Thursday, February 28, 2019

Victory, Indeed

Eric at Learning Curve noted that he is in a debate with James Fallows on whether the Iraq War was an "enormous strategic blunder." Eric has done tremendous work in documenting that the war was legal, among other issues like discussing whether Bush lied us into war (spoiler alert: no he didn't, you morons still clinging to that nonsense).

What amazed me is that Fallows cited to Eric a 2002 article and a 2004 article he wrote to defend his view that the war was an "enormous strategic error." (And I should note that was the extent of sharing the email.)

So in 2019 Fallows relies on arguments he made before the war even started in one case and in the other long before we actually won the war--which might be relevant to consider before concluding the war was an error of such alleged magnitude.

I honestly don't follow Fallows. But I did look at the two articles Fallows cites to justify his current view.

The first was published in the November issue of The Atlantic. Despite being cited as an example of why the war was a big error, it was actually just a collection of people discussing all the ways things could go horribly wrong. If you throw up enough potential problems it sounds bad. But that pre-war laundry list is not an argument for error.

And two things stand out that highlight the problem of relying on a pre-war article of this type.

One, the US did get international support. Our Arab allies did support us by allowing access to bases. Britain committed a division while Australia and Poland committed special forces (and others supplied forces quietly). We had a large coalition backing us and many committed troops for the post-major combat operations missions.

The size of the coalition force was smaller than the Persian Gulf coalition but the American invasion force was much smaller and the Iraqi military was much reduced in capabilities since their 1991 defeat. Every army involved was smaller.

And we learned from that 1991 war that most troop contributions were merely a logistical burden. The Egyptian corps and the Syrian division simply lined up behind the 1991 invasion forces and occasionally rolled forward in the desert in the wake of the invasion without seeing any combat. We didn't need that in 1991 and we clearly didn't in 2003.

We lost Turkey--although Turkey did nothing in 1991, to be fair--which refused access for our 4th Infantry Division to attack from the north, but as the time since then shows, this is part of Erdogan's destruction of Turkey as a NATO ally rather than being because of our failures in 2003.

The only major coalition loss was France, but that was likely due to that country being hip-deep in the Oil-for-Food corruption scandal that had subverted the sanctions and the attempt to feed Iraqis affected by sanctions. Also, the UN did get involved on the ground in Iraq after the war--until the terrorists bombed the UN into fleeing Iraq.

Further, the contribution of allies to Iraq compares rather well to the contributions to Afghanistan where only the British, Canadians, Australians, and Dutch actually fought. The rest of our allies would not (or could not) fight--even for the "good war." The idea that Afghanistan was a "quasi-international" war while Iraq would be a "U.S.-only" fight turned out to be wrong.

Two, and this is funny, Fallows writes of an advantage we had in Afghanistan because "a natural leader, Karzai, was available" as a local ally for the post-regime change rebuilding. That did not age well although at the time it was a valid point. But times change.

Again, the basic flaw is that relying on an article written many months before the war began to judge the war lacked the knowledge of the changes in those months before the invasion--let alone the knowledge of the war itself that we won handily and the post-war insurgency and terrorism that despite the problems, we actually won.

The second article, in October 2004, focuses on comparing the reality of Iraq to the fantasy world of all the other problems America would have solved without being involved in Iraq:

By deciding to invade Iraq, the Bush Administration decided not to do many other things: not to reconstruct Afghanistan, not to deal with the threats posed by North Korea and Iran, and not to wage an effective war on terror. An inventory of opportunities lost[.]

Hah! Without needing to fight in Iraq which was won by the time he took office (until Iraq War 2.0 near the end of 2014), Obama proved he was unable to deal with North Korea, Iran, and the war on terror--which is odd given that al Qaeda essentially invaded Iraq after the fall of Saddam making the war in Iraq inconveniently the major combat theater in the war on terror. Indeed, Obama's temporary crusade in Afghanistan clearly distracted us from keeping Iraq in the win column--without giving us lasting results in Afghanistan.

Again, it is way too early to base your 2019 judgment of an enormous strategic error on 2002 and 2004 speculation and results! Look at Europe in November 1946 if you want to see why you need time to judge a victory or defeat. In my lifetime I've gone from seeing the Korean War as a draw to seeing it as a victory because as time passed South Korea moved from an autocracy to a democratic and prosperous state.

Indeed, it is hilarious that one of the things that Fallows says could go wrong in his 2002 article is that Iraq might use chemical weapons; while in the 2004 article he seemingly mocks the lack of discovered chemical weapons.

To his credit, Fallows in his 2004 article seems to recognize the time issue:

It is obviously too early to know the full historical effect of the Iraq campaign. The biggest question about post-Saddam Iraq—whether it is headed toward stability or toward new tyranny and chaos—may not be answered for years.

But in 2019 he sees no reason to re-examine his views of 2002 and 2004? Odd, that is.

Iraq was enough of a victory that Obama boasted that we had left a sovereign, stable, and self reliant-Iraq, while Biden boasted that Iraq would be one of the administration's great achievements.

And when the Obama withdrawal in 2011 led to disaster with the rise of ISIL, Obama embarked on Iraq War 2.0 to reclaim what we had achieved. Why would Obama, of all people, double down on Iraq if it was such a mistake?

It was certainly morally just for America to get rid of an evil and murderous dictator. But America also won the Iraq War on the results.

--Iraq no longer is run by a minority Sunni Arab faction for the narrow benefit of that faction while impoverishing, terrorizing, and killing its own people (including most Sunni Arabs). Iraq is now dominated by the Shia majority in an imperfect democracy that needs our help to develop rule of law. But at least imperfect ballots rather than lethal bullets are settling the question of who runs Iraq.

--Iraq no longer uses, produces, or seeks weapons of mass destruction.

--Iraq no longer a major threat to its own Kurds, where once Saddam gassed them on a large scale.

--Iraq is no longer a threat to neighbors as it was under Saddam to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and even Iran. While Iran under the mullahs was and is no friend of America, the war with Iran in the 1980s raised tensions in a vital part of the world that could have interrupted the world's oil supplies. And Saddam's power bent Jordan to be a client of Iraq in many ways. All that is negated.

--Iraq no longer supports terrorism in the region, and is in fact an ally who has killed far more jihadis than many of our most capable NATO allies. Somehow that obvious sign of victory is overlooked all too easily.

Iraq is not perfect. Far from it. But it is far better than it was under Saddam. America--and the region--is far better off because of our much-maligned victory over Saddam and the jihadis and Iranian who waged war against America in Iraq after Saddam was chased from his palaces.

Iraq was a victory. And if we can help Iraq get closer to being a functioning democracy with better rule of law, Iraq will finally stand as an example of how a majority Islamic state can be run without autocrats or Islamists running the place. If Islam is to win its Civil War over who gets to define Islam, and thus deny jihadis religious justification for their terror--which is where the real war on terror will be won or lost--Iraq must stand as an example.