Radical Thoughts About Iraq

 

SaddamStatue“Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?”

This question, posed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly to potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush, created a stir this week when Bush first answered “Yes, of course” (I paraphrase) only to later claim that he wasn’t listening closely to the question and had mis-answered. This appears to have been an honest mistake (although a dumb one). Bush evidently was listening for the question as to whether he would have invaded Iraq if he had been in his brother’s shoes at the time. Given what we all know now, however, he absolutely would not have gone to war.

The whole kerfuffle was all just a misunderstanding. But it was instructive and depressing nevertheless.

Because after everyone thought that they heard Jeb Bush saying that with today’s knowledge he would still have invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a mad rush by most of the other Republican presidential candidates to bury him. Even the normally stalwart conservative Laura Ingraham piled on during an appearance on The Kelly File in which she suggested that America had passed judgement at the polls by voting out Republicans in 2006 and 2008. It would appear, therefore, that the view that invading Iraq was, all things considered, a good thing is now considered not merely wrong but also unspeakable.

I disagree.

I have mentioned on these pages previously my admiration for philosopher Willard von Orman Quine’s theory on the web of beliefs. According to Quine, one’s beliefs are not independent ideas in a vacuum. Rather, each belief reinforces “neighboring” beliefs on related topics in such a way that one’s whole philosophy is ultimately a connected mesh. So changing a single belief can often require an entire gestalt shift. In consequence of this structure, we interpret the whole world and filter evidence according to the orientation of our web.

I point this out because nowhere are preconceived ideas so important as when one is interpreting complex data filled with subtle and sometimes conflicting patterns…such as in history.

If Ingraham is right and America has concluded firmly that invading Iraq was a mistake based on faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction, it is with true humility that I say that the patterns and motions of history that I perceive, filtered for my own web, tell a very different story.

The first story they tell is about Iraq in the era following Saddam Hussein. During the invasion of Iraq, when the existence of WMDs was still an open but increasingly dubious issue, Tony Blair commented (again paraphrasing) that if we were, after all, wrong about the WMDs history would forgive us. Blair was roundly skewered for this comment, but I think he was also roundly misunderstood. What he was saying, I believe, is that even if Hussein did not possess WMDs it would have been worthwhile on humanitarian grounds alone to fight to have him removed.

And so, with conventional wisdom running to the contrary, I wonder whether anyone remembers the hundreds of thousands of souls discovered in mass graves? Or the grave with hundreds of children found in the Kurdish region of Iraq? Has the steady drumbeat of leftist Bush-hating propaganda about the horror of Iraq after the war led us to forget Iraq before the war? As disruptive and dangerous as sectarian warfare in the region today is, the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was both more cruel and — what is most terrifying — a remarkably stable regime.

And Saddam’s regime was, according to the subtle currents that I perceive, the lynchpin of the whole dictatorial structure of much of the Middle East. I believe that the day that millions of Iraqis voted in meaningful elections – raising their purple fingers high – for the first time in their lives was, like the tearing down of Saddam’s statue, a bell of freedom that sounded across the region, notably to Egypt and Libya.

The secular tide which the freed Iraqi people unleashed has been accompanied by a sectarian and fractured fundamentalist Islamic tide as well. It will take a while for the secular forces to win out over the Muslim Brotherhood. But in Egypt, for example, the battle for civilization seems to be going pretty well. It seems not merely cruel but hopelessly naïve as well to simply say we would have been better off keeping Saddam and Mubarak and Qaddafi right where they were.

The efforts of the Islamic radicals like ISIS to govern are reminiscent of regimes like that of Pol Pot, where maniacal sermons are given by black-clad “brothers” standing knee deep in gore. But as horrific and dangerous as these regimes are, they are, compared to the machines of dictators like Saddam, flimsy and fragile. Only the insane (i.e. the fanatics) want to live in Jonestown.

What do you say, Ricochetti? Was it a mistake to invade Iraq? Or was our mistake the way that we lost the war after we had already won it?

There are 66 comments.

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  1. She Member
    She
    @She

    Michael Stopa:What do you say, Ricochetti? Was it a mistake to invade Iraq? Or was our mistake the way that we lost the war after we had already won it?

    Yes.

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Michael Stopa:The first story they tell is about Iraq in the era following Saddam Hussein. During the invasion of Iraq, when the existence of WMDs was still an open but increasingly dubious issue, Tony Blair commented (again paraphrasing) that if we were, after all, wrong about the WMDs history would forgive us. Blair was roundly skewered for this comment, but I think he was also roundly misunderstood. What he was saying, I believe, is that even if Hussein did not possess WMDs it would have been worthwhile on humanitarian grounds alone to fight to have him removed.

    And so, with conventional wisdom running to the contrary, I wonder whether anyone remembers the hundreds of thousands of souls discovered in mass graves? Or the grave with hundreds of children found in the Kurdish region of Iraq? Has the steady drumbeat of leftist Bush-hating propaganda about the horror of Iraq after the war led us to forget Iraq before the war? As disruptive and dangerous as sectarian warfare in the region today is, the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was both more cruel and — what is most terrifying — a remarkably stable regime.

    Thank you!

    Way back then, I wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, which it published, saying “I guess the Iraqi people are the wrong kind of mass.”

    And as I’ve written elsewhere this week on Ricochet, the case GW made to the United Nations did not rest on the known presence of WMDs.

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  3. iDad Inactive
    iDad
    @iDad

    I also wonder how people can be so certain that things would be better with Saddam Hussein remaining in power for another 12 years after successfully defying the international community.

    • #3
  4. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Knowing Obama would throw it all away? I would not invade.

    But knowing up TO Obama’s victory, it is clear to me that invading Iraq was the right and good thing to do.  We blew it when we elected Obama – we should instead have a permanent and large base there, with credible and impressive force projection throughout the Middle East. And a Singapore-style Iraqi nation would have been just fine for freedom, as well.

    • #4
  5. user_84826 Thatcher
    user_84826
    @MichaelLukehart

    The biggest mistake was Obama giving away our ultimate victory. Period.

    • #5
  6. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    iWe:Knowing Obama would throw it all away? I would not invade.

    But knowing up TO Obama’s victory, it is clear to me that invading Iraq was the right and good thing to do. We blew it when we elected Obama – we should instead have a permanent and large base there, with credible and impressive force projection throughout the Middle East. And a Singapore-style Iraqi nation would have been just fine for freedom, as well.

    Agreed. Well stated.

    • #6
  7. billy Inactive
    billy
    @billy

    Michael Lukehart:The biggest mistake was Obama giving away our ultimate victory. Period.

    Yes.

    • #7
  8. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Saddam Hussein invaded a neighboring nation. Even if we didn’t care about the chemical and biological weapons we did find, the mass murder and oppression, or his support of terrorists, he was a destabilizing force in the region.

    Of course, the region would arguably become less stable with or without Hussein in power. That was a judgment call, as were predictions of economic impacts on the US.

    In any case, the method of military action is vital in determining whether or not we should take such action. Toppling Saddam was one thing. Trying to rebuild the nation was another. And how to reestablish a nation is not an easy problem to answer.

    Knowing that we would not find nuclear weapons, I would have supported invasion. Knowing that we would then waste more than a decade propping up a society that rejects Western values and would fall to pieces the moment we stepped away, I’m not so sure.

    • #8
  9. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    My recollection of my own opinion from 2002/2003 is that WMD never even entered my own thought processes. I supported the 2003 invasion, in principle, because as far as I was concerned Iraq had violated the terms of the agreement which ended the Gulf War, and therefore that agreement was forfeit.

    However…

    I also had grave doubts over whether the war was winnable. As such, I thought it was justified, but not necessarily prudent.

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:Knowing that we would then waste more than a decade propping up a society that rejects Western values and would fall to pieces the moment we stepped away, I’m not so sure.

    How long did it take to get US troops out of Germany and Japan?

    Again going by my personal recollections of that year, one of my biggest fears was that the US would pull out of Iraq too soon, without getting the job done, just like was done at the end of the Gulf War. That’s why my support was only in principle, because I really didn’t think the West has the stomach for that kind of long-term occupation anymore.

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  11. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    “Knowing that we would then waste more than a decade propping up a society that rejects Western values and would fall to pieces the moment we stepped away …”

    Don’t forget, if we’re hypothetically making the decision knowing all that we know today, we get to use *all* the knowledge that we have today.  Which would include a great many lessons about how not to proceed after the initial invasion.  So the hypothetical path after that starting point would most likely diverge significantly from what *was* done.

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  12. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    TG:“Knowing that we would then waste more than a decade propping up a society that rejects Western values and would fall to pieces the moment we stepped away …”

    Don’t forget, if we’re hypothetically making the decision knowing all that we know today, we get to use *all* the knowledge that we have today. Which would include a great many lessons about how not to proceed after the initial invasion. So the hypothetical path after that starting point would most likely diverge significantly from what *was* done.

    Very good point.

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  13. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    TG:“Knowing that we would then waste more than a decade propping up a society that rejects Western values and would fall to pieces the moment we stepped away …”

    Don’t forget, if we’re hypothetically making the decision knowing all that we know today, we get to use *all* the knowledge that we have today. Which would include a great many lessons about how not to proceed after the initial invasion. So the hypothetical path after that starting point would most likely diverge significantly from what *was* done.

    I was just thinking about how Abe Lincoln would have held up for ten years after the Civil War to the incessant questioning by CNN:

    “But, Mr. Lincoln, you admit that you rushed into war after Fort Sumter, right?”

    • #13
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Exactly, Misthiocracy! Neither voters nor politicians in modern America are willing to do what is necessary to win a campaign and reshape a foreign society over a course of so many years.

    It is foolish and unethical to start what we so obviously will not finish. So our military operations should be limited to briefer campaigns with politically viable objectives.

    • #14
  15. Michael Stopa Contributor
    Michael Stopa
    @MichaelStopa

    Aaron Miller:Exactly, Misthiocracy! Neither voters nor politicians in modern America are willing to do what is necessary to win a campaign and reshape a foreign society over a course of so many years.

    It is foolish and unethical to start what we so obviously will not finish. So our military operations should be limited to briefer campaigns with politically viable objectives.

    Aaron, Maybe part of winning the peace is winning over your own citizens regarding what is going to be called for going forward. GWB was not so hot at that to be sure.

    • #15
  16. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    No, no, no, NO. What you apologists all fail to see is that Saddam was keeping the lid on all this sectarian violence and Jihadism. Just like Gaddafi and Assad did. Had we not invaded Iraq it would today be as stable and peaceful as Syria and Libya are, presumably.

    • #16
  17. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    She:

    Michael Stopa:What do you say, Ricochetti? Was it a mistake to invade Iraq? Or was our mistake the way that we lost the war after we had already won it?

    Yes.

    No.

    I mean, failing to support the Free Syrian Army in 2011, 2012, 2013, or most of 2014 was a mistake, sure. Failing to support the Iraqis with airstrikes, arms, and such, until ISIS also attacked media-friendly Kurds was a mistake, too. There are lots of other mistakes.

    Those mistakes aren’t enough to mean that Iraq, most of which is free and functioning decently today, with the rest hopefully being liberated soon, was not worth it. Our planet’s trailer park sign “it’s been 25,481 days since the last nuclear attack” hasn’t had to be reset. Israeli suicide bomb funding has plummeted. Iraqis can get educated, write in diverse media outlets, own phones (even in ISIS held territory; there are respects in which even they are better than Saddam), and look to a better future.

    • #17
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Aaron Miller:Exactly, Misthiocracy! Neither voters nor politicians in modern America are willing to do what is necessary to win a campaign and reshape a foreign society over a course of so many years.

    It is foolish and unethical to start what we so obviously will not finish. So our military operations should be limited to briefer campaigns with politically viable objectives.

    I think that this was a plausible objection before the war. Who on earth would have thought that after the ’06 elections, America would be able to increase its commitment to the war?

    Fortunately, Bush was able to pull off one of the greatest political feats in American history and get people elected on an angry anti-war platform to vote for more of it. We got Iraq to a prosperous and peaceful state.

    It’s true that after four years of peace Iraq was invaded with some success. It appears to me that we’ll have the patience to deal with that, too. There’ll be a lot of grousing along the way, but from what I can tell, support for bombing ISIS appears to be bipartisan and near universal. When Rand Paul and Hillary agree that we should be fighting, there’s little risk that we’re going to oppose fighting.

    • #18
  19. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    It was not a mistake to invade Iraq.  Many mistakes were made during the occupation, after the initial victory, especially before the “surge.”  I think that the “surge” saved the situation, and by late 2007, we had restored the situation and could legitimately call it a “victory.”  The huge mistake was Obama’s, in giving up after victory was effectively won.

    I agree almost completely with Mis. re WMD not being that bid a deal.  In my thinking, they were a factor, but a relatively minor one.

    George W. Bush correctly identified Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” — i.e. the three most dangerous rogue states.  After 9/11, a target in the Middle East was preferable, and Iraq had given us more justification for invasion than Iran.  The goal was “nation building’ — that is, we were going to take out Saddam and establish a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East.  Success would have been a game-changer in the region.

    There were good historical reasons to think that this goal was feasible.  Democracy had advanced with extraordinary speed in the late 1980s and 1990s, in both Eastern Europe, Latin America, and much of Southeast Asia.

    It turned out to be much harder than expected, and the plan lost the support of the American people.

    • #19
  20. liberal jim Inactive
    liberal jim
    @liberaljim

    The war was never won. It was a mistake to invade Iraq. It was a mistake nation build. It was a mistake not to have sufficient forces. After creating the mess the surge was not a mistake and took political guts. The SOFA that was signed in 08 that called for the removal of all U.S. Forces was a mistake. Failure to not negotiate a new SOFA by O. Was a mistake. But the major mistake was underestimating the problem and overestimating ours our anyone else’s capacity to solve it. If you real think it was such a great idea, I guess your for invading and occupying Iran now?

    • #20
  21. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Knowing what you know now would you have bought Microsoft and Apple in 1985?

    • #21
  22. Tennessee Patriot Member
    Tennessee Patriot
    @TennesseePatriot

    Agree 100%. I remember being dismayed when Powell addressed the UN and focused almost solely on WMD’s. I thought that was the least of the reasons we needed to take him out. Gross violations of the cease-fire treaties was reason enough coupled with the need to show who was the strong horse. Obama’s subsequent withdrawal has wasted the precious lives that were spent.

    • #22
  23. FloppyDisk90 Member
    FloppyDisk90
    @FloppyDisk90

    James Of England:

    Fortunately, Bush was able to pull off one of the greatest political feats in American history and get people elected on an angry anti-war platform to vote for more of it. We got Iraq to a prosperous and peaceful state.

    If Bush is to get the credit in that election does he also get the blame for Obama four years later into the conflict?

    It’s true that after four years of peace Iraq was invaded with some success. It appears to me that we’ll have the patience to deal with that, too.

    “…some success.”  Understatement of the year.  Fully half of the country is under ISIS control and your helpful advice is “be patient.”  The US has consistently and repeatedly underestimated the time, effort and cost of repelling insurgencies from Vietnam on.  It’s always “progress is being made, be patient.”  13 years later we end up with a deposed prime minister and army that gets rolled by pajama wearing teenagers.

    Of course, all of this is water off a duck’s back for Iraq apologists because a straight line is drawn between our involvement there and nuclear proliferation.  As if the only way, or even a good way, of protecting against that is military adventurism in Iraq.

    Edit:  Maliki, of course, resigned (vice being deposed) after being asked to step down by the US.  Still not a very good outcome.

    • #23
  24. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    It’s interesting that this post contains no reference to 9-11.  All of the points about Saddam’s regime raised in the post were known to all of us prior to 9-11 but I don’t remember George Bush running on a campaign pledge to invade Iraq unless your point is that the loony left was right all along and there always was a neocon plot to launch the war even if 9-11 had not happened.

    It was 9-11 that changed the equation and it was changed because of WMD for many of us.  Yes, there were other justifications but I know for myself what tipped the balance was the WMD issue and, if I remember correctly from the polls at the time, for many other Americans.  For us the risk balance changed and it was worth taking the risk because of what we felt was the larger risk of leaving a WMD arsenal in the hands of Saddam.

    Like Misthiocracy I worried more about the aftermath than the invasion though my concern was about our ability to maintain control.

    Yes, Obama completely screwed up the fragile stability of Iraq and deserves the blame for that but I think the reality is that whenever America withdrew this part of the world would revert to its natural state so unless you supported a U.S. presence in perpetuity (a political impossibility btw) we were never going to remake this part of the world in our image.

    • #24
  25. She Member
    She
    @She

    Aaron Miller:Saddam Hussein invaded a neighboring nation.

    Wasn’t that was a different war?

    Yes.  Saddam Hussein was an evil man.  I’m delighted that he’s dead.

    But the United States went to war with, and then eviscerated the power structure of, a country whose culture it didn’t in the least understand.  Then, when the aftermath didn’t go as quickly, or exactly as planned, the United States went wobbly, and bailed out.  The result was inevitable.

    Of course the war was winnable.  The United States can win any war it wants, any time it wants.

    What its government, and its people, refuse to win, is the peace, which takes much longer, and is much harder.

    • #25
  26. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    FloppyDisk90:

    James Of England:

    Fortunately, Bush was able to pull off one of the greatest political feats in American history and get people elected on an angry anti-war platform to vote for more of it. We got Iraq to a prosperous and peaceful state.

    If Bush is to get the credit in that election does he also get the blame for Obama four years later into the conflict?

    I don’t think that Bush was electorally particularly impressive in ’06-’08, but it was impressive that he was able to get the politics shifted. I think that, yes, he also gets credit for having Obama stay the course when he left.

    It is true that he didn’t manage to restore the good name of interventionism fast enough to persuade Obama to intervene in Syria or Iraq promptly when that was called for (and, almost as importantly, he didn’t manage to persuade the Cruz enthusiasts to support it). I’m not saying he did everything right, but the Surge approval remains an impressive feat.

    It’s true that after four years of peace Iraq was invaded with some success. It appears to me that we’ll have the patience to deal with that, too.

    “…some success.” Understatement of the year. Fully half of the country is under ISIS control and your helpful advice is “be patient.”

    Sure, if you count the desert as equivalently important to farmland and populated Iraq, you can get to much less than half, but a substantial portion. Most Iraqis are living in peaceful parts of Iraq and those who aren’t will be before too long.

    The US has consistently and repeatedly underestimated the time, effort and cost of repelling insurgencies from Vietnam on. It’s always “progress is being made, be patient.” 13 years later we end up with a deposed prime minister and army that gets rolled by pajama wearing teenagers.

    ISIS isn’t an insurgency. Although it does have an AQ like wing, most of what it’s doing is acting like a relatively organized and cohesive military unit and getting defeated as such. The retaking of Tikrit happened roughly on schedule and there’s no reason to believe that this will not be true of the rest of the lost territory. The next President may have to deal with Syrian nightmares, and it’d be helpful to provide aid to Iraq during a difficult time, but ISIS in Iraq shouldn’t be a problem (some car bombs and such, but nothing America needs to worry about).

    Of course, all of this is water off a duck’s back for Iraq apologists because a straight line is drawn between our involvement there and nuclear proliferation. As if the only way, or even a good way, of protecting against that is military adventurism in Iraq.

    It’s not the only reason for deposing Saddam, but it was sufficient. What other way do you believe was available?

    Edit: Maliki, of course, resigned (vice being deposed) after being asked to step down by the US. Still not a very good outcome.

    I appreciate the correction, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t a good outcome. I don’t know a single Iraqi who isn’t happy about it (including Sunnis, Christians, Shia, Kurds, Arabs, and Persians). He seems more in line with US values.

    It would be easy to overstate the impact of the US. Maliki stepped down after it was clear that he had no way of getting the third term that his electoral opponents had denied him. He stayed on for a while after the President had appointed the next Prime Minister trying to fight it before giving up.

    • #26
  27. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Hindsight is 20:20, but if America did happen to invade a similar country again, what lessons have been learned from Iraq – iow, what do you think you did right, what did you do wrong?  I don’t buy the “Bush did everything right an Obama did everything wrong, or vice versa” thing – life is not that neat.

    Assuming that the best outcome is to get what you want without fighting a war, do you think that would have been possible in Iraq?  I think it was probably not possible by 2003, but it may have been possible earlier.  What kind of long term strategy would get results while avoiding war?  So again: what parts of US strategy were successful, and worth repeating with other countries like Iraq, and which parts were not?

    • #27
  28. FloppyDisk90 Member
    FloppyDisk90
    @FloppyDisk90

    ISIS isn’t an insurgency.

    So you recognize ISIS as lawful belligerents?

    • #28
  29. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I have a different take on the invasion of Iraq. Yes, it was important to remove the threat of Saddam and his WMD. However, the more important reason for the Iraq invasion was to bring the Saudis and other Arab states into line. Before the invasion the Saudis were only tepidly on board with our fight against AQ.

    The invasion of Afghanistan was the bear reacting to the bee sting on 9-11 and was ignored by Arab countries who were giving aid and support to AQ.  The invasion of Iraq was the cold calculation of the wolf taking down the old bull, letting the rest of the herd know that they could be next if they didn’t cooperate.

    • #29
  30. BastiatJunior Member
    BastiatJunior
    @BastiatJunior

    Great post.  Even the WMD argument wasn’t completely invalidated.

    Saddam possessed and used WMDs in the past.  Also, the sanctions were breaking down and Saddam would have had them again at some later date.

    We accidentally picked the one window in time in which Iraq did not have WMDs.  Politically, it was disastrous.  Militarily (is that a word?) , it worked out.  It’s safer to invade a country that doesn’t have WMDs.

    A decision to not invade Iraq is one that necessarily would  have been made repeatedly over the past twelve years.  If President Bush and his successor(s) had taken that route, I dare to guess that the George Wills of the world would not have showered them with compliments.

    • #30
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