Q&A Friday #98: Why I Say “Bush Screwed Up Iraq”

Question: “John,

I can’t leave comments at your site because the registration system seems to be messed up, but when you accuse Bush of “Horrifically screwing up the war in Iraq,” I want to ask you if your split personality is channeling Kos.

Your description is complete and utter B.S. When did you start swallow Michael Moore’s KoolAid? What’s wrong with you, John?” — Clark Smith

Answer: That “screwed up Iraq” comment was from a piece that wasn’t specifically about Iraq or foreign policy, so it lacked details.

I have a very specific problem with the way the Bush Administration handled Iraq: they never gave the American people the slightest indication that hundreds of thousands of American troops might be stuck policing the streets of Iraq for years and thousands of them might die in the process.

Had Bush warned the American people that would happen, neither they nor the conservative movement would have supported the invasion. Then Bush would have either had to go in another direction or he would have had to reformulate the plans to insure that our troops didn’t end up on the streets of Iraq for years.

However, once he invaded, the Rubicon had been crossed and we were stuck because you don’t start a war and then give it up because the going gets tough.

If we end up with a stable, democratic government that’s friendly to the U.S. and hostile to terrorists long term, I think the war will turn out to have been worth it — although a lot of people probably won’t see it that way for quite a while. But, in any case, Bush could have and should have handled the whole thing so much better than he did — and that’s why I say “Bush screwed up Iraq.”

Update #1: There have been some complaints in the comments section, fair ones I think, that wars are often unpredictable, we knew we’d have to be there for years, and that by historical terms, we’ve taken very light losses.

That’s very true.

However, most Americans — and I think most members of Congress — looked back at our most recent conflicts: the Gulf War, Serbia, Afghanistan (which was very new then) — and concluded we’d win the war handily and then 30-40k of our troops might be based in Iraq for a few years afterwards without taking significant casualties. Bush did absolutely nothing to disabuse anybody of that notion, if, in fact, he had any idea of it himself. Therein lies the problem.

To me, this is not a case of war being unpredictable and no plan surviving first contact with the enemy. If Bush knew we were going to need more than a 100k American soldiers acting as policemen in Iraq for five years while they faced serious resistance, he should have informed Congress and the American people of that possibility. If he didn’t know that, he wasn’t doing his job properly as Commander-In-Chief.

Had we known then what we know today, perhaps we would have gone another route. For example, we may have found some powerful Sunni general who had the respect of the military, that we could have put in charge in return for improvements of the treatment of the Iraqi people, hostility towards terrorism, and future promises of democracy.

Would that be better than what we can potentially have today in Iraq today (assuming Obama doesn’t screw it up)? No. Would it have had a much better cost to reward ratio? Yes. In other words, Hussein would be gone, the terrorists would still be losers, the Iraqi people would still be better off, and it would have cost us considerably less blood and treasure.

At this point, it’s all muddy water under the bridge anyway and it doesn’t change the fact that I think long-term Iraq will be worth it — that once we did commit to war, we were right to continue to this point, and that it would be particularly foolish for America to risk losing the war in Iraq now.

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