Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Lesson(s) of Iraq

 

Iraq-Mp2 Though the situation is still very fluid, there’s a real chance that our efforts at nation building in Iraq will soon come to naught. Given our investment of time, treasure, and blood in the country — to say nothing of the prospect of a wicked and hostile Islamic state taking its place — this is deeply depressing. It’s bad enough for those of us who are simply patriots. I can only imagine how those who fought there must feel.

On the assumption that things don’t turn around, it’s important that we figure out what led to this. As I see it, our failure is likely attributable to one of three causes: 1) That we left too early because we were insufficiently committed; 2) That our humanitarian scruples prevented us from fighting with sufficient violence; or 3) That Iraqis never had it in them to transition to a modern, small-l liberal state.

The first possibility has merit, especially in light of President Obama’s promise to leave as soon as soon as possible. At the very least, it made things worse. That said, this narrative is remarkably convenient for those of us who supported the war. Self-serving claims always warrant scrutiny, especially when they point blame at one’s political enemies. It might be true — or part of the truth — but it shouldn’t be accepted without considering other options.

The second possibility offers a much darker picture: that our gains in Iraq were always ephemeral due to our refusal to inflict the kind of damage necessary to meet our objectives. Leftist and hawkish propaganda aside, the war was neither particularly brutal nor bloody. The sad, disgusting reality may be that it should have been; i.e., that we can’t expect to remake a country without burning entire cities to the ground, civilians included. If this was the problem, the U.S. will either have to figure out how to cause that much damage in a world with a global media, or get out of the nation-building business altogether.

The third possibility is — if anything — even darker: that no amount of commitment or violence on our part could have turned Iraq around in a reasonable amount of time. For whatever combination of reasons, its people are simply not up to the task of creating a functioning society capable of playing by the rules of modern civilization — at least not now. If this is the case, then our nation-building was doomed before we even started. We would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and money by waging a merciless punitive war until someone with marginal authority surrendered. After receiving the necessary kowtows, we’d have told Iraq’s new leaders that they’re more than welcome to join the civilized world, but that we’d bring nukes if they gave us the kind of trouble Saddam used to. Then, we’d shake the dust of the place off our sandals and get back to living.

Figuring out which — if any — of these explantions led to our current situation is incredibly important. The U.S. is going to be the world’s superpower for a while yet … so we might as well get better at it.

Photo Credit: This image was originally posted to Flickr by DVIDSHUB at http://flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4557821521

There are 61 comments.

  1. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    FWIW, my bet is on the second option: that we and the Iraqis could have pulled it off if the invasion had been more shocking and violent.

    I’ve long felt that Afghanistan fits into the third category, but that’s another story.

    • #1
    • June 23, 2014, at 8:46 PM PDT
    • Like
  2. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think both Iraq and Afghanistan fit into the third category, although Iraq less so. Iraq is at least a generation away from modernity (excepting the Kurdish region which seems to be humming along fine), Afghanistan much more so.

    The real tragedy in the region is Iran. If we had not undermined the Shah, we probably would have seen a transition to parliamentary government and rule of law by now. We’d have the islamists trapped in a pincer between Iran in the East and Israel in the West.

    • #2
    • June 23, 2014, at 10:09 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. Knotwise the Poet Member

    I think the first two categories are both valid takeaways from the Iraq war. I think nation-building is possible, but I don’t think the American electorate has the stomach for what is necessary to accomplish that.

    If America want to just “butcher and bolt,” fine. Or if American wants to “nation-build,” fine. But they need to commit all the way to one. To quote Mike from Breaking Bad- No more half measures.

    • #3
    • June 24, 2014, at 12:07 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Zafar Member

    The lesson for the West from Iraq should be: humility.

    About our aims and understanding as well as our abilities. 

    I hope that hurt pride because of failure doesn’t make us cynical or hard hearted.

    • #4
    • June 24, 2014, at 1:03 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Son of Spengler Contributor

    There’s a fourth option: Our nation-building focused on building institutions, not values. In contrast to Germany and Japan — where we committed to a long-term presence because we felt we needed to uproot and eradicate the militarist values that led to war — in Iraq, our nation-building was only on the surface. We had EU representatives draw up a constitution, and we helped train an army. But we never seriously promoted our liberal values of free speech, federalism/subsidiarity, separation of powers, minority rights, etc. The constitution is a case in point. It did not reflect any American sort of federalism, which has been a remarkably stable regime that incorporated a vast westward expansion and 300+ million people. The constitution also systematically discriminates against minorities and offers no religious protections. We promoted democracy when we should have promoted liberty.

    I’m not sure it would have worked anyway, and the patience required would have been even greater. But I think this explanation needs to be considered among the other three.

    • #5
    • June 24, 2014, at 3:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Knotwise the Poet:

    ……

    If America want to just “butcher and bolt,” fine. Or if American wants to “nation-build,” fine. But they need to commit all the way to one. To quote Mike from Breaking Bad- No more half measures.

     This is really the problem: America definitely does not have the stomach for “butcher and bolt”. Neither do I. Unfortunately, nor do we have a long attention span or unlimited resources required for “nation building” of the Marshall Plan variety.

    I think that President Bush had it mostly right: something needed to be done about the safe harbors for terrorists and something needed to be done about Iraq too. The more fruitful, if more difficult, path would be “nation building” or at the very least building of bases of operation in strategic geographic locations. I still think that the opposite (or what President Obama has actually done) will wind up being more brutal, bloody, and expensive than sticking with the plan.

    • #6
    • June 24, 2014, at 6:47 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Mike H Coolidge

    I hope we wouldn’t go the option 2 route, even if it was viable. I don’t really see how more violence would have helped in this case. The Japan case still makes me very queezy, even given the huge long term benefits.

    I believe the lesson of Iraq is mainly #1, but not the blame it on Obama version. Obama gave the American people what they wanted, you can’t strongly fault him for that. The lesson is that anything that takes a long time is extremely uncertain, so you must be extremely confident in your reasons for acting and pessimistic about results. If those assumptions still pass the cost/benefit analysis, then you are probably justified. I don’t think Iraq rose nearly to this level at any point.

    • #7
    • June 24, 2014, at 7:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    Mike H:
    ….
    I believe the lesson of Iraq is mainly #1, but not the blame it on Obama version. Obama gave the American people what they wanted, you can’t strongly fault him for that.

    I agree the lesson of Iraq is number 1 but I do not believe Obama is blameless. Part of being a leader is doing what is required regardless of its popularity. Regardless, I believe it was Obama’s ideology not any respect for the will of the people that led him to remove all our forces.
    Obama inherited a relatively stable and peaceful Iraq. He squandered that because he has a fundamental belief that US influence in the world is a negative and the idea that a long term US presence in Iraq was necessary to maintain peace and stability was incomprehensible.

    • #8
    • June 24, 2014, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Little Ricky Cobden Inactive

    The decisions to not pay and send home the Iraqi army with its weapons and the debaathification of the civil service sent the country into chaos. In retrospect it doomed the entire nation building experiment. By the time some semblance of order was restored a voting plurality of Americans had lost all hope in the place and elected a President bent on abandoning the project.

    We are reaping what we collectively have sown.

    • #9
    • June 24, 2014, at 8:13 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Locke On Member

    Son of Spengler: We had EU representatives draw up a constitution, and we helped train an army. But we never seriously promoted our liberal values of free speech, federalism/subsidiarity, separation of powers, minority rights, etc.

    This. ‘Nation building’ begs the question – What kind of nation?

    When we arrived, the majority of the Iraqi economy, specifically oil and agriculture, were socialist. It still is. We did little if anything to diminish the power of the central Iraqi government. Instead we sent bureaucrats and policy makers with little knowledge of or confidence in our own economic institutions. This is so fundamental it should rank as a #4 on the list in the OP.

    It’s no coincidence that Kurdistan, the most successful region of Iraq, is the one that keeps the greatest distance from the central government and has the most free market institutions.

    We’re stumbling backwards into what we should have perhaps done at the start: Break up Iraq along natural boundaries. Why should we and they bleed to maintain a fiction created by the major powers circa 1918?

    • #10
    • June 24, 2014, at 4:22 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Carey J. Inactive

    I think all three were involved, to a degree. The Democrats’ narrative on Iraq was that it was doomed to fail, and if it had to be made to fail, that was okay. I think a lot of leftists (and libertarians) were horrified by the possibility that success in Iraq might prompt other nation-building “adventures”. Yanking the rug out from under the Iraqi government was preferable to a stable, peaceful, democratic Iraq. 

    That said, you can break down any culture, no matter how militant, if you’re willing to kill enough people and break (or burn) enough stuff. The rebuilding of Japan and Germany worked. It took not one, but two, nuclear weapons to force Japan to surrender. But they stayed surrendered. And they learned that simply grafting technology onto an authoritarian system doesn’t make you a world power. Break the enemy first. Then you can send him to Kitchener’s School

    Lastly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to turn an Islamic society into a democratic one. Islam is profoundly and fundamentally incapable of assimilating the sense of individual dignity necessary to make democracy work. It is also too fundamentally fatalistic. Inshallah and democracy don’t mix.

    • #11
    • June 24, 2014, at 5:00 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Little Ricky Cobden Inactive

    Carey J.:

    Lastly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to turn an Islamic society into a democratic one. Islam is profoundly and fundamentally incapable of assimilating the sense of individual dignity necessary to make democracy work. It is also too fundamentally fatalistic. Inshallah and democracy don’t mix.

     If this is so isn’t it fair to say that building “a stable, peaceful, democratic Iraq” would be “difficult, if not impossible”?

    I supported the war in 2003. I have come to regret doing so not because I was horrified at the possibility of it being successful but because of the myriad unforced errors we made in its implementation. 

    What horrified me was the election of Obama and his policy of abandoning the place to its fate. We broke it, we bought it, we had responsibilities. Now we are turning the important rump of the place over to the Iranians. That is what worries me. The Iranians can handle ISIS. They are going to freak out the Saudi’s (who deserve it, they helped finance ISIS) and Israel. The next domino to fall will likely be Jordan, the question is which Israeli hating entity will fill the vacuum.

    • #12
    • June 24, 2014, at 5:12 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Carey J. Inactive

    Little Ricky Cobden:

    Carey J.:

    Lastly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to turn an Islamic society into a democratic one. Islam is profoundly and fundamentally incapable of assimilating the sense of individual dignity necessary to make democracy work. It is also too fundamentally fatalistic. Inshallah and democracy don’t mix.

    If this is so isn’t it fair to say that building “a stable, peaceful, democratic Iraq” would be “difficult, if not impossible”? 

    The way we went about it? Certainly. That’s why I think we should have been much more brutal in conquering Iraq, or much more patient about rebuilding it. We occupied Japan and Germany for years even after giving them the worst trashing since the Fourth Cursaders sacked Constantinople. The way we invaded Iraq, it would probably have taken another 15 to 20 years to stabilize the place. And that’s without Iran and Saudi Arabia stirring the pot.

    • #13
    • June 24, 2014, at 5:41 PM PDT
    • Like
  14. Nick Stuart Inactive

    Because #3, #2 was the only reasonable course. Break everything that needed breaking, kill everyone who needed killing, sequester whatever tribal leaders were left in a bare convention center with some civil affairs officers and personal copies of the US Constitution and Guide to Westminster Parliamentary system. Don’t let them out until they cobble together a government. Then let them know the next time we come back, it will be with B-1s, screw the civilian casualties, and we know where YOU live.

    What now? I wouldn’t trust Obama and the top civilian and military leadership to take care of a dog I didn’t like, much less putting US troops in harm’s way. For the future, the lesson of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is that the Left will always be a treacherous fifth column, looking to drive America to defeat however long it takes by whatever means are necessary. Since we lack the resolve to finish, better not to start. I’m not an isolationist, but anyone who wants to commit US troops to combat should send their kids first (or go themselves) before sending mine or someone else’s.

    • #14
    • June 24, 2014, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. Little Ricky Cobden Inactive

    Carey J.:

    The way we went about it? Certainly. That’s why I think we should have been much more brutal in conquering Iraq, or much more patient about rebuilding it. We occupied Japan and Germany for years even after giving them the worst trashing since the Fourth Cursaders sacked Constantinople. The way we invaded Iraq, it would probably have taken another 15 to 20 years to stabilize the place. And that’s without Iran and Saudi Arabia stirring the pot.

    Do you think the Bush administration thought the war would require decades of investment or brutality some degree of magnitude greater than was employed? If so didn’t they have an obligation to inform the nation beforehand what was required? 

    I think the Bush administration believed what they said publicly in the run-up to the war. Unfortunately they were cataclysmically wrong in their assessment. They made early mistakes and dithered for three years before someone stepped forward with a way out.

    My number one lesson learned from Iraq is the lesson preached by conservatives in the 1990’s in the Balkans, don’t get our military bogged down in nation building.

    • #15
    • June 24, 2014, at 6:00 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer:

    FWIW, my bet is on the second option: that we and the Iraqis could have pulled it off if the invasion had been more shocking and violent.

    I’ve long felt that Afghanistan fits into the third category, but that’s another story.

     I don’t see what more American violence would have done to help. America did reduce terrorist violence to levels where homicide levels were higher in some US inner cities than in Iraq. As demonstrated by the diminishing returns of the New Orleans Police Department’s efforts, there’s something of an irreducible minimum of violence. After America left, Iraq was invaded. Unless the US had supported the FSA in Syria or otherwise intervened there, there simply wasn’t a way that I am aware of for the US to destroy ISIS before ISIS invaded.
    Maliki was awful in some of his political decisions, but not in a way that could be fixed with violence, unless the US ambassador got “Iraqi Constitutional” and “Court” tattoed on his knuckles and went to town whenever Maliki took a wrong turn.

    • #16
    • June 24, 2014, at 7:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Nick Stuart: Because #3, #2 was the only reasonable course. Break everything that needed breaking, kill everyone who needed killing, sequester whatever tribal leaders were left in a bare convention center with some civil affairs officers and personal copies of the US Constitution and Guide to Westminster Parliamentary system. Don’t let them out until they cobble together a government. Then let them know the next time we come back, it will be with B-1s, screw the civilian casualties, and we know where YOU live.

     Most of Iraq isn’t tribal, it’s urban, most of the stuff that needed breaking was broken, and Iraq did form a government. That said, you touch on perhaps the worst mistake of the war, the decision to let the State Department guide the constitution making process, which resulted in a Belgian constitution copy. That made it a lot harder to run Iraq competently and honestly. 
    Hopefully next time the US is event tangentially involved in drawing up a constitution they’ll appoint patriots who draw up something like the US or Japanese constitutions. 

    • #17
    • June 24, 2014, at 7:04 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Locke On: We’re stumbling backwards into what we should have perhaps done at the start: Break up Iraq along natural boundaries. Why should we and they bleed to maintain a fiction created by the major powers circa 1918?

     There are no natural boundaries. Have you ever looked at a map of Baghdad by ethnic divides? Even if you gerrymander the map to produce some kind of segregated society, you’ll still have massive minorities in each area. And what value would be served? If the area ISIS invaded had been independent, who would that have benefited? We just had an election in which hundreds of parties ran, and parties advocating partition got trivial numbers. This was in line with previous parliamentary and gubernatorial elections.

    • #18
    • June 24, 2014, at 8:48 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Joseph Stanko Member
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Let me suggest another unpleasant possibility: since Vietnam, we no longer have the stomach for American casualties necessary to win a war like this.

    I’ll stipulate up front that I’m a cowardly civilian who has never served a day in our armed forces. I think I love and support our troops as much as the next guy.

    But let’s look at the numbers. We had less than 5,000 soldiers killed in Iraq. That’s about a tenth of Vietnam (58,000) and a hundredth of WWII (405,000). 2,100 Union and 1,500 Confederates died in one day at Antietam.

    Averaged over a decade we lost about 500 soldiers per year. There were 509 murders in Chicago alone in 2012. The nationwide total was 14,827. More Americans are murdered on U.S. soil every single year than were killed in the entire Iraq and Afghan wars combined.

    Care to guess how many Americans died in car crashes in 2012? 34,080.

    I know it sounds heartless and cruel, but in a nation of 300,000,000 people, 5,000 deaths is a very small number relatively speaking.

    • #19
    • June 24, 2014, at 9:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. Zafar Member

    I think a democracy is probably the best and most long term stable form of government for (most of) the inhabitants of a country, but in the Arab ME democratic elections result in organisations like Hamas or Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power, and give agency to stands and opinions that the West may detest, or at best find inconvenient – not to mention the tendency towards majoritarianism, which is rough on minorities.

    Does the West really want democracy in Iraq? Wouldn’t a Mubarak or Sissi (or Maliki?) like figure be a safer bet in the short to medium term at least?

    The non-democratic Arab States (Saudi, the Gulf…) definitely don’t want a democratic Iraq. Arab democracies anywhere destabilise Arab dictatorships everywhere.

    • #20
    • June 24, 2014, at 10:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I don’t think it’s just the casualties. I think it’s the same problem faced in Vietnam; we’re very bad at accepting the concept of a small force being important when a large force was required earlier. In 2010 and 2011, the deaths were in double figures, and in 2012, there was one (1) death. No one can seriously suggest that those are impossible levels of violence for America to cope with. The numbers aren’t so important to public opinion, though. Suggest that the one death probably shouldn’t be determinative of public policy and you’ll get a bunch of people who suggest that the POTUS should be personally concerned with each of the thousands of Americans who die each day. It’s a problem with rationality.

    • #21
    • June 24, 2014, at 10:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar: Does the West really want democracy in Iraq? Wouldn’t a Mubarak or Sissi (or Maliki?) like figure be a safer bet in the short to medium term at least?

     I don’t understand the distinction between a democratically elected Maliki (with a democratically elected parliament, and democratically elected state and generally local governments) and a democracy. Just because Egypt couldn’t manage democracy last time round doesn’t mean that other countries can’t manage it. 

    Zafar: The non-democratic Arab States (Saudi, the Gulf…) definitely don’t want a democratic Iraq. Arab democracies anywhere destabilise Arab dictatorships everywhere.

     The Saudis have municipal democracy, and women will get to vote next year. The Emirates have a national parliament which is half democratic (like the UK model). Morocco and Kuwait have had parliamentary elections for a long time, and the parliament’s powers have been expanded. Egypt stands as a lesson in how not to do it, but Arab democracy in general isn’t so outlandish as you suggest. 

    • #22
    • June 24, 2014, at 10:51 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. Joseph Stanko Member
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Of England: I think it’s the same problem faced in Vietnam; we’re very bad at accepting the concept of a small force being important when a large force was required earlier. In 2010 and 2011, the deaths were in double figures, and in 2012, there was one (1) death. No one can seriously suggest that those are impossible levels of violence for America to cope with.

    Great point, completely agree.

    Also we had reached the point where the Iraq army could have done most of the fighting for us if they continued to have embedded American advisers, trainers, and spotters capable of calling in USAF airstrikes, and if they knew that if they really got in a pinch they could call in U.S. special forces to bail them out.

    Take away that safety net, and they can see which way the wind is blowing, so they throw down their arms and run away. Few are willing to die for a lost cause.

    • #23
    • June 24, 2014, at 10:51 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Joseph Stanko: Take away that safety net, and they can see which way the wind is blowing, so they throw down their arms and run away. Few are willing to die for a lost cause.

     I’m told by people with reason to know that the key event in that debacle was that the politically (and unconstitutionally) appointed “area commanders” fled. The soldiers woke up to find the leader’s quarters empty and a massive propaganda barrage, vastly more professional than anything seen in the Middle East before now, suggesting that an unstoppable force was coming and those who stayed would suffer horrendous atrocities. 
    The soldiers mostly left, the police mostly stayed, and the police who stayed were mostly killed. This, of course, shifts the blame onto a relatively small number of people. I’m not sure that many of us can say that if ISIS went to great lengths to personally terrify and coerce us, though, that we can feel confident in our manly response, particularly when these people were selected for Shia partisan loyalty, and the victims of ISIS were mostly Sunnis. 

    • #24
    • June 24, 2014, at 10:57 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Joseph Stanko Member
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Of England: Just because Egypt couldn’t manage democracy last time round doesn’t mean that other countries can’t manage it. 

    Critics of the war often said democracy won’t work in the Arab world because they have no tradition of democracy. That’s true, but how are they ever going to develop such a tradition without a long, painful series of trials and failures?

    Look at the French, their Revolution quickly turned tragic and despotic, then they had a dictatorship, an Empire, a restored monarchy, another republic… today they are on the 5th Republic, founded in 1958.

    I still think democracy will eventually spread through most of the Arab world. I think our noble experiment in Iraq will one day bear fruit, and the Arab Spring will have played a key role as well. But the process will take decades, if not centuries, with a lot of missteps and bloodshed along the way. Such is the course of human events.

    • #25
    • June 24, 2014, at 11:07 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Zafar Member

    My bad, James. From that Pearl of Truth:

    According to the “Democracy Index,” a measure of the level of democracy in nations throughout the world published by the Freedom House and Economist, the Middle Eastern countries with the highest scores are Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Kuwait and Morocco. Countries that are occasionally classified as partly democratic are Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq. The remaining countries of the Middle East are categorized as authoritarian regimes, with the lowest scores held by Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

    Freedom House categorizes Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey and Morocco as “Free” and “Partially Free”, and the remaining states as “Not Free” (including Western Sahara, which is controlled by Morocco). Events of the Arab Spring such as the Tunisian revolution may indicate a move towards democracy in some countries which may not be fully captured in the democracy index.

    • #26
    • June 25, 2014, at 2:40 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Zafar Member

    James Of England:

    Zafar: Does the West really want democracy in Iraq? Wouldn’t a Mubarak or Sissi (or Maliki?) like figure be a safer bet in the short to medium term at least?

    I don’t understand the distinction between a democratically elected Maliki…and a democracy.

    Sorry if I was unclear – or got sidetracked into how democratic Iraq is or is not.

    My point was that democracy in the ME gives voice to the people (often they don’t have one now) but the people don’t seem to say what we want to hear. Should the West work for democracy in the ME even if it means less support for immediate Western projects and agendas?

    In the long run wrt self interest (and from a moral pov) it seems obvious that we should. But one has to go through the short and medium term to get to the long term, and in Egypt the short term resulted in the MB and in Palestine in what would have been a Hamas led Govt.

    Is putting up with their inevitable short term worth it to achieve long term ends? Which are what, specifically, anyway?

    • #27
    • June 25, 2014, at 2:49 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Neil Hansen (Klaatu) Inactive

    Little Ricky Cobden: Do you think the Bush administration thought the war would require decades of investment or brutality some degree of magnitude greater than was employed? If so didn’t they have an obligation to inform the nation beforehand what was required? I think the Bush administration believed what they said publicly in the run-up to the war. Unfortunately they were cataclysmically wrong in their assessment. They made early mistakes and dithered for three years before someone stepped forward with a way out. My number one lesson learned from Iraq is the lesson preached by conservatives in the 1990′s in the Balkans, don’t get our military bogged down in nation building.

    Did the Bush administration downplay the commitment required? I don’t recall them doing so, I remember talk of a generational struggle and comparisons to the time required for us to create our Constitution after the Revolution and Germany and Japan after WWII.

    • #28
    • June 25, 2014, at 5:42 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    James Of England: I don’t see what more American violence would have done to help. America did reduce terrorist violence to levels where homicide levels were higher in some US inner cities than in Iraq.

    It might have prevented many of the armed conflicts between the time of the invasion and the surge; enough people thought they could oppose the coalition — either directly or by attacking our proxies — and needed to be disabused of the notion.

    James Of England: After America left, Iraq was invaded.

    Very fair point. I didn’t make this clear earlier at all, but I also think we should have stayed longer and that we hopelessly bungled the nation-building. Massive violence during the invasion of Iraq would not have stopped ISIS, as ISIS wasn’t in Iraq.

    • #29
    • June 25, 2014, at 7:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Son of Spengler: There’s a fourth option: Our nation-building focused on building institutions, not values. In contrast to Germany and Japan — where we committed to a long-term presence because we felt we needed to uproot and eradicate the militarist values that led to war — in Iraq, our nation-building was only on the surface.

     I absolutely should have included bungling the nation-building as an option.

    Besides the points you and Locke On make, I’d add that the time scale we adopted in this always struck me as madly rushed: 2005 was far too early to hold elections and write any kind of constitution.

    • #30
    • June 25, 2014, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • Like