Monday, March 25, 2013

Seriously, This is Madness

Okay, I have to keep going after taking one shot at this piece of shoddy analysis.

What planet does this guy live on?

Ignatius, Webb and many other tenth-anniversary war critics base their judgments on the outcome of Bush’s war decision, not on speculations of what the outcome might have been. Consider: Before the war, America was flush with cash. It had Iraq’s Saddam Hussein at bay, a brutal but broken dictator who could be—and was—rather easily contained in his own space. And yet, even in his reduced state, Saddam posed an important counterweight to the ambitions of neighboring Iran, thus helping maintain a valuable balance of power in the region. Al Qaeda didn’t have a presence in Iraq, as the secular thug Saddam had no intention of allowing any such threat to undermine his rule. True, he maintained Sunni dominance over the majority Shia, but this had been the political reality in Iraq for centuries—under the Ottomans, the British, the British-installed kings and the succeeding dictators. And while this wasn’t pluralism, it did breed stability.

Now America is broke, in part because of the estimated $2.2 trillion invested in Iraq. Iran, unchecked by Iraqi power, is on the prowl in the region as never before. Al Qaeda is pursuing openings there that didn’t exist during the Saddam days. Sectarian strife is rampant and on the rise. The entire region has been destabilized, in part because of the Iraqi invasion, and Islamic fundamentalism is more thoroughly entrenched in the region than ever. China, as Webb and others predicted, has exploited America’s Middle East preoccupation to flex its muscles in Asia. And all this represents the strategic cost, leaving aside the 190,000 people killed by the war, including 4,488 U.S. service members, 3,400 U.S. contractors, and 134,000 Iraqi civilians.

This is laughable. It has nothing to do with being a critic based on the outcome.

America was "flush with cash" prior to the war? Really? We were less in debt but still in debt. Many conservatives were rather upset with Bush over spending. I wasn't happy about it but winning the war was my priority, and at least Bush didn't falter in trying to do that despite growing cries to lose (ahem, Obama, Pelosi, Kerry, Biden, and Hagel). We had budget surpluses based on bubbles that burst near the end of that run and we did have that 9/11 thing. Remember that budget deficits were declining until the financial crisis of 2008 hit us. Absent that, as the wars wound down we would have reached that "flush" state again--albeit with a higher debt because of deficit spending. And the Iraq War cost less than the 2009 stimulus spent at the stroke of a pen. Citing $2.2 trillion as an Iraq War cost requires you to count all indirect costs decades into the future--which is obviously not money we've spent already. Saying Iraq is the reason we are broke is plain wrong. At one trillion dollars in deficit spending now without a single American soldier in combat in Iraq seems like the obvious rejoinder to this cause and effect claim.

Further, Saddam was sort of held at bay, but he was fostering terrorism in the region, training and hosting terrorists and funding suicide bombers in Israel.

Saddam may have been bluffing about having WMD, but based on his need to bluff (he was willing to endure even weakening sanctions to maintain that bluff, recall) he'd obviously try to get WMD before his bluff was called, no? And North Korea shows us that even being broke, you can get nukes. Iraq--with oil money--could have gotten nukes if he'd remained in power. Chemical weapons--which he produced for the Iran-Iraq War--would have been easy. And sanctions were breaking down in early 2001 as Saddam staged dead baby parades to successfully weaken support in the Arab world and the left wing in the West for sanctions. Recall that in early 2001 our then-Secretary of State Powell was already talking about a fall back position of "smart sanctions" that focused on rulers in place of the collapsing general sanctions on Iraq that Saddam was evading by exploiting the "oil for food" loop hole to get resources for his own regime at the expense of the people of Iraq whose suffering was a lovely chorus for his propaganda shows.

And Saddam did make and carry out threats against the Kurds or against Kuwait even as he was "contained." And as we practiced dual containment of Iran and Iraq, there was always the danger of a new Nazi-Soviet pact that would align Iran and Iraq against their common enemies in the Gulf and America.

Oh, and you have to love the dismissal of Saddam's minority dictatorship. I mean, as long as its been done a long time, that's just dandy. That wasn't stability. It was just the illusion of stability made easy for Westerners to believe because the quiet suffering didn't make our evening news to disturb our suppers.

Was al Qaeda in Iraq? Well, al Qaeda had Afghanistan for their base. So why bother going to a place where they could be bombed by American no-fly patrols? And plenty of supporters were in Saudi Arabia before that government recognized al Qaeda as a threat to their own rule. Why base in Iraq?

Saddam did welcome al Qaeda refugees from Afghanistan after we routed the Taliban to remote portions of Iraq where they could draw supplies from Saddam-controlled territory (and from Iran). As for al Qaeda exploring openings in Iraq that weren't there before we invaded, why would al Qaeda do that when Saddam shared an enemy with al Qaeda? Al Qaeda invaded Iraq precisely because it was no longer a friend and because they had been crushed in Afghanistan. But rather than being a jihadi conquest to create a new al Qaeda base, Iraq was where we slaughtered jihadis and put them in openings in the ground about 6 feet deep. We devastated al Qaeda in Iraq.

Further, although it is commonly claimed, Saddam was hardly secular by the time we invaded. Saddam increasingly relied on appeals to Islam for his legitimacy during the 1990s. Or have we forgotten the jihadis that Saddam imported prior to the 2003 war known as Saddam's Fedayeen? They arrived via the same pipeline that funneled suicide bombers into Iraq during the war.

As for causing Islamic fundamentalism in the region, that is farcical. Both regimes and opponents of those same regimes stoked different versions of Islamist fundamentalism as pillars of support. The Iraq War discredited the jihadi versions of those Islamist factions as the Arab world saw jihadis gleefully killing other Moslems. So when the Arab Spring hit, the first protests called for democracy and not Islamism. And even though Islamists have gained influence and power, they have been unable to make a flat appeal to the joys of jihad as they exploited prior to the Iraq War--and which fueled a bloody war in Algeria during the 1990s, recall. That jihadi option was not a popular one any more after the images of jihadi depravity were broadcast. The Islamist leaders may yet trick their people into getting jihadi-friendly Islamist governments, but the leaders can't openly promise that outcome. Not after the Iraq War.

Finally, the idea that China needed us to fight in the Middle East to exploit their growing power in Asia is nonsense. Our ground forces weren't in Asia and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ground-centric. And if you want some more fun with this, China did worry about our forces in Afghanistan (which actually borders China). And American ships in CENTCOM are as well placed to interdict China's trade with the Middle East and Africa as any ship in the western Pacific. They're better placed, in fact, since they are out of range of Chinese power.

The man has a lot of nerve pretending his side has the monopoly on cold calculation of outcomes.

Two posts on one piece of idiocy. Maybe I am a masochist with fantasies of pain.

UPDATE: Here's a better analysis. Funny, I forgot about shutting down the Pakistani nuclear market and Khadaffi's abandonment of his nuclear programs. I wrote about them, to be sure. But they escaped my recall for the ten-year anniversary. Yeah, the war looks better the more you analyze it.

UPDATE: Here's Strategypage on Iraq. Oh, and let's add another success to the Iraq War ledger: the war required Saudi Arabia to wage a war against al Qaeda's sanctuary within Saudi Arabia. Many opponents of the Iraq War argued we took on Saddam without dealing with the home of the majority of the 9/11 hijackers. Well, the Iraq War did that. It may not have been as satisfying as invading Saudi Arabia and destroying their energy industry in the invasion and chaos that would follow (and American troops owning the cities of Mecca and Medina wouldn't be a problem in the Moslem world, eh? Talk about "the street" rising up! That would have united all factions within Islam, no?), but the Iraq War certainly directly led to our success in curbing Saudi tolerance and overt support for jihadis when the jihadis proved to be a threat to the royal family's rule.

Yeah, biggest strategic error we've ever made. Whatever.