Postmortem on Iraq

In last week’s blog I stated, “The United States will begin substantial troop reductions from Iraq by the end of 2007 with virtually none of our objectives having been met in that country.”  I wrote those words with extreme reluctance because I believe that our entry into Iraq was done with noble intentions.  Indeed, a free, democratic, secular, and secure Iraq would have done a lot to improve the future of the Middle East.  In defense of President Bush, who had to deal with conditions of uncertainty, it’s easy for a guy like me to be a Monday morning quarterback and analyze what went wrong over the past four years.  Nevertheless, I’m going to conduct that painful analysis.

Why did President Bush’s dream for a secular, democratic Iraq fail?  The failure occurred for three reasons; (1) the invasion and occupation of the country was poorly conceived and administered, (2) we could not or would not provide the necessary security in Iraq and (3) the citizens of Iraq are not yet ready to unify and put away violence in their society.

First, the United States went to war “on the cheap” and without the political will or an adequate understanding of what would be necessary to succeed in Iraq.  As Iraq’s insurgents and militias ran amok, took hostages and decapitated anyone that disagreed with them, we played by “civilized” rules of conduct, sparing civilian casualties and catering to the comfort of prisoners.  To succeed in a madhouse like Iraq we needed to go in with vastly more soldiers and resources.  From the first day of our presence we needed to shoot on sight anyone who carried a weapon, to demand all weapons be turned over to American authorities and to kill all males of any household that possessed weapons.   Anyone who destroyed infrastructure or interfered with private contractors should have been shot on sight.  As Saddam Hussein had figured out years earlier, brute force was the only way to temporarily quell the violent tendencies of Iraq’s religious zealots bent on civil war.

Second, because we never succeeded in establishing any form of law and order or security in Iraq, our “liberator” title soon changed to that of “occupier.”  In Iraq our soldiers were not unlike those of the British army in 1775, marching in solid formation down a road near Concord Massachusetts.  Like the American Revolutionary Army, which violated the rules of warfare by shooting the British from hidden spots in the woods, the “insurgents” in Iraq built roadside bombs and snuck up behind us firing rocket-propelled grenades.  No matter what happened in Iraq, in the minds of the Iraqis it was our fault.  We were now the perceived reason for all of their problems.  We were the enemy.  We re-learned an unfortunate but well-established history lesson, that the occupation of a country, particularly one whose citizens do not appreciate your presence, is almost always a losing battle.

Finally, the most poignant reason that a free, democratic, secular Iraq is not possible is that the Iraqi people are ready for neither democracy nor peace.  They have to get a civil war off their chest first.  Sometimes a country needs a good civil war.  We needed one in 1860 and the Iraqis need one now.  The notion that the United States needs to “train Iraqi security forces” is a joke.  They already know how to shoot each other.  As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says, we need to leave Iraq and make the Iraqi’s “pay retail” for their civil war.  As long as the United States is present, they can fight their sectarian war “wholesale”.

Right now America has no diplomatic or military leverage in Iraq.  Surrounding Arab nations enjoy our suffering, unwilling to lift a hand to help us.  Iran, smug in the fact that we are bogged down in Iraq, has unabashedly gone ahead with its nuclear weapons program and has called for the extermination of Israel.  Even Syria has become emboldened.  Ironically, our leverage in the region will increase only when we depart from Iraq.  Then the Iranian backed Shiite’s can fight the Syrian backed Sunis in the long-awaited Muslim civil war, allowing fundamentalist Islamists to kill each other until they get their fill of violence and bloodshed.  The nations that now gleefully enjoy our misery won’t have the United States to kick around anymore.  They will either be drawn into the fighting or will have to spend the necessary diplomatic capital to solve their own problems in the Middle East.

From an American point of view, the real tragedy of the Iraq conflict is that we have to date lost the lives of nearly three thousand of our precious, enthusiastic, educated young people who have entered this war with the best of intentions and have served above and beyond the call of duty.  These young people accepted the idealism and goal of their leader and commanding officer, George Bush, to assist the Iraqi people in establishing a brighter future.  There’s plenty of blame to go around for Iraq debacle, but one thing is certain, NONE of that blame can assigned to the brave and dedicated people of our military forces.

Individually, as we progress through life, we make mistakes that cost us time and money.  We must pay for our mistakes.  Countries do the same thing, but the cost of mistakes is far greater because it involves the loss of lives.  Our intentions in Iraq were good and our desire for a prosperous, peaceful, democratic Middle East is justified.  It just isn’t going to happen now, no matter how long we stay in Iraq.

I don’t think we need to couch our departure from Iraq in terms of “victory” or “failure”.  All we need to do is to say to the world, “We tried to foster the necessary changes for a peaceful and democratic Iraq.  We were rebuffed by those whom we thought would help us and we vastly overestimated the resolve of the Iraqi people to disavow violence and take charge of their own country and security.  We gave it our best shot.  Unfortunately our mission in Iraq cost us a lot of money and the lives of thousands of the finest young people the world will ever know.  Our prosperous economy will quickly dissolve our “treasure” losses in Iraq, but we will never forget our young people who have given their lives in this cause.  Like their President, they were idealists who volunteered to make Iraq a better place.  Now we have come to the sad realization that the best way we can honor them is to leave and let the Iraqis solve their own problems.”

Regrettably, kicking and screaming, I’ve come to the conclusion that we won’t succeed in Iraq.  It’s time to leave, as soon as logistically possible.  We owe the Iraqi’s nothing for they’ve squandered the democratic inheritance that we tried to provide.  The Iraqi’s are human beings, yes, but right now at this time in history, they’re not worth saving.

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