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August 22, 2005

Comments

Good post hilzoy. I think you are a little too optimistic, but if it were possible to salvage anything in Iraq it would probably be your program.

"As I said, I believe that Iraq is now in a state of civil war. It is a civil war that we allowed to develop, not just by failing to provide security after the fall of Saddam, but by making it clear that the militias could operate freely so long as they did not attack us."

This was the key mistake very early on with Sadr. He showed that we were unwilling to confront militias even if they attacked us so long as they made a public show of ceasing to attack us every so often. We would have been much better off crushing him and his militia brutally the first time--it is far easier for civilians to stomach one month of ferocious fighting rather than two years of medium-intensity crossfire. By the time we decided to take him seriously, he had already illustrated the model to use against us.

the two things we must prevent at all costs are an all-out civil war and a failed state. Our presence in Iraq prevents these things

I think you're being optimistic - not that I blame you.

Not that I disagree with your analysis. But the problem with it, as the problem with all intelligent, rational analyses of the situation in Iraq from March 2003 to the present day, no matter what the political complexion of the person doing the analysis - and I mean this from Tacitus and Sebastian Holslaw all the way through to the Plaid Adder - is that it presumes that the Bush administration wants to achieve something positive in Iraq.

(We still don't know why the Bush administration wanted to invade and occupy Iraq, as all their public reasons for doing so have proved to be lies. So it could be that their private reasons are in fact being accomplished...)

But there's nothing to suggest that this has ever been a goal of the Bush administration (with the exception of the usual hot air from Bush & Co: speeches don't count, action does).

I think the two most likely courses for the Bush administration are to move the goalposts, declare victory in Iraq to be whatever the current situation is, and pull out completely: or to just keep things going as they are, on the basis that American don't care enough about the number of US soldiers getting killed in Iraq to vote against them, and don't care at all about the number of Iraqis getting killed in Iraq, especially if it's possible (as it is) to keep that number fuzzy by refusing to engage in any official count of Iraqi casualties - and let the next administration have the problem of figuring out what to do.

Look at how the Bush administration has left Afghanistan, and how their supporters will still routinely claim that Afghans are better off now, because that's what they're told and it's not as if there are many reporters willing to go outside Kabul to report on conditions under the warlords: or as if the dreary truth is exciting enough for US media to pay attention to it. Afghanistan, if you're a Bush supporter, still counts as a success story.

Iraq, if left in the same state as Afghanistan, will count to Bush supporters as a success story. Unless, of course, a Democratic President wins the election in 2008, in which case I imagine, from January 21 2009, it will become legitimate to assert (a) Iraq is a failure (b) it's a failure because of the decisions of the current President.

I'm posting this on my livejournal, tagged in Memories as "Cassandra".

The problem with the idea of crushing the Mahdi Army and killing Sadr is that al-Sistani, SCIRI, and al-Dawa would likely have turned against the coalition. Not so much from out of love for Sadr, but simply b/c Sadr still holds the loyalty of millions of poor, urbanized Shia in Baghdad and the south. Sistani sees Shia unity as being the only way that the Shia can finally take and hold power in Iraq, and without Sadr there would be no unity.

Beyond that, the original sin of militia toleration should not begin with not crushing the Mahdi Army but rather allowing the Kurdish parties to seize and hold power in the north and doing the same for the Badr Brigades (and the Mahdi Army) to do so in the south. But we didn't have the troops to hold the country without them --- back to Shinseki, Rumsfeld, et al.

Excellent post, hilzoy. If this is optimism, just shoot me.
....
I read some recent analysis that guessed on best evidence that Sadr was sent into Najaf on orders from Khameini in Iran. Two results were possible: the one that ckrisz states in his first paragraph above, and what actually happened.

And it appears what actually happened was that Sistani and Da'wa (Jaafari and other exiles) somehow lost political ground to Sadr, SCIRI, and Iranian sympathizers. Reference the mayoral replacement, who should have been Da'wa but ended up SCIRI. This was the expected and more desired result, a weakening of Sistani. Even tho the opposite appeared the case at the time.

Iran is seriously grabbing control of that country.

I couldn't disagree more with Byman's choice of emphasis here. What influence do foreign jihadists have on Iraq's democracy or security prospects? We don't know how many such jihadists there are. Most reckonings tally them at being a very small proportion of the insurgency, let alone the militias. We don't know what the political influence of these foreign jihadists is, if any. Plus, if you take Rumsfeldian reports of foreign jihadists at face value, our intelligence on their numbers and whereabouts is poor. It's easy to imagine that, with such misguidedly clear and gameable terms on the table, we'd open ourselves up to being manipulated. I remember reading about a number of scenarios in Afghanistan, where we were conned by local warlords into fighting regional battles for them on spurious intelligence that they themselves provided.

My worry about a drawdown is this: I'm really not sure Iraq right now has enough organization to mount a full-scale civil war. It's simply unclear how quickly alliances would form and how quickly fighting would spread. I say this because while it's becoming clear that Iraqis have sectarian and ethnic identities, it's not clear that they yet have a corresponding infrastructure (there's no state to their imagined nation).

Right now, intermilitia fighting is probably perceived as an lose-in-all-outcomes proposition. I can only speculate as to the reasons. Maybe because of the risk that US forces might intercede. Maybe because most regional militias are still waiting to see how things shake out above them. Maybe they are still learning the tricks of the trade of asserting control over their own region, as we're still very young in the life of the political organization of the new Iraq. But they've been patient, perhaps betting on a proximate US withdrawal. A drawdown to a long-term presence might induce someone to test that committment. Could scaled back forces prevent fighting between militias? My worry is that this is the more likely threat than a full-scale civil war between Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis. This kind of sporadic regional fighting could keep turn areas into perpetual terror zones, but its combatants would be, once again, not a well-organized enough force to either decisively defeat or decisively impose terms of surrender upon. This fighting could be ubiquitous, and yet not centralized enough such that there would be any one enemy our troops could move against.

I don't know if we could prevent ubiquitous fighting between militias now, let alone at reduced troop levels. So I guess the question to consider is whether this outcome should be put on the table, along beside the specter of full-scale civil war.

Jes:
Iraq, if left in the same state as Afghanistan, will count to Bush supporters as a success story. Unless, of course, a Democratic President wins the election in 2008, in which case I imagine, from January 21 2009, it will become legitimate to assert (a) Iraq is a failure (b) it's a failure because of the decisions of the current President.
I think you hit the problem here: too many things in Iraq depend on US politics.
I think things can only get better after a change of government in Washington; perhaps a Dem. President with a Rep. Congres will be forced to be less partisan.

I think the big problem with that proposal is that if the Iraqi army proves out to be worthless and a full-scale civil war starts, that single division is a goner. You're ceding the entire country to the militias, and you can't count on any of them staying friendly to the U.S.

You are also essentially telling the Iraqi army that they are the designated cannon fodder while the U.S. is just hanging around to bomb cities. How long could that situation remain stable?

So your proposing to tell the Iraqi's that we don't intend to have permanent bases while at the same time having your 'force multipliers' established in what, "indefinite timeframe" bases.

I think that the two suggestions are mutually exclusive.

The tactic of the insurgents will be to try to goad the US into attacks on civilians. This is the way these things work.

I don't think it is accurate to say that any one 'lost' this war in any conventional sense. It was unwinnable in terms of its war aims of creating a greater US/Iraq/M.E. Jeffersonian Democracy co-prosperity sphere with a unified Iraq at it's core. Nothing anyone could have done would have made this possible. Democracy doesn't happen this way.

Winning in any kind of rational sense was never possible. (for the US that is, Iran is a different story).

In the sense that it was "The War for Bushs Re-election" it is already won and it is time to move on. Of course it will also be known as "The War that established Bush in the Presidential Hall of Shame"

In the sense that it was "The War for Bushs Re-election" it is already won

Using the same criteria you have (what's actually happened), I've leaned toward "The War for Liberating Loot from the US Treasury (and Forwarding it to Favored Friends)."

We have freed the dollars. They are now securely stored in our military contractors' bank accounts.

as long as we remain, we can at least prevent al Qaeda from setting up shop in Iraq.

Right here is where I get off the bus. As long as we remain, Zarqawi/AlQ-linked terrorists will be tolerated, because they attack U.S. troops and Iraqi police/army(often via suicide explosions). If we go, Iraqis will no longer tolerate their presence, and jihadists will not be drawn into the country to join them.

I see no evidence at all that U.S. forces have the capacity to prevent jihadists from setting up shop now, or to dismantle their 'shops'.

Sebastian:

Your point about Sadr overlooks one big fact. At that time, it was already policy to tolerate large militias as long as they did not openly challenge the US. The Sadr lesson was that it was stupid to challenge the US -- the game is about preserving militia power to use against hostile Iraqis, and not US troops. The Sadr militia was too stupid at first to follow that lesson (although Sadr himself was "stupid" on purpose). They have since then.

Crushing Sadr back then would not have changed the current dynamic at all. If the point was to teach miltiias not to challenge US military power, most were already on board at the time. If the point was to force Sadr to cease his challenges to US military power, the point was made amply. The Sadr militia is not one of the the bigger more powerful ones, so crushing it back then would not have made much difference now. It remains marginal in relation to the other militias.

Your point: By the time we decided to take him seriously, he had already illustrated the model to use against us. No, he illustrated that his strategy was a good way to get your militia wiped out by US military power. Sadr's ploy gave himself power by being the one that would "stand up" to the US, but since then, he has kept whatever he gained from belligerence and followed the same path as the other militia -- its a waiting game to grab power once the US ceases to rule the roost.

Dmbeaster

"its a waiting game to grab power once the US ceases to rule the roost."

exactly. Forget Afghanistan - this will be Lebanon. Afghanistan is a rural country. The Iraq civil war will be fought mainly in urban areas.

One year or one thousand years of occupation - it won't make a difference. When the US goes the militia war starts in earnest.

hilzoy:

Sneaky evasion of the posting rules by that link to the Poor Man, though he put it best on that one point.

Well, this post says over 90% of what I think -- especially about how the civil war is already on low simmer but that it can get a whole lot worse, and that militias have always been the wave of the future for Iraq.

I would emphasize that trying to build up an Iraqi army separate from such militia politics is impossible. The same factions struggling for control of Iraq politically are backed by large militias, and as they gain control politically they will be certain to utilize political control to also dominate the Iraqi miltiary. It will simply become another militia no matter what --- who is going to prevent it?

But I think one further point needs to be stressed, although I am certain it occupies an important part of your thinking though not discussed much in your post.

As a democracy, we are asking soldiers to go and be killed/maimed in Iraq.... for what?

To avoid a mess from becoming an even bigger mess? This seems to be the logic, and its an awful thing to require soldiers to die for that. What is even worse is that Bush will continue to lie about the alleged goal of the mission, so we are basically sending troops to be killed/maimed for a lie, even if accidently their presence does serve some other marginally useful purpose.

As a democracy, it is horribly corrosive to be doing this with our soldiers, even if their presence does prevent a mess from being a bigger mess. I agree with the analysis that the current force strucutre is preventing a bigger mess from developing, and is useful in that context, but morally is that sufficient grounds to send US soldiers to be killed/maimed? That's the question that keeps troubling me.

hilzoy:

Sneaky evasion of the posting rules by that link to the Poor Man, though he put it best on that one point.

Well, this post says over 90% of what I think -- especially about how the civil war is already on low simmer but that it can get a whole lot worse, and that militias have always been the wave of the future for Iraq.

I would emphasize that trying to build up an Iraqi army separate from such militia politics is impossible. The same factions struggling for control of Iraq politically are backed by large militias, and as they gain control politically they will be certain to utilize political control to also dominate the Iraqi miltiary. It will simply become another militia no matter what --- who is going to prevent it?

But I think one further point needs to be stressed, although I am certain it occupies an important part of your thinking though not discussed much in your post.

As a democracy, we are asking soldiers to go and be killed/maimed in Iraq.... for what?

To avoid a mess from becoming an even bigger mess? This seems to be the logic, and its an awful thing to require soldiers to die for that. What is even worse is that Bush will continue to lie about the alleged goal of the mission, so we are basically sending troops to be killed/maimed for a lie, even if accidently their presence does serve some other marginally useful purpose.

As a democracy, it is horribly corrosive to be doing this with our soldiers, even if their presence does prevent a mess from being a bigger mess. I agree with the analysis that the current force strucutre is preventing a bigger mess from developing, and is useful in that context, but morally is that sufficient grounds to send US soldiers to be killed/maimed? That's the question that keeps troubling me.

so we are basically sending troops to be killed/maimed for a lie,

What does it say about the state of the world when everyone knows that Bush is a liar, but everyone permits him to run amuck?

We know we are sending our kids to die for a lie? Should we not all be marching in D.C. as we speak if this is the truth?

The Europeans know it is all a big lie. Why do they not unite against the evil empire?

What does this say about the many who know that he is such a liar? Are they truly just dispirited and impotent? Could they be doing more?

Is there no one with the moral authority who is willing to stand up to the Bush cabal?

Or is just as simple as saying it's the fault of the mindless masses?

My apoligies. I just realized that's way off topic on this thread. If I could delete it I would.

Sorry for the typos, too.

Ed and bob are right. Iraq will be Lebanon, and Iran will play the part of Syria - a regional power whose control of Iraq will be tolerated because it brings stability. We've bought a Shi'a super state, and a better chance for Iran to develop nukes. We now have to hope that the Iranian regime, which we were previously committed to helping to overturn, stays successful and stable.

This, I think, is the optimistic view.

DDR:What does it say about the state of the world when everyone knows that Bush is a liar, but everyone permits him to run amuck?

We know we are sending our kids to die for a lie? Should we not all be marching in D.C. as we speak if this is the truth?

Well, I voted against him twice and marched, along with many of my friends, in protest of the idea of this war (before it was launched).

I don't know what else you expect. Having the moral authority to stand up to some one is not the same as having the "real" authority to take action.

What does this say about the many who know that he is such a liar? Are they truly just dispirited and impotent?

No, we're outraged and furious. I'm as disgusted with the democrats for giving Bush the authority to do this as I am with the admin. for doing it.

Or is just as simple as saying it's the fault of the mindless masses?

they're not mindless; they're just slow learners. Bush's approval rating has dropped into the 30s.

cleek:

Slow learners, or else what Lincoln said about political deceivers that have some success in fooling some of the people some of the time.
____

It must be the time for this sort of thing -- Juan Cole has a similar analysis and suggestions about the utility of phased withdrawal. Maybe the conservatives should read this post and decide whether or not he is as unhinged as they claim.

I agree with a lot of Cole's thinking about phased withdrawal, and in particular the redefinition of the mission in that withdrawal. The key is to "soft cushion" the transition to blunt the possibility of an all-out civil war.

What a pathetic state of affairs.

By the way DDR, what do you think about sending your children (if you have them like I do - 16 and 18) to die for such crap? Do you like the idea of them dying for Bush lies?

"What does it say about the state of the world when everyone knows that Bush is a liar, but everyone permits him to run amuck?"

Doesn't that pretty much describe the state of international affairs with respect to all sorts of things for the past 50 years? That is the diplomatic world--you know one thing, pretend it isn't true, and don't do anything about it anyway.

dmbeaster,

Yes, I do have a son. And like myself I hope he choses working in the military as a career.

But I know of no lies that have been told by Bush. I doubt you were talking about the lies the people lieing about lies.

DDR: But I know of no lies that have been told by Bush.

THE PRESIDENT: We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them. - George W. Bush, May 29, 2003

Bush will end up as the Republican's Carter...only the die hards will see the Christian love in his heart...all others will see a blind fool who uses his Christian love as an excuse for horrible vision.

dmbeaster, i am with you (i would not want to send my husband or children off to die for bush's lies), but i don't know that it's just a "mess vs. bigger mess" issue. as hilzoy mentioned, the degree of mess can directly effect whether iraq becomes a home to future terrorists -- thus the "bigger mess" can mean an even larger loss of american lives (not to mention innocent iraqi lives).

thanks for the great post, hilzoy!

Jesurgislac,

Unlike you I can distinguish between a mistake and a lie.

Are you claiming that we didn't find vehicles that looked like mobile weapons labs?

Unlike you I can distinguish between a mistake and a lie.

Color me skeptical...

Are you claiming that we didn't find vehicles that looked like mobile weapons labs?

"Looked like" mobile weapons labs? They didn't look like mobile weapons labs to me (not that I got to look up close) and they certainly didn't look like "weapons of mass destruction," which is how they were actually described. They didn't even have proper doors fercryinoutloud. Are you saying is that W is so staggeringly incompetent and out of touch with reality that even with the best intelligence resources the world has ever known at his disposal he genuinely couldn't tell the difference between "weapons of mass distruction" and weather research stations?

DDR, what part of "We found the weapons of mass destruction." is a mistake instead of a lie?

And yeah, we didn't find vehicles that looked like mobile weapons labs.

Smarter trolls, please.

Great post, hilzoy.

I have a question for those who originally supported the Iraq war:

Knowing what we now know, should we have invaded Iraq in March 2003?

I'm interested in both the yes/no answer and the explanation. I have vague impressions about how most of y'all will answer, but I can't remember precisely who's said what.

DDR: some Bush lies:

-- 9/11 linked to Saddam
-- any time in 2002 -- I have not made up my mind about attacking Iraq
-- any time in 2002 or 2003 -- I intend to go throught he UN before attacking
-- we know where the WMD are.
-- noted above by Jesurgislac -- we found WMD.
-- aluminum tubes
-- Iraq trying to acquire yellow cake for their nuclear program
-- in 2003, Saddam would not let inspectors into Iraq.
-- pre-invasion; we've exhausted all efforts and war cannot be avoided
-- 2003 pre-invasion, we have enough troops for the mission. The military has not said it needs more.
-- 2003 post-invasion, we have enough troops for the mission. The military has not said it needs more.
-- 2004, we have enough troops for hte mission. The military has not said it needs more.
-- pre-war; the CIA is not aggressive enough about Iraq and WMD
-- post-war: the CIA misled us about WMD in Iraq.
-- everything about the Plame affair.
-- everything about Abu Gharaib.
-- the US is against torture, and to the extent it has occurred, its just a few bad apples.
-- insurgency in its last throes.
-- the US has no present intention to install permanent bases in Iraq

How many "mistakes" does the Bush administration have to make before you draw some other inference as the reason for this behavior?

Katherine said, I have a question for those who originally supported the Iraq war:

Knowing what we now know, should we have invaded Iraq in March 2003?

I'm interested in both the yes/no answer and the explanation. I have vague impressions about how most of y'all will answer, but I can't remember precisely who's said what.

You probably weren't thinking about me, since I wasn't posting here when the war began, but I'll give you my dos pesos anyway.

Knowing what we know now, my answer is "no", but the tipping point for me is not the lies and bad intelligence that got us into the war, but the inexcusable bungling of the occupation.

If the inspections had continued and shown, inevitably, that Saddam had no serious active WMD programs, the sanctions regime against Iraq would have broken down completely, and Saddam would no doubt have resumed normal trading relationships with the rest of the world. This would have been perfectly fine in the sterile theoretical world of international law, but in the real world it would have been seen (rightly) as a major triumph for Saddam. He would have successfully outlasted the evil hegemonistic Americans. And what, realistically, would have prevented him from resuming his WMD programs at the earliest possible date? What would have prevented him from rebuilding the military that allowed him to be a serial aggressor against his neighbors? And what lessons would other rogue regimes have taken away from this mostly successful defiance?

If we had conducted a successful occupation, then I would have forgiven Bush whatever lies he told to get rid of Saddam. But we screwed the pooch on this so badly that we have now placed ourselves in an even worse situation. One thing hilzoy said that I agree wholeheartedly with is never forgiving Bush for the incompetence his administration has displayed in the occupation.

Unfortunately, fafblog's latest solution for Iraq is pretty much as good as anyone else's.

"I have a question for those who originally supported the Iraq war:

Knowing what we now know, should we have invaded Iraq in March 2003?"

Short answer:No.

Why does this matter, Bush/Cheney were going in amyway? My support or non-support wouldn't make any difference to whether or not the war happened, but might make a difference in how it was executed. And the reconstruction.

I never believed in the WMDs. Even had WMD's, or capability, or desire existed, I still consider Saddam less likely to hand WMDs, should he obtain them, to terrorists than Pakistan, SA, or what we will apparently end up with in Iraq. We were safer with Saddam.

I do not yet understand the Bush administration's covert goals or purposes so I cannot yet judge their competence.
They lie.

However, I fully expected them to install Chalabi and institute a long-term steady state financial rape of Iraq rather than this quick profit smash & grab. There are trillions to be made over decades that will be unavailable to Halliburton. I expected this commercialization of Iraq, as it is in say, Saudi Arabia, to be of net benefit to the Iraqi people and stable enough to increase American safety and spread thru the region. This is not the path they chose.
....
I underestimated Sistani & Iran. Lord have mercy, we have met some grandmasters. With the skill they are currently showing, it is hard to understand why so little headway was made by the Shia against Saddam. I can only presume Saddam had other Sunni support in the region (and he did, as e.g. Iran/Iraq war) and that that Sunni support is being withheld until we leave and will be forthcoming and will really screw the place up.
....
I repeat, I do not understand what is going on. There may be geniuses in Washington that have a 50-year plan involving a Sunni/Shia regional war. I think they are evil for other reasons, and they may well be both evil and incompetent in their execution of the war, but I am not yet ready to make that call.

But it currently looks like America is much less safe because of the war, and so I will withdraw my support.

Oh. And the story is far from over yet.

If we withdraw down to 50k troops before the summer of 2006, and then attack Iran then or after the midterms, everybody's calculations and analysis may require some slight adjustment.

Or we could get another 9/11 event in America.

"Knowing what we now know, should we have invaded Iraq in March 2003?

I'm interested in both the yes/no answer and the explanation."

Hmm. My short answer is no, but probably for dramatically different reasons than everyone else.

I definitely believe that ending Saddam's control of Iraq--and being seen as the country or a large part of the coalition ending his control--was in the best interest of US foreign policy for a huge number of reasons which I have outlined at length elsewhere.

But I believe that Rumsfeld's demonstration of force--showing that we could defeat the Iraqi army with a minimum of force was deeply misguided, because in hindsight the Iraqi army wasn't the big deal. The problem was what to do with the country after the Iraq army was done, and that required more troops.

My belief that more troops could be obtained (and should have been obtained, and should still be obtained) by large pay increases and authorizations to have a larger military have already been hashed out elsewhere.

The key problem is that Bush, and Congress, and indeed the military lost focus after the Iraqi army was defeated.

It is said that generals always plan for the last war. We quickly beat the Iraqi army, and acted as if that was the hardest part. And in some wars it was--often because so much death and destruction took place in that portion of the war that everyone was finished by the time the army gave up. That isn't so in the relatively quick engagements we have been seeing. In this the First Gulf War is instructive. Saddam was pushed back, his army was destroyed (except for the part of it that we should have destroyed while they were retreating back to Iraq but not surrendering). But because it was so quick, and because of interesting quirks in Arab culture, he was able to turn the defeat into a propaganda victory by positioning himself as the pan-Arab leader who stood up to the US and survived. You can't think that you won just because the army itself stopped fighting.

If I could have an increased army and a focus on the aftermath on par with a focus on the war, I would still say that invading was not only justifiable, but necessary to good foreign policy.

Thirdgorchbro:
He would have successfully outlasted the evil hegemonistic Americans. Having done this by caving into our every demand regarding his WMD program. And by having to prove it by opening up his country to thorough, effective inspections.
And what, realistically, would have prevented him from resuming his WMD programs at the earliest possible date?The same threat(s) and snap inspections that kept him from pursuing them in the first place
What would have prevented him from rebuilding the military that allowed him to be a serial aggressor against his neighbors?You mean the military that got the bum’s rush out of Kuwait? Or the one that we just finished proving was absolutely no threat to our military might (in a conventional war)? I guess the continued threat of a big stick.
And what lessons would other rogue regimes have taken away from this mostly successful defiance?You mean mostly successful after being impoverished, dominated and continuously humiliated and threatened? I’m no Karnak, but I presume they’d take it that we’re a bit unhinged when it comes to WMD, especially after 9/11, so don’t eff with us.

Other than that, I think you're spot on regarding the execution of the war.

"The same threat(s) and snap inspections that kept him from pursuing them in the first place"

Those sanctions weren't going to be continued and the snap inspections weren't lasting forever (or even very many more years). The international will on inspections was proven in 1998, and 1999, and 2000, and 2001, and 2002. The only reason the international community bothered with inspections in the end was to stave off the imminent US attack.

bobzilla, Sebastian took the words right out of my mouth. I seriously doubt any effective and thorough inspections would have continued much past the ending of the sanctions.

Those sanctions weren't going to be continued and the snap inspections weren't lasting forever (or even very many more years)
Who knows what deals could have been worked out if the Bush Admin. hadn't been so hellbent on wrecking our diplomatic relationships? Since we're looking back in the past and speculating on what might have been, I think some incentive laden negotiating with the U.N. and NATO might have extended the sanctions indefinitely. If I really wanted to be conspiracy minded, I'd say Kofi Annan might have ulterior motives resulting in the extension of the sanctions.

If I really wanted to be conspiracy minded, I'd say Kofi Annan might have ulterior motives resulting in the extension of the sanctions.

Careful there, bobzilla, you're starting to sound like a right-winger. ;) "One of us! One of us!"

Well, like I said earlier, knowing what I know now I have to admit this war has been a mistake. Counter-factuals aside, we are definitely neck-deep in a mess of our own making. I don't think the best solution is just to cut and run, but I freely admit I have little confidence that this administration will achieve any satisfactory results in the next three years.

The most likely result of this post will be to forever condemn the practice of starting a paragraph with the words "I think..."

-Hilzoy
I think we are long past the point where we can talk about "success" in Iraq. Whatever we do now, we have undone decades' worth of work containing Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf, destroyed any air of invincibility that we had after the first Gulf War, bogged down our army, destroyed our moral authority both by allowing the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere to occur and then by not holding anyone high up in the military or civilian leadership accountable, done enormous damage to our alliances and interests, and on and on and on. I take all of this as a given.

I also think it is pointless to think about constructing any kind of model democracy for the Middle East. That was always a very long shot; to bring it off we would have had to plan meticulously, and then have everything break our way. We didn't; it didn't; as a result, I think this possibility has gone glimmering.

-blogbudsman
I think we are certainly at the point where we can talk about "success" in Iraq. Whatever we do now, we have rectified decades' worth of work pretending to contain Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf, implanted all measures of invincibility that we had after the first Gulf War, effectively imployed our army, established our moral authority both by responding to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere to occur and then holding everyone high up in the military or civilian leadership accountable, done enormous building of our alliances and interests, and on and on and on. I take all of this as a given.

I also think it is an incredible undertaking to think about constructing any kind of model democracy for the Middle East. That was always a very basic concept; to bring it off we will have maneuvered deftly, and then have some events break our way. We did; it will; as a result, I think this possibility has save mankind as we know it.

blogbudsman: we have rectified decades' worth of work pretending to contain Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf

Rectified "pretending" to contain Iranian influence by making sure Iranian influence definitely extends into Iraq?

implanted all measures of invincibility that we had after the first Gulf War

By making clear what the limitations of the US military are - that the US military can invade and defeat the Iraqi army, but cannot successfully* occupy a hostile country?

*Before anyone calls me on this: I acknowledge that it's possible that the US military could have occupied Iraq successfully, but no one will ever know, thanks to the Bush administration's bungling.

effectively imployed our army,

...by demonstrating its limitations. See comment above.

established our moral authority both by responding to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere to occur and then holding everyone high up in the military or civilian leadership accountable

You do realise that this is the exact reverse of what has happened?

done enormous building of our alliances and interests

Managed to offend most of the US's historic allies, and still doing enormous, ongoing damage, not merely in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, but from the decision in the Mahar Arar case that any tourist entering the US - anyone at all - can legally be deprived of all rights and held indefinitely.

I take all of this as a given.

That is your problem. For those of us who live in the real world, your fantastic beliefs are part of the problem. You need to accept facts, Blogbuds: not just invent things to suit yourself.

I also think it is an incredible undertaking to think about constructing any kind of model democracy for the Middle East.

Indeed it is. But, as you'll know having read Hilzoy's posts, Bush & Co never had any intention like that at the start, and never tried to think about it at all.

"Knowing what we now know, should we have invaded Iraq in March 2003?

I'm interested in both the yes/no answer and the explanation."

That's a tough question. If he would have allowed complete and full unhindered inspections I would say no. But, if he continued to be evasive I would lean towards yes.

If we were going to keep the no-fly zones then I would say yes also. The guys who fly the planes were already in a war. We needed to support their mission better.

At the time it was my belief that we would have had to go to war eventually. Hussein hated us and wanted to harm us if he could figure out a way to accomplish it. Sooner better than later. For me it was always Chamberlain versus Churchill II, except with different characters.

That was my thought at the time.

bobzilla : Who knows what deals could have been worked out if the Bush Admin. hadn't been so hellbent on wrecking our diplomatic relationships?

I'm confused do you mean deals Hussein and the terrorists could have worked out?

DDR: If he would have allowed complete and full unhindered inspections I would say no.

And, as he did allow complete and full unhindered inspections, you were against the invasion from the very beginning?

When did you change your mind and become pro the invasion?

If we are always going to accuse Bush of being a liar I would be a little more careful:

"And, as he did allow complete and full unhindered inspections, you were against the invasion from the very beginning?"

Someone might think you are as bad as Bush.

DDR: Ah, so you simply ignore the complete and unhindered investigations that were taking place before the UN inspectors had to withdraw because the US were planning to invade. I see. Understandable: Bush ignored (and lied about) them too.

I guess I was just making it all up:

"But it's a soft start," Robertson said. "The U.N. has been checking sites familiar to both sides. Contentious presidential palaces have so far been avoided."

By contentious he means Hussein wanted to give us access, but we just didn't want to go in. We wanted war.


DDR: I guess I was just making it all up

I guess you were.

UN weapons inspectors visited this presidential palace in Baghdad on 02 December 2002. The weapons inspectors in Iraq tested their new authority to go anywhere they wish. At nine o'clock in the morning, six white U-N vehicles rolled up to the gates of one of President Saddam Hussein's eight presidential palaces. It marked the first unannounced inspection of a presidential site in Iraq. Security guards at the palace reportedly radioed for authorization, and within minutes the inspectors were inside. Meanwhile, a second group of inspectors entered the palace through a different gate. The inspectors spent about two-hours in the facility and left without making any comments.

The probe at the Sijood site, located on the west bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad, was the first inspection of a presidential site since the return of the inspectors to Iraq, according to a UN spokesman. The inspection team was able to enter the site within a few minutes. Although the site was frozen during the inspection in order to avoid any exit, senior Iraqi officials were allowed to enter. When the inspection was finished, the freeze was lifted. Access to the entire site was provided without difficulty, and the planned inspection activity was completed, the spokesman reported. cite

By contentious he means Hussein wanted to give us access, but we just didn't want to go in. We wanted war.

Precisely.

Jesurgislac,

Read what you posted and you will see why Hussein couldn't be trusted.

UN weapons inspectors visited this presidential palace in Baghdad on 02 December 2002.

It marked the first unannounced inspection of a presidential site in Iraq.

From our man Hans:

March 7, 2003: UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix tells the Security Council that Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors in providing information about past weapons activities has improved, although Baghdad has not yet complied with its disarmament obligations. UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors had stated during briefings to the Security Council on January 27 and February 14 that Iraq was gradually increasing its cooperation with the United Nations. Yet, both deemed the cooperation insufficient.

It's not Bush's fault Hussein didn't allow unfettered access in the beginning and that he kicked out the inspectors. Also, Bush gave Hussein another way out of war. He said he would allow Hussein to leave Iraq.


You act as if WMD was the only reason the US did what it did. Regime change was an official policy of the US and that Blix claimed his actions were insufficient. By the time you cite inspections were meaningless. If Hussein would have allowed that type of access after Gulf War I, Gulf War II would most likely not have occurred.

December 7, 2002: Iraq submits its declaration "of all aspects of its [weapons of mass destruction] programmes" as required by Resolution 1441. The declaration is supposed to provide information about any prohibited weapons activity since UN inspectors left the country in 1998 and resolve outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs that had not been answered by 1998.

The resolution requires the declaration to be "currently accurate, full, and complete," but UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors tell the UN Security Council on December 19 that the declaration contains little new information.

Although Iraq was cooperative on what inspectors called “process”—allowing inspectors access to suspected weapons sites, for example—it was only marginally cooperative in answering the questions surrounding its weapons programs.

Bush did everything he could to avoid a war. Your real issue should be with Hussein, but oddly enough it isn't.

http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/iraqchron.asp>http://www.armscontrol.org

jes - "Rectified "pretending" to contain Iranian influence by making sure Iranian influence definitely extends into Iraq?"

mwah - It's not clear that Iranian influence extends Iran, let alone Iraq.

jes - "By making clear what the limitations of the US military are - that the US military can invade and defeat the Iraqi army, but cannot successfully* occupy a hostile country?"

yo - The only limitation that is clear is how extraordinarily difficult it is to not occupy a non-hostile country after a virtual root canal of its government and armed forces. The reverse example would be turning Syria back into an unoccupiable desert, which we could do with frightening ease.

jes - "You do realise that this is the exact reverse of what has happened?"

me - What has happened, jes? Thankfully, the smear campaign has probably had little, if no affect on our true station in the world. Our money is still welcome.

jes - "Managed to offend most of the US's historic allies,..."

me again - Our true historic allies are still very much with us. Those who never were, never are.

lastly - Come on, jes, somehow your admonishments don't play well on my side of town. I respect your agenda, and your skill at presenting it. We are political creatures, are we not?

DDR: It's not Bush's fault Hussein didn't allow unfettered access in the beginning

...right, I see the goalposts moving. Let me remind you when the US invaded Iraq: March 2003. Let me point out to you when the UN inspectors were permitted unfettered access to the Presidential palaces: December 2002. Let me remind you that that's exactly what you claimed would have got you to oppose invasion... and that's what actually happened, months before the invasion.

and that he kicked out the inspectors.

Ah, the old lie. No, Saddam Hussein did not kick out the UN inspectors. In 1998, the UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq thanks to Desert Fox: in 2003, the UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq thanks to the US invasion.

Bush did everything he could to avoid a war.

Good heavens. Well, if you still believe that after publication of the Downing Street Memos, which show that Bush determined to invade from 2002, clearly no facts will turn you from your faith.

Blogbudsman, if you're living in a fantasy world where all senior officers responsible for the torture of prisoners by US soldiers have been court-martialled, there is really no point in discussing anything from the real world with you. Let me know when you're ready to come out of your fantasy and face reality.

Jesurgislac,

I guess you couldn't read this the first time for some reason:

From our man Hans:

March 7, 2003: UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix tells the Security Council that Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors in providing information about past weapons activities has improved, although Baghdad has not yet complied with its disarmament obligations. UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors had stated during briefings to the Security Council on January 27 and February 14 that Iraq was gradually increasing its cooperation with the United Nations. Yet, both deemed the cooperation insufficient.

That seems clear enough to me. It doesn't seem to me that you should accuse anyone else of living in a fantasy world when you don't even believe Hans Blix. If we can't trust him who can we trust?

And since we are talking about fantasy:

The Downing Street documents represent the impressions of our closest ally about what was going on in the US in the lead up to war.

An impression does not a fact make.

From the memo itself:

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

Jesurgislac: show that Bush determined to invade from 2002

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.

Well now I am just confused. C reported on his recent talks. So the minutes come from a meeting where C reports about a meeting he had in Washington? Is that right?

Anyway, notice that he reported there was a shift to war being inevitable. That's not really warmongering talk.

I could say that it is inevitable that you will reject my comments. But then again you might not. I think I will plan for the inevitable. It would only make sense.

Sounds more to me like the tone was, "It looks like we are running out of valid alternatives and this is the only course we see left."

And of course Bush went back to the UN and got UNSCR 1441 adopted on November 8 after the meeting.

DAVID MANNING From: Matthew Rycroft Date: 23 July 2002

Yes, the memo does teach us a little. But, not necessarily what you think. I think that last point validates that the US was still trying to use diplomatic means to resolve the issue.

And it looks like Bush wasn't the only one who believed Iraq had WMD:

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

And a side note for you:

"The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities."

http://intelligence.senate.gov/>http://intelligence.senate.gov

Having been catching up on blogreading, and having only just read your excellent post, Hilzoy, I'll only mention that I gave my own policy prescription here, which is far less detailed than yours. But, hey, someone has to be a Big Picture Guy.

Why does anyone care wheather or not Iraq finds a way to democracy. If they get there, it will take a lot more work and lives on their part then anything we've seen so far. I say let them bang it out by themselves. If they want to change their way of life and loose the religous dogma that's been intertwined with their government for 2000 years let them have at it with the tools they have now. My hunch is they can't. It's no fault of theirs, they don't know what that looks like because they've never had it. Our administration can't/ won't articulate what "success in Iraq" would look like or what has to happen for the US to "win the war" so how can you achieve it? "Winning the war on terror? what is winning? Everyone in Iraq taking their ball and going home? If Bush expects that the insurgents will stop fighting for their country back and just walk away from a religious based government that the've had for a couple of thoudand years, I'd do some homework if I were him. Or, have an expert do some homework, If you're too busy vacationing in Crawford. What would happen in the US if someone tried to change our country into a Muslim nation? Put in a new government here based on Muslim values. Would we stop fighting?
You can't just go plant the rose bush of democracy in Iraq and hope it blossoms into a rosy out come. Is this model of "democracy" that we've planted there via our asinine President something that you would sign on for if you were a neighboring country? Please....we look like fools to all of our potential allies.
We blew it. Did no homework on how to succede. Had no idea who our "enemy" was. Made no effort to find out what made them tick. We tried to put "Christian values" in place of Muslim values and still we apparently have no desire to learn more about Muslims and what might work the best for all. We refuse to compromise or re-adjust, so we loose. We'll be paying for this blunder for decacades. Anyone know of a democracy that's flowered out of an occupation of that country by the US army that's succeded?
Well, lets plant that rose bush in Iran next and try that for a while. Maybe we can bomb our way to peace there.

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