Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Decade After OIF

Ten years ago, we invaded Iraq after Saddam Hussein refused to prove he'd dismantled his WMD programs as the 1991 ceasefire required him to do. Iraq is a bright spot in the Middle East and the Axis of Evil history. If we lose Iraq, it won't be because we lost the actual war.

I stand by my reasons for going to war with Saddam's Iraq, set forth here and here. They did not rely exclusively on the "slam dunk" assessment that we'd find WMD when we invaded.

Claims it was a mistake require you to explain what reason to destroy Saddam's regime was invalid, of course. Few will go that far.

And given that Iraq isn't in as good a shape as I'd hoped, you have to explain why it is because Saddam is gone rather than because we are gone from Iraq now.

Of course, many will say we made mistakes in the conduct of the war that made the war itself a mistake, notwithstanding what we did achieve. And we did achieve a number of objectives by winning the war. We won despite some smart guys and gals telling us we could not win on the battlefield. People with no clue about Vietnam have no business comparing Iraq to that war.

And you know what we didn't get from the war? Oil. Yeah, all the smart guys and gals said it was a war for oil. You'd think they'd be more supportive of the Canadian pipeline and fracking to keep us from grabbing Iraqi oil, but I digress. We didn't seize Iraq's oil as a spoils of war.

But while we should learn from errors, errors are part of war. In the end, we won. Talking about what we could have done is a parlor game at this point. Interesting but besides the point. Let's focus on defending what we gained, OK? [Oopsy. That was a completely wrong link that is now fixed.]

Some of the suggestions for what we could have done better could have turned out really badly. It is really common to say we shouldn't have disbanded the Iraqi army (aside from the fact that "disbanding" the army was a legal formality that recognized the army was simply gone) or de-Baathified the Iraqi government. Hogwash. Does anyone really believe the Sunni Arab Baathists would have decided that it was OK to be ruled by the hated Shias if they kept their jobs? Would Syria and Iran have not viewed those steps as opportunities to exploit?

Imagine what might have happened in the spring 2004 dual Sunni and Shia uprisings if the security services had been filled with "former" Baathists and even entire units of "former" Saddam's army. As it was, half of the Iraqi security forces dissolved in the onslaught. Under the alternate, "better" scenario of retaining the army under Baathist leadership, units and even parts of the government would have switched sides to fight us. Shias might have decided that the new boss was the same as the old boss since we had again betrayed them by keeping Baathists in leadership positions (still remembering our failure to help them in 1991 after we encouraged them to revolt). The Kurds might have declared independence.

God help us, I'm worried that our Syria policy is being guided by wrong lessons like this from the Iraq War.

Any "error" we might "correct" in hindsight might change the course of the war that we did end up winning.

On the bright side (tip to Instapundit), without admitting a mistake by returning US troops to Iraq, we are at least trying to help Iraq more than the Obama administration anticipated when it "responsibly" withdrew from Iraq, according to information cited in the Wall Street Journal:

[The] CIA has stepped up its assistance to the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service which includes Iraqi Special Operations units that were trained and mentored in the past by U.S. Special Operations forces? Iraqi forces are now working with American clandestine operatives to target al-Qaeda in Iraq and its Syrian offshoot, the al-Nusra Front. ...

This is, in essence, a second-best solution–better than nothing but not as good as keeping an American military contingent after 2011 as America’s military commanders on the ground had argued for. Does President Obama now regret, one wonders, not trying harder to secure a Status of Forces Agreement?

I guess the original Obama post-war plan wasn't so good. Which isn't too shocking considering Benghazi.

In an era when North Korea is threatening to nuke us and Iran is on the verge of nuclear-armed nutballery; and when Egypt could collapse Syria is in bloody open revolution, and Libya is a playground for jihadis, the relative stability of a weak but still democratic Iraq is a bright spot in the Middle East and in the fates of the Axis of Evil.

Imagine what we might be facing if Saddam or one of his evil spawns was running Iraq today? Would Iraq be in bloody sectarian revolt like Syria or look more like Iran in pursuit of WMD backed by oil income?

It was a good war, fought for good reasons, and waged by good troops.

Our troops brought us victory when lots of smart guys and gals said it was impossible to win there. It's up to us to defend that victory and exploit it to achieve more by establishing an alternative to the old choice of autocracy or Islamism to rule Moslems.

We certainly paid more than we hoped to achieve this victory. You'd think this fact would encourage us to expend the relatively trifling additional effort in Iraq to defend the victory. Fascinating articles about mistakes we could have avoided or about paying too high a price for victory are irrelevant since we did fight and win despite the mistakes and despite the added casualties and money. Are you really willing to argue that we should abandon Iraq now because you believe the price we paid was too high?

I bet that a lot of Americans would have decided that World War II was not worth the cost if you told them the price we'd pay to win. I bet a lot of Union war supporters would have decided that defeating the South and ending slavery were not objectives worth the price we paid if we could know the price beforehand. Once we have paid the price, why would you decide to reverse the gains or allow the gains to be reversed by failing to defend them?

I'll commend the Obama adminsitration for taking the step reported in that cited WSJ story. I'll really thank them if it is enough.

Are we doing enough to achieve that a decade after we smashed Saddam's armed forces?

UPDATE: Thanks to Mad Minerva for the link. She recommends Eric's Learning Curve to watch. It's nice to see people still willing to defend the war despite the "cool" kids bailing on it.