Wolfowitz testified in front of a Congressional committee that the war would cost $60-$95 billion total, but that Iraqi oil money would make the higher estimate highly unlikely. On January 19, 2003 Donald Rumsfeld put the estimate at less than $50 billion. Every single justification for the war and prediction about the war was wrong. I don’t know why anyone would take them the least bit seriously now.

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  1. 1
    unbound

    “…he still thinks it was all worth it…”

    Of course he does. The really large oil fields in Iraq are licensed to the large US-owned, or US-friendly oil companies. And I do admire the touch of selling rights of the smaller oil fields in Iraq to our non-allies. On superficial inspection (like the Times article did back in 2009), it almost seems neutral.

  2. 2
    Wes

    What Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and the rest of the neo-cons failed to understand was the basic principle of “you break it, you buy it.”

    True. But Wolfowitz is also right about the other problems. Lots of analysts have pointed out long ago that the lack of Iraqi leadership, debaathification, and disbanding Saddam’s army were enormous mistakes. And many of the insurgents were in fact former members of Saddam’s army. Another mistake that he left out was that the initial invading force was WAY too small.

    Of course, the biggest mistake that hardly anyone from the Bush admin is admitting is that the entire casus belli for the war was utter bullshit, and we never should have invaded in the first place. In fact…

    He portrayed the Bush administration as deeply divided and he was fiercely critical of Colin Powell, the then secretary of state.

    It was “outrageous” and “a joke” for Powell — who reportedly used to speak of a “Gestapo office” at the Pentagon — to have suggested that the case for the Iraq War was concocted by Wolfowitz and a cabal of fellow neoconservatives within the Bush administration, he said.

    Nope. Still hasn’t learned the real fucking lesson from that war.

  3. 3
    fifthdentist

    I wouldn’t trust anyone who supported the Iraq war with watering my plants.

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    Has the World Bank become the parking lot for former militarist court jesters? Or was proximity to McNamara’s old some how encouragement for safe reflection, now that it’s safely too late?

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    s/old/old office/Ii blame my iPad

  6. 6
    Larry

    I’m still waiting for those fucking WMDs to be found. You know, the ones Sadaam had and was ready to use against the United States. After all, they were the sole reason these war-mongers used in justifying this unmitigated cluster-fuck. Nation-building was never the rationale proposed for invading.

    Damn, 10 years later and I’m still mad as hell about this. Blood-gargling psychopaths, all of them.

  7. 7
    cjcolucci

    I’m sick and tired about the “it was, nevertheless, worth it to get rid of Saddam Hussein” argument. Worth it to whom? It goes without saying that Saddam was a vicious thug and a misfortune for his people, but if Saddam had been left unmolested and, perhaps improbably, managed to hold onto power to this day, how would the total of — say — dead Iraqis that would have been killed by Saddam and his crew compare to the total of dead Iraqis that resulted from the war? And from the purely realpolitik interests of the United States, was increasing Iran’s influence in the region such a good idea?

  8. 8
    Raging Bee

    I knew all this* at least six years BEFORE the war started. This guy couldn’t admit it until TEN years AFTER? This just proves that “conservatives” are morally and mentally unfit for political power.

    _______________________
    * Plus a lot more that Wolfie still can’t bring himself to admit.

  9. 9
    TGAP Dad

    My gut feeling is that they were suffering no illusion that they would be welcomed as liberators or that the war would be self-financing. I think they chose to ignore those inconvenient facts because of the singular focus on the one goal of invading and deposing Saddam.

  10. 10
    weaver

    Even worse is John Yoo’s commentary, in which he states that sure, some mistakes were made, but unless you want to go right now and put Saddam’s remaining relatives and the Ba’athists back in power, you must concede that the ends justified the means – all of them.

    They simply will not admit that it’s not an either-or proposition, that other courses of action could and should have been considered and acted upon which would have produced like or better results without the damage to our nation, to our reputation, to our military and to our treasury.

  11. 11
    Raging Bee

    I’m sick and tired about the “it was, nevertheless, worth it to get rid of Saddam Hussein” argument…

    So am I. Saddam was never known for being levelheaded or competent, but does anyone really think his successors would have done a worse job at running their country than Bush Jr. did? At the very least, there would still have been an Iraqi army to hold things together. Military juntas suck, but they’re better than bloody sectarian chaos.

  12. 12
    marcus

    @9 I won’t argue the point, but my gut tells me that they were plenty stupid enough to actually believe it would be a “cake walk”. (Everyone but Cheney, whom I believe would have water-boarded his grandmother if it had furthered his political aspirations.)

  13. 13
    justsomeguy

    I’m still waiting for the US to learn the “don’t give aid to brutal dictators just because we currently happen to share an enemy” lesson. Saddam Hussein never would have been an issue (or at least as bad as he was) if we hadn’t helped him in the ’80s. Same with bin Laden (though he was never a head of state, but the principle is the same). I wonder what “allies” we have now that will be regimes-in-need-of-changing 15 years from now.

  14. 14
    lofgren

    I wonder what “allies” we have now that will be regimes-in-need-of-changing 15 years from now.

    Alternative hypothesis: dealing with the US is so aggravating, even the people who just want to give money to end up wanting to kill us.

  15. 15
    ottod

    I can remember them saying that there would be no insurgency. And after the insurgency was obvious to everyone that could read, Rumsfeld still insisted, “There is no insurgency!” There is not enough Preparation H in the world to even reduce the annoyance of the Bush adminidistraction.

  16. 16
    cottonnero

    Hypothetical: Assume, somehow, that the Iraq invasion didn’t happen. How does the Saddam regime fare during the Arab Spring?

  17. 17
    baal

    The entirety of the neo-con world view and heuristic set is at odds with good governance for the people (pick any people you want). I have yet to see neo-cons say anything that shows they understand that other people are in fact people.

  18. 18
    Raging Bee

    Saddam Hussein never would have been an issue (or at least as bad as he was) if we hadn’t helped him in the ’80s.

    How, exactly, did we help him then? And was he not an “issue” before the ’80s?

    Same with bin Laden…

    Same question. Last I checked, the US did nothing to help Bin Laden directly — everything we sent to the Afghan rebels went through other countries, with little actual control from Washington.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    Assume, somehow, that the Iraq invasion didn’t happen. How does the Saddam regime fare during the Arab Spring?

    Hard to say. On the one hand, neighboring Syria — ruled by Baathists like Saddam — became a hellhole. OTOH, other countries in that area didn’t get hit that bad, and Iraq would have had some oil revenue to dampen opposition, as Saudia Arabia did.

  20. 20
    slc1

    Re Raging Bee @ #18

    We helped Saddam indirectly because he was busy fighting Iran in a war that he started by the way. For instance, US Navy ships escorted tankers carrying crude oil from Iraq through the Straits of Hormuz.

  21. 21
    Michael Heath

    cottonnero writes:

    Hypothetical: Assume, somehow, that the Iraq invasion didn’t happen. How does the Saddam regime fare during the Arab Spring?

    Andrew Sullivan linked to an argument on this topic just a couple of days ago. The advocate claimed he’d fare pretty damn well, partly because there was little communications in Iraq.

  22. 22
    maddog1129

    It would be better to trust foreign policy decisions to people whose ideas aren’t made up of mere cartoons.

  23. 23
    fifthdentist

    Especially since the cartoons they get their ideas from are Roadrunner and Coyote. (They’re the coyote in this scenario, except other people get blown up and have anvils fall on them instead).

  24. 24
    Stacy
    Saddam Hussein never would have been an issue (or at least as bad as he was) if we hadn’t helped him in the ’80s.

    How, exactly, did we help him then? And was he not an “issue” before the ’80s?

    According to Christopher Hitchens–back in the day, before he turned into a warmonger–we did help Hussein, in a roundabout way, starting back in the 1970s. We were perfectly happy to “cosset” (Hitchens’ term) both Iraq and Iran as long as we found them useful. (“How else to explain the simultaneous cosseting of both Iran and Iraq during the 1980s? The backstairs dealing with the Ayatollah is a matter of record. The adoption of Saddam Hussein by the power worshipers and influence peddlers of Washington, D.C., is less well remembered.” -CH) Most chillingly, because it served our interests to let internal problems sap Iraq’s resources, we hung the Kurds out to dry (see page 3).

    http://harpers.org/archive/1991/01/why-we-are-stuck-in-the-sand/1/

  1. 25
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