Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Iraq War: An FAQ

By Rick Morris

The Iraq War is the single most divisive issue of our time, with most elements of it still remaining confusing to the American public nearly 4 ½ years into this conflict. As previously stated, my position on domestic and international issues is that of the paleoconservative, as opposed to that of the somewhat militaristic neoconservative wing which dominates the Republican Party and the pacifist philosophy of the Democrats. I believe strongly that the paleo position is the one most in touch with the approach of the American people on this most difficult of matters. As such, I’m going to apply my paleo philosophy to the dominant questions of this war and create a “Morris Report” of sorts. On The FDH Lounge program this Sunday night, we will hold a straight up-or-down vote on the contents of my answers to ascertain what my fellow Lounge Dignitaries think. I believe that they will agree with me that it is a fairly accurate unified position of what the American people feel deep down about this war.

Was the initial invasion a mistake?

This is the question that sets the tone for how almost every person reacts to everything that has happened since – which is certainly not wise. It is also a question which most people consider to be a fairly easy one in one direction or the other – which again, is certainly not the case.

On the positive side of the ledger, we must admit that by 2003, Saddam Hussein was wiggling its way out of the post-Gulf War “box” that we had fashioned for him. Aided by the usual leftist demonstrators in this country whining about the effects of U.N. sanctions on the Iraqi people, Saddam was constructing a strong case of “punishment fatigue” in the world community. As we have subsequently learned, Saddam made a mockery of the Oil-For-Food Program by getting governmental and non-governmental stooges from England, France, Russia and a number of other countries to help him evade the world body’s limits on his weapons programs. If left in place in 2003, Saddam Hussein would surely not be nearly as boxed in by the U.S. and the U.N. as he was in the initial years after the first war.

Additionally, we must disregard the spurious surface logic of anti-war demonstrators that Saddam, as the perpetuator of a secular regime, could not possibly be in cahoots with terrorists who were religious fanatics. The Middle East as a whole is rife with countless examples of the old phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – and among anti-American actors in that corner of the world, the United States and Israel are always the instruments of the devil no matter what. So every time you hear a leftist raise the differences between Saddam and terrorist groups as evidence they would never work together, you are listening to the perfect embodiment of smug faux intellectualism. Hussein’s Iraq did have links to numerous terrorist groups and even had training facilities in Baghdad – although this admittedly was all-too-common in the Arab world and there was in all likelihood no connection between Saddam and 9/11. While it seems like more jihadists are materializing there every day, we are killing a boatload of them in Iraq and our successes in Anbar province at the expense of Al Qaeda have reversed most of the propaganda gains they chalked up during the war.

The other obvious positive involves the fact that many stretches of the country, especially those in the Kurdish north, are better off than they were before our invasion and most people in the affected areas are greatly appreciative of our help. And it should not be minimized that, although chaos has ensued since the war began, we saved Iraq from genocide by Saddam Hussein. This actually starts the segue to the other side of the ledger, however, since mass killings take place in other regimes around the globe and our country has never thought of itself as a global policeman.

The negative side needs far less explanation, because these points have been drummed into our heads for most of the duration of the war. Let’s start with Iran, which unquestionably has a nuclear weapons program underway and has always been a graver strategic threat to us than Iraq. Iran is much stronger without the Iraqi counterbalance in the Gulf region, and has been emboldened by sectarian rivalries in Iraq and the fact that we have gotten bogged down there and are automatically less of a threat to confront them militarily. The strengthening of the mad mullahs of Iran outweighs our total gains in and of itself. And all of our enemies in the Arab world have reveled in the propaganda gains we have handed them during the course of the war, with the Abu Ghraib scandal topping the list. These enemies have also had forces coming in and out of Iraq all throughout the war as that country has served as the training ground for urban warfare that Afghanistan used to be.

But from there, we have a death toll of what will likely exceed 5,000 of our best and bravest and an injury assessment several times in excess of that. As brutal as this statement may be, death and destruction are inevitable in war, and we lost far more men than this at the Battle of the Bulge alone. But with the Axis powers posing a global threat, we knew that this blood had at least been shed for a vital and necessary purpose. Unforgivably, we cannot with certainty say the same of our fallen heroes in Iraq. To add insult to their deaths and injuries, many units were not properly equipped with body armor and other defense against the merciless enemies we have faced – and they were saddled with a failed status quo policy for almost four years until the 2007 troop surge turned the tide somewhat. The years of wasted motion while we lingered without a credible counterinsurgency strategy represent one of the greatest blunders in American history. We have an exhausted military, with much degraded and destroyed weaponry needing to be replaced at great cost. And we have soured the American people on the very concept of war when it may be necessary in our clear national interest against some other entity in the near future. The overreach of the 2000s has been every bit as damaging as the pacifism of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘90s.

We addressed the blood, now let’s examine the treasure. It’s almost inevitable that over $1 trillion will be spent in the desert of Mesopotamia by the time we cease serious combat operations. At a time of reckless pork-barrel federal spending (the bill for which will be passed on to our grandchildren), underfunded port security and a looming entitlement crisis that will bankrupt this country soon enough anyways, it’s more than an understatement to say that we could sure use that trillion dollars back.

So the answer, while not as overwhelming as the knee-jerk anti-war protestors would have you believe, is that the decision to go to war was not worth it. Even given the fact that the intelligence community for whatever reasons put forth the notion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, every other justification for war was flawed even when viewed through the lens of the time (and I was one who was queasy about our decision to invade). As addressed above, we had no semblance of a counterinsurgency strategy to follow the first part of the war when we would topple Hussein. We willingly put ourselves in a position to be ganged up and marginalized in the world community by opportunists in the French and German governments and countries looking to assert themselves on the world stage at our expense in Russia and China. We put all of our propaganda hopes on the swift success of democracy, when centuries of human history have shown it to be an institution that can only work well amongst a people who have taken the time to embrace and understand it. Democracy itself has been discredited in the eyes of countless Arabs, a blunder of historic impact. And by toppling a minority Sunni government and empowering the Shiite majority, we ensured that their co-religionists, our enemies in Iran, would inevitably be strengthened. Of course, the neoconservative war theorists believed that we could march right into Iran after we pacified Iraq, but we’re years away from that possibility as the Iranian nuclear program becomes more of a threat each day. Also, the Sunni-Shiite-Kurd rivalries frozen by the Saddam Hussein dictatorship were very reminiscent of the Balkan feuds kept under the surface by Communist rule – as it turned out in both instances, once the totalitarians were gone, vicious rivalries never firmly settled reemerged with a vengeance and toppled any attempts at regional stability.

On balance, the war was not worth it, certainly in retrospect and arguably at the time. Given the best we are likely to still accomplish in Iraq, it is very unlikely that history will be kind to the decision to invade.

Did Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction?

Notwithstanding the answer to the first question, and the fact that the absolute consensus seems to be that they did not, I am still a bit uncertain on this issue. Rumors have floated for years that Baathist thugs trucked the WMDs across the Syrian border to be stored by their allies in the Damascus dictatorship. It seems highly unlikely that the Bush administration would keep that information under wraps, especially given its need to defend an unpopular war – but, with the urgent imperative to keep Israel from engaging in shooting wars unhelpful to us in Iraq, anything is possible. Even if Iraq did have WMDs, however, I still believe that we should have held off on invading, at least at that time – because we did face reality and realize that invading North Korea was a bad idea and we haven’t invaded Iran (yet).

Should we own up to the fact publicly that the idea to go to war was a mistake?

No, there’s nothing to be gained by it in any sense, morally or logically. First and foremost, we would be dishonoring our troops by undermining the rationale of what we professed to be accomplishing with their blood. The wounded and dead and their families don’t deserve that, not by a longshot. Also, any goodwill we would regain with any erstwhile allies would be more than negated by the fact that our enemies would be emboldened by a public admission of failure.

Has this war damaged our deterrence factor?

No question about it. Sadly, it ruined the incredible level of deterrence we earned by accomplishing in months what the Soviets couldn’t in several years by wining in Afghanistan. Every tinpot dictator on Earth feels emboldened by the fact that Uncle Sam has his hands full with a ragtag terrorist network in Iraq – and since deterrence is more critical to keeping America safe than almost any other factor, we are likely to pay a dear price for our failures to date and will pay a bigger toll in the future if we can’t earn back more respect for our military capabilities by the time we inevitably draw down in Iraq. And a war-weary American public will be that much harder to rally when we face a legitimate threat, due to rationale for this war that was thoroughly discredited in their eyes.

What are the similarities and differences with the Vietnam War?


^ Both wars lost the support of the American people, in part because many opportunistic and unprincipled politicians have succeeded in defining it narrowly as an unpopular president’s war as opposed to a venture in which we are all invested.

^ In both instances, American forces received inadequate military direction for the first several years of the war as the enemy utilized brutal terrorist techniques.

^ Our ineptitude at “telling our story” has cost us dearly on the global stage, as our rivals for global influence scheme and try to take advantage of our distraction.

^ The massacres in Southeast Asia that followed our pullout would be mirrored on a horrific scale in Iraq – additionally, our global prestige and deterrent threat would take an immense beating by pulling out of Iraq in defeat the same as in the Vietnam aftermath.


^ Without a military draft, opposition to the Iraq War is not as visceral because nobody can be sent involuntarily.

^ The North Vietnamese and Vietcong were never going to follow us to America and continue the war here after winning. The jihadists in Iraq want to kill Americans wherever they can and prefer a 9/11 type of attack on our soil.

^ Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were, for better or for worse, guided in Vietnam by knowledge of war they obtained firsthand in the military in World War II. George Bush’s military experience, such as it was, during the Vietnam era, did not infuse him with any battlefield lessons for the Iraq War.

Was the surge a good idea – and should we stay with it?

Yes and yes. This goes back to the unfortunate initial point about how one’s conclusions about whether we should have gone to war initially color people’s perceptions about what to do now. Regardless of whether anyone wants to admit it or not, we as a country own this war and the successes and failures, not merely George Bush and Dick Cheney. The surge of American forces has been successful enough that it’s possible to state with some confidence that if it were applied four years ago that it might have brought the war to an end in a reasonable period of time. The immense danger evident if we leave in allowing Iraq to devolve into an unchecked terrorist breeding ground and de facto satellite of Iran (in Gulf-bordering part of the country) justified our decision earlier this year to “double down” and try to salvage something from the disaster of the previous few years. Even after years of our sleepy inaction that allowed Iraq to spiral downward, we have still made great success in retaking key parts of the country and lethally countering terrorist networks. True, we can’t sustain the surge forever with our manpower limitations, but we can and must build on our progress for at least another six months so that we can try to ensure the situation we leave behind is not a festering sore.

Is Iraq legitimately a part of the Global War on Terror?

It is now. While it probably wasn’t involved to a critical degree before our invasion, it certainly is at the moment given Al Qaeda’s vast efforts to rebuild their network to full strength using Iraq as the main focus. Our battles against jihadists there are the same as any we fight around the globe, covertly or otherwise. Distinctions that politicians seek to make between terrorists in Iraq and others around the globe are artificial and a deliberate attempt to confuse the stakes we face so that our defeat might seem more palatable.

Can we still win in Iraq?

If by “win,” we mean leaving behind a country that is not a completely failed state and not a threat to its neighbors or us via terrorism, then the answer is yes. If by “win,” we mean leaving behind the vision of flourishing Jeffersonian democracy previously preached by George Bush and his neoconservative missionaries, then the answer is no. Fortunately, our military and civilian leadership seems to have pulled its collective head out of its collective posterior, so we now have a realistic chance to salvage the aforementioned modest definition of success from our years of hell in the sand.

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