Q&A Friday #33: On Iraq…

Question: “Surely you HAVE to have some issues with the way the Iraq war has been managed / budgeted / generally executed, right? I mean, even if one agreed with the general idea of an invasion, why the rush to action? Why wasn’t more input outside of the general bush ‘circle of eight’ at least studied or considered (even if they were eventually rejected–state department has been pretty clear about this point, by all objective accounts)? Troop size, management on the ground, Chalabi, poor management of money……anything?? And, lastly, do those concerns give you any lessons as we look forward to evaluating the Iran question?

…I have been reading this blog for a LONGGGGG time (Betsy of betsy’s page was my middle school teacher, and youre from north carolina as well…go panthers and lets go duke, lets go duke) and I really respect your perspective on things…and these are questions that I think matter to a lot more people than you’d think.” — Immortal_Technique

Answer: First of all, thank you for the kind words. They’re much appreciated.

OK, let’s take ’em one at a time.

“why the rush to action”

There was no, “rush to action.” In fact, if I’d had my druthers, we’d have started seriously preparing to invade Iraq almost as soon as we ran the Taliban out of Afghanistan. Giving Saddam all that extra time to prepare was a mistake.

Furthermore, our de facto US policy since the Gulf War has been to get rid of Saddam. Clinton even made it official back in 1998. Add to that 19 UN Resolutions, Bush spending more than a year essentially threatening Iraq with war, and the months the UN inspectors spent getting the run-around for Saddam. If all that still constitutes a, “rush to war,” in some people’s minds, then I’d suggest that the right time would have never come for them.

“Why wasn’t more input outside of the general bush ‘circle of eight’ at least studied or considered (even if they were eventually rejected–state department has been pretty clear about this point, by all objective accounts)?”

Bush conferred extensively with his top advisers, including Colin Powell from the State Department, the British government, and Tommy Franks and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were on board every step of the way. There were also countless other people whose opinions undoubtedly were solicited at some point or another. Who else should have been involved that wasn’t? Madeline Albright? Jimmy Carter? It seems to me everyone who should have been in the loop, was in the loop.

“Surely you HAVE to have some issues with the way the Iraq war has been managed / budgeted / generally executed, right?”

As to mistakes that were made, there were plenty. I think we should have gone in earlier. I think we should have done (and should still be doing) a better job of rebuilding the infrastructure there. The original plan, which was to have members of the Iraqi army policing the country obviously didn’t work. I think we should have killed Muqta al-Sadr long ago. We shouldn’t have allowed the looting to occur after Baghdad fell.

Of course, it’s very easy for me, and you, and everyone else to point out those problems in hindsight. What apparently hasn’t been easy for a lot of people is to note that throughout history, wars, including wars we’ve participated in, have been bloody, messy, and full of mistakes. That’s the nature of warfare.

However, when you compare this war to other wars, not to some idealistic version of what a war should be, things have not gone perfectly, but could be said to have gone extremely well.

For example, people love to compare Iraq to Vietnam. What they should be noting about that comparison is that we haven’t been in Iraq nearly as long, we have a fraction of casualities we sustained in Vietnam, the enemy isn’t nearly as strong or popular, and that unlike Vietnam, we’ll probably be in a position in 2007, where the Iraqis will be able to handle the terrorists with very minimal or possibly even no help from us.

Even if the Democrats in Congress are as feckless as they were after Vietnam when they cut off the promised money, supplies, and air support to the South Vietnamese — which for all intents and purposes was as good as handing the people we fought with side-by-side over to the enemy — it probably won’t matter much because next year the Iraqis will be too far along to be easily derailed.

But instead of looking at the big picture on the war, which has been very successful by historical standards, too many people allow themselves to get bogged down in politically driven minutia like our relationship with Chalabi or whether some country that sent 50 guys to Iraq is going to be staying in or pulling out.

“And, lastly, do those concerns give you any lessons as we look forward to evaluating the Iran question?”

The biggest concern we should have with Iran, given our experience in Iraq, is that our intelligence on how long it will take them to produce a nuclear bomb probably isn’t all that reliable. Maybe our estimates are a few years off or maybe, literally, we just have a few months to go. If anything, that should make us less complacent about waiting around for the UN and EU to get their acts together. So, it’s entirely possible that we, or the Israelis, may need to bomb Iran sooner, rather than later. Let’s hope the Bush administration is working feverishly behind the scenes to get prepared for that eventuality and will do whatever it takes to prevent the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons.

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