Reckoning in Iraq

The Iraq situation is not over, and probably won’t be for a year or more, elections on January 30 or no. But two events took place in the past two months which, to me, are very strong arguments on whether Iraq was a war worth fighting, and if that war was fought well.

On December 14, 2004 we had an anniversary. Did you miss it? One year beforehand, all the world’s media was gaga over the fact that the United States had tracked down and captured Saddam Hussein. Let me say again: good work guys! And with Saddam still in custody, there’s a good chance that a brutal dictator will be brought to justice. (Let’s hope he joins Pinochet, and we can have two good trials for 2005).

But look around the blogosphere on December 14, 2004. No trumpets. Very few reminiscences. The anniversary seems to have been forgotten. Why should that be?

On December 14, 2003, Saddam’s capture was hailed as a turning point in the aftermath of the war. I thought this was a possibility myself. Today, with Iraq still in turmoil and insurgencies still running despite the best efforts of the U.S. military, predictions such as:


So, on the one hand, he’s caught (I assume by now it’s clearly not one of those doubles), and that’s likely to be a rather major blow to the “insurgents” — though I rather suspect that some of that has been supported by Syria, Iran, and Saudi elements in the hopes of keeping the United States busy. With Saddam gone, though, it’ll be harder for them to escape responsibility, which is likely to cause them to reduce their exposure in this area. That’s unalloyed good news, unless we’re looking for an excuse to invade Syria.

Boots on the Ground

The Iraqi people won’t be afraid anymore, I think they’ll finally stand up and fight against the Fedayeen. This is definitely a serious blow to the terrorists morale.

…seem, at best, optimistic.

Thanks to Robert McClelland for these links. I do not take any satisfaction in pointing out these and other failed predictions (it would have been nice if they had proven true), but it would have been a lot harder to do if the more ardent proponents of the war hadn’t jumped on every detail that subsequently proved false — as though desperate to justify something that a part of them was telling them wasn’t going as planned.

Looking back at my own posting record on the Iraq War, I can say that while many of my dire predictions failed to come to be (thank God), a lot did. And bad things that I didn’t predict also came to be. And I think my situation is similar to the other critics of the Iraq war — the majority of whom get no satisfaction in being proven right, and don’t always view the use of American military might with distrust and suspicion.

A lot of invective came out in the leadup to the war. Some of us were labelled the coalition of the pissy. Plenty of people had their sanity or their patriotism questioned. Yes, plenty of anti-war activists gave as good as they got, but the majority of the people who spoke on this war, decent people one and all, got into heated arguments. We each promised the other that we would see the truth when it arrived.

Now that it has arrived, apologies and acknowledgements may be in order.

I admit that the war didn’t go as badly as I feared, and again I congratulate the American military on one heck of a run to Bagdhad. I still live in hope that the elections will work out well, and we can cobble together some semblence of victory here. However, whatever happens, I think it’s clear that things have not gone as well as they should have. And the reasons that we’ve had for going to war have been carefully stripped away, with one of the largest vanishing earlier this month.

Search for Iraq’s WMDs Comes Up Empty

U.S. ends the hunt for Iraqi weapons after failing to find any stockpiles

There were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There was no program in the latter days of the Saddam Regime to build them. Containment worked, albeit at terrible cost to Iraqi civilians (although possibly a bargain compared to the cost seen today). Iraq was not a threat to the security of the United States in 2003 — at least, not in such a short-term way that a war was required to defend American interests. Add this to the fact that there was no credible link between Saddam Hussein and Al Queda, and the fact that the threat of terrorism has increased thanks to the instability in Iraq, and it becomes difficult not to wonder if the war should have been fought at all.

And much as war proponents would like to claim that the Bush Administration’s interest was primarily about liberating an oppressed people rather than selling Americans on a threat to their security, that’s not what the record shows:

“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

— Condoleeza Rice, US National Security Advisor CNN Late Edition 9/8/2002

We are greatly concerned about any possible linkup between terrorists and regimes that have or seek weapons of mass destruction…In the case of Saddam Hussein, we’ve got a dictator who is clearly pursuing and already possesses some of these weapons.. A regime that hates America and everything we stand for must never be permitted to threaten America with weapons of mass destruction.

— Dick Cheney, Vice President, Detroit, Fund-Raiser, 6/20/2002

There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Hussein is gathering weapons for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest.

— Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary, Response to Question From Press 9/6/2002

We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas

George W. Bush, President, Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, 10/7/2002

To be fair to the Bush Administration, perhaps they did speak primarily about liberation in the lead-up to the war. Perhaps the corporate media and their propensity for scare-em sensationalism latched on to the threat element to the exclusion of all else. But the statements shown above and those uttered elsewhere suggest a certain type of focus. Then there was the whole kerfuffle with the U.N. and the totally pointless summit Bush called on the eve of war. If the summit was intended to bring about consensus at the U.N., why weren’t the main stumbling blocks, France and Germany, invited to the table along with Britain and Spain? Was the Bush Administration interested in hearing the legitimate concerns of its allies, or had it already decided to fight a war first and justify it later?

The United States military can be justly proud over the speed with which they took Baghdad. Americans everywhere can be proud that a brutal dictator is being brought to justice. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that Kurdistan didn’t go as badly as it could have gone. However, the United States was rushed into war for no good reason. Thousands of American servicemen and women were put at risk in a gambit that should have been a last resort but was not. Morale is down and American credibility is down. The world faces even more volatility in the Middle East thanks to what amounts to either faulty intelligence data, or an agenda that was pursued in defiance of the facts.

I would think that it is time to acknowledge, as others have done, liberals and conservatives alike, that while things aren’t as bad as they could have been, this war doesn’t look nearly as good as it did during the days leading up to it.

No shame in admitting that type of mistake. We all pursued our ideals using the best facts available, and some of our predictions turned out to be right and some turned out to be wrong. It’s still a source of surprise to me that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That’s fine. Make adjustments. Learn from our mistakes. Move on.

But let us learn from our mistakes, at least. And let’s ensure that some people accept responsibility for what they’ve done. We’ve diverted tremendous resources and disrupted many lives on flawed policy. At the very least, if there were intelligence failures that led the Bush Administration to believe that there was an immediate threat on the United States where none existed, that needs to be examined and addressed.

I will be charitable. I won’t call Bush a liar, because I think he truly believes he did the right thing. I won’t even call him an idiot, because naive though I may be, I don’t believe anybody gets reelected by being an idiot. But from what evidence I see, I fear that America is governed by the same type of businessman that sunk Enron and Nortel. They weren’t idiots either, but their kingdoms still came tumbling down.

Starting from the top, the Bush Administration saw only the reality they wanted to see, and Bush’s cadre of yes-men shielded him from true reality. Intelligence information that suggested Iraqi threats to American security were stovepiped to the top — counter-evidence was ignored. Defense secretary Rumsfeld was consistently warned that 100,000 troops weren’t sufficient to win the war and secure the peace afterward. Those that told the administration what they wanted to hear were rewarded, and those who told the administration what they needed to hear were canned. The Bush Administration lost focus in 2002, concluded first and searched for supporting evidence afterward, and as a result, the real War on Terror, the war the rest of the world remains committed to, was delivered a serious setback.

I know I’m an armchair quarterback. I know that I wouldn’t do a good job if I walked the walk as President of the United States. But I also know that if I’d done as bad a job as Bush has, people would be braying for my resignation. And they would be right to do so. The people of America and the people of the world deserve better than what they’ve got. And those who were derided for advising caution deserve a few acknowledgments and apologies.

I’m only saying, is all.

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