YESTERDAY, as you no doubt already know, Pierce introduced Young Ezra to the concept of withering fire in a way America's wars never will.
Anyway, hidden amongst the chaff from Charlie's winnowing I found this bit of floss:
Wasn’t one lesson of the Iraq War that we had simply been far too confident in the American military’s capacity to invade, occupy and rebuild a complex, volatile society that we could never hope to truly understand?
And, no, because none of you had the slightest interest or concern about "occupying and rebuilding" a complex and volatile society like Iraq, or a simple and volatile society like Afghanistan, for that matter. Not you, Yglesias (who at least jumped off the wagon early), Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, nor the Wise Young'uns at Slate. We were just gonna roll 'em over, and God and the natural inclination of Man to seek Suburban Burgherhood would do the rest. You were interested in being Serious, as Pierce says, and in not being on the wrong side of the Quagmire metaphor. You didn't want to be anti-war hippies, or otherwise unfashionable. If there'd been the slightest concern for the "re-building" of either Iraq or Afghanistan we'd'a known what the Plan was before people like you signed on with the Cakewalkers and the Six Months Toppers and the Dead-Ender Spotting Society.
You demonstrated what my cabbie used to say to me: "Dog, you're gonna be doomed to repeat history if you don't learn from it, but there's a fuckload a' volunteers to learn a little and repeat it anyway."
"I was a callow youth," isn't much of an excuse for a callow youth. No such excuse is available to Ignatius.
Ten years ago this week, I was covering the U.S. military as it began its assault on Iraq. As I read back now over my clips, I see a few useful warnings about the difficulties ahead. But I owe readers an apology for being wrong on the overriding question of whether the war made sense.
The great thing about following politics, even haphazardly, as I do, is how it offers you a convenient way to test your sense of smell without a visit to the doctor.
And your cynicism. It's reassuring to me, for example, that I am not yet ready to Just Fucking Chuckle every time I hear this new development in the Non-Apology Apology: the Apology Non-Apology.
Invading Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein a decade ago was one of the biggest strategic errors in modern American history.
1) Define "modern". 2) Claiming we invaded Iraq "to topple Saddam Hussein" is already cheating, Dave.
We’ll never know whether the story might have been different if better planning had been done for “the day after,” or the Iraqi army hadn’t been disbanded, or several other “ifs.”
Yeah, like we'll never know how Vietnam would'a turned out if only They had let us win.
Let us say, first, that what did qualify as "planning" for "the day after", as brought to you by Bush & Cheney--in fairness, they were awful busy at the time figuring the best route to Damascus, Tehran, and making sure all our Boys in Morocco and Bulgaria and Who Knows Where had plenty of water, and boards--suggests that no fucking amount of planning in the world with those guys behind it would have made things any better.
Now, on to this blog's official PowerPoint™ About War Planning:
1) The best time to invade Iraq is early spring. Summer and winter are sandstorm season.
2) Early autumn would work almost as well, probably, but in 2002/2003 it was less feasible politically, and certainly less feasible militarily, after Afghanistan.
3) The Bush administration was determined to invade Iraq. The best guess as to when this was decided is "1999 or 2000, shortly after Bush was anointed nominee by the party Fathers." The best time politically to've penciled that in for is "March, 2003", because that A) gave the first two years for them to get their ducks in a row; B) finessed any charge of Wagging the Dog, which had been used on Bill Clinton during the previous election (that is, 1998); C) gave a considerable cushion to the Six Months Tops required to secure the place, just in case, while bringing The Boys home in time for that Million Dollar Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue at the start of landslide season.
Tell me that you know no one in the Bush administration could possibly have been that devious. Tell me they wouldn't have sent Americans into harm's way for temporal political gain.
Is there is some other explanation for why we rushed into Iraq we way we did (with, I remind you, one-third the force needed, unarmored Humvees, and no use of Turkish territory)? Because our option on Ahmed Chalabi was gonna run out in December? Because State and Defense had surveillance photos of that ICBM complex? Once again, despite everyone's best efforts, the cashiering of Eric Shinseki, and the reports of Hans Blix, were public knowledge even in this country.
As I think back to the crucible of 2003, two remarks made by Arab friends stand out particularly. One was from a Lebanese Shiite who supported the war, but on the condition that America was resolute enough to finish what it was starting. “If Rome is strong, the provinces are ready,” my friend said.
"There's $36.50 on the meter, Mac. You want I should wait?"
America’s military power, awesome as it was, turned out to be insufficient to impose a settlement in Iraq; and in a grinding war of occupation, all our might could not turn on the electricity in Baghdad or frighten Sunnis and Shiites into cooperating with each other.
Yeah, it's just totes unfair when an awesome military isn't enough. But how could we know? It's not like we remembered Korea, or Vietnam, or Lebanon, or Detroit….
The United States didn’t have the stomach for a protracted war that President George W. Bush couldn’t explain and the public didn’t understand.
Yeah, it's the fucking public's fault it fell for it. Unlike The Media, which did understand, but just understood wrong.
The United States did not have sufficient manpower required by its own operating manuals. It would have taken five years to raise that level through voluntary enlistment. The American public was gung-ho for the war, a situation which would have imploded immediately had we instituted a draft; why, when Charlie Rangel introduced a bill to do so all fucking hell broke loose.
Under the circumstances it was up to the President to proceed wisely. Wow, talk about Irony having nine lives, huh?
Another lesson is the importance of dignity in the Arab world. Most Iraqis despised Saddam because, in addition to torturing their sons and daughters, he had taken their dignity. But many came to loathe America, as well, because for all our talk of democracy, we damaged their sense of honor and independence. As the Arab world proves over and over, from Palestine to Benghazi, people who are penniless in terms of material possessions would rather die than lose their sense of honor to outsiders.
Jesus F. Buckley, maybe you should cut down on the reality teevee, Dave.
This feeling of knowing everything, even--maybe especially--when we've fucked everything beyond recognition, do you imagine that could have played a role? We had the Arab Psyche all sussed from inside the Beltway in 2003, too.
A final lesson is the benefit of persistence. Bush made a disastrous mistake invading Iraq in 2003. But having busted up the country, he tried his best to clean up the mess. By checking the spiraling sectarian killing, the surge of U.S. troops led by Bush and Gen. David Petraeus saved thousands of Iraqi lives. It’s one thing Americans did right in this painful story.
You'll forgive me, Dave, for questioning my betters; I know I don't have the expert's credentials on Iraq, since I wasn't wrong about everything. But I'm going to believe this when someone proves it, and not before. To my thinking, in 2007, with nothing left to lose, having taken a Cakewalk and turned it into a Nightmare Hellscape, having suffered an historic defeat in the midterm elections (though, luckily for him, to the Democrats), George W. Bush, probably facing considerable pressure from his party, yielded to reality and the best advice of his military advisors, put the guy who wrote the manual in charge of insurgent warfare, and pretty much let all Iraq know we were quit of the place as soon as we could get out, and we weren't gonna be raining death on any more cities in the interim. I know I'm a bastard for suggesting it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of American dollars--not as many as Jerry Bremer misplaced, but still--found their way to the right leaders. I suspect we started protecting Sunni towns and neighborhoods that we'd benignly neglected to that point. And we may've done a little fiddling, here or there, to keep the death toll out of the papers. I know, it's a shocking thing to think about Uncle Sam, but I've said it. The "surge" didn't bring our troop levels up to original invasion numbers, and most of our Willing partners had already turned French*. But, miraculously, "surging" had saved the day. After, you know, longer than it took us to win WWII.
"Surging" also brought our combat numbers up to where we could still defend ourselves, by basically keeping every able-bodied man and woman in country forever. I think one thing you can say the American public eventually figured out is that enlistment meant permanent deployment. So it caught up with the Ezras and the Joshes, and the Jonahs, in other words.
* I'm not given to nostalgia, but Anniversaries and all: remember when we made it known that when the French pretended to see the light and join in on our glorious victory we weren't gonna let 'em?