Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Messing Up Iraq

The US and its sidekick the UK have messed up Iraq. Saddam was clearly an awful thug, and he and his henchmen perpetrated war crimes such as genocide against elements of the population.

Despite that, for the majority of people living there, life was a reasonably secure one, in which clans kept social order, and where there were highly developed educational and professional streams. There was almost no sectarian violence, Christians lived freely, urban women did not wear the hijab, could drive, and life could go on.

It's hard to imagine the most pro-American/pro-British Iraqi thinking that things have got better in any way since the invasion. Indeed, one proposal tossed around the US media is to try to find strongman (like Assad, Saddam, or Mubarak) to get the country under control.

Either the US and UK need to get out now, admit their screw up, and stand by guiltily as the Iraqis forge some sort of order. Chaos never goes on for ever. I suspect that the main reason for not doing this is that Iran will emerge as a greater regional power.

Or perhaps the US and UK need to go to war. I mean really go to war to win, and commit enough forces to suppress insurgents.

Without Bush's (or more probably Rumsfeld and Cheney's) messed up initial war, the situation would be so much better now. They could have followed Colin Powell and sent 500,000 troops in.

And the US had the troops: it just did not use them.

The United States Army as of 2004, consisted of 494,295 soldiers on active duty, 342,918 in the Army National Guard (ARNG) and 204,134 in the United States Army Reserve (USAR). [Wikipedia]

The Marines as of 2005 had 180,000 active duty and 40,000 reserves. [Wikipedia]

The U.S. Navy currently numbers nearly 500,000 men and women on active duty or in the Navy Reserve and operates 282 ships and more than 4,000 aircraft. [Wikipedia]

The Airforce has 352,000 men and women on duty. [Wikipedia]

Altogether that is 2,113,000 active and reserve duty military. Perhaps another half million were available in potential coalition partners.

A real war, using the power available has not been fought, and it is a prime duty of those who engage in war to commit to winning it. In this above all, the "easy" air-strike wars of the 1990s lead to a massive misjudgement by the US leadership. It is this leadership which thus bears the direct responsibility for Iraq.

The choice now is not to "stay the course", but to either fight the war with the resources necessary to win, or quit.

The big problem with all this is that it may be too late. If it is too late, there is only one logical conclusion. Withdraw. Admit yet another American defeat.

And then settle down to dealing with Iran.


Steve Muhlberger said...

"Or perhaps the US and UK need to go to war. I mean really go to war to win, and commit enough forces to suppress insurgents."

Tell us exactly what this means. Who will be attacked? What will be destroyed? What casualties will be acceptable to you? Just how many Iraqis must die?

How will this course improve the life of any Iraqi?

Would any Iraqi accept this course if given the choice? Be honest. If they would not -- and your own post suggests that they would not -- on what moral grounds could you justify this course?

Once you've figured out how you could justify this on the grounds that Iraq would be better off after a great big dose of foreign-inflicted violence, I'd like to hear where the US and UK troops to implement it are going to come from.

Are you signing up, BTW?

Travis said...

I have to respectfully disagree with your suggestion for the Iraq war. Whether you agreed with the invasion or not, it is important to recognize that we are there and getting out without getting the government in some sort of control would be an even bigger mistake.

If we were to just admit guilt and leave with our tails between our legs, all of the troops who died, like my friend Elia Fontecchio, would have died in vain.

According to NPR, today at a press conference, Prez Bush stated that anyone not happy with the Iraq situation should nold him accountable.

I don't know if keeping Iraq together or splitting it up, as has been recently suggested, is the right thing to do (the Kurds are doing great in Kurdistan right now). But the insurgency need to be dealt with. Leaving beforehand would be a slap in the face to the troops who have fought in the region.

Steve Muhlberger said...


What makes you think the US will have any role in deciding the future shape of Iraq?

This "stay till we sort it out" is a fantasy.

Am I right to guess you don't remember the Vietnam War?

Travis said...

Here is the problem with pulling all the way out. Al-Qaeda and bin Laden have a new home base, like Aghanistan was. Then a taliban like government is put in place, and then we end up invading Iraq again. This scenario was brought up by Peter Bergen in today's NY Times.

Getting the Iraq government in charge of their country is important, along with using enough force to kill the insurgency.

I do remember Vietnam and I also remember that we had gotten involved in a war already in progress. I also remember Germany and Japan, two other countries that we defeated and had to rebuild. I do admit that the idea of us putting in a western, completely secular, US constitutional like government in Iraq is very unlikely.

Leaving now with our tails between our legs is the worst idea possible.

Paul Halsall said...


You make good points.

At this stage, I think it goes too far to say that US actions will have no effect on the future. I see the main effort from now as limiting the damage.

As to what Iraqis want. I have much sympathy for the individuals, but none for the collectives (much the same as my old position in re the Northern Irish "troubles").

Just as the IRA and the UVF operated with the consent of large parts of the Catholic and Protestant populations, so the Shia and Sunni death squads are being supported at least passively by much larger parts of the population.

The country, unlike Iran, which is a real political entity, has not been that for a long while. And it will not become one for a long while.

It should have been left alone and not invaded, but an immediate withdrawal now would lead to all hell breaking out.

The aim of a bigger force would be to reduce violence.

And the troops should come from conscription. Americans and Brits have got along too long without paying the necessary price in sacrifice for destructive foreign policy.

Grahame Greene's The Quiet American, almost 50 years old now, remains on point.

James said...

As Americans, we often attempt to make historical analogies with the Iraq War. I would like to point out that most of these analogies have one thing in common. They all attempt to relate the current conflict, of which the United States is only one of many participants, to previous American martial experiences. If historical analogies are even worth attempting, perhaps we should consider the Iraqi regional context in which this war is occuring. Iraq is part of a "quest for order" that the Middle East has been weathering since the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after the "Great" War. The rise of religious extremism in the region makes alot of sense when you consider that humans have always looked for divinity when in the face of adversity. American exceptionalism sometimes blinds us to how much were share in common with humanity.

"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man." -Thomas Jefferson