It’s no surprise that Iraq is disintegrating. The ethnic, religious and economic tensions that had always bubbled under the surface of the country were kept in check by the brutality of Saddam Hussein as they were (and in some cases still are) are by dictators in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and in much of Africa and South and Central America. Iraq’s current Shiite Prime Minister never made any serious efforts to include Sunnis in his government. Instead, he actively persecuted them in retribution for Saddam Hussein’s persecution of Shiites. And we failed miserably in laying a foundation for a stable, diverse Iraq.
Why did we invade Iraq in the first place? The intelligence about weapons of mass destruction was weak at best, and in one critical case, an outright lie. (Remember “Curveball”?) But a think tank called the Project for a New American Century had been banging the drum for “regime change” in Iraq since the Clinton Administration. When George W. Bush was elected, many PNAC members joined his administration, in positions of great influence, and they got what they wanted. What they didn’t do was plan for a post-Saddam Iraq. Their statements before and during the invasion show that they had no clue about what might happen when they lifted the cover on the pressure cooker. Vice President Dick Cheney, a signer of PNAC’s “Statement of Principles,” said “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” For a few weeks, we were.
Then the looting broke out. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a verbal shrug of his shoulders and said, “Stuff happens.” A month later, President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier that proudly displayed a huge banner that said, “Mission Accomplished.” A month after that, as attacks on U.S. and coalition troops mounted, Rumsfeld blamed a few “dead-enders.” Meanwhile, the Coalition Provisional government in Baghdad (really just an extension of the White House) was busy developing a flat tax system and private health care system for Iraq. (If you want to know how politically motivated and stunningly incompetent our occupation was, please read “Imperial Life in The Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone”. For an equally depressing look at the military mistakes we made, read “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”)
When the debacle finally officially ended in August of 2010, 4,487 American troops had been killed and 32,223 wounded. (66 more American troops who remained in Iraq to assist in training and other “non-combat” roles were killed.) By some estimates, the war may eventually cost six trillion dollars.
What did we get for our sacrifice of blood and treasure? Pictures of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists supposedly worse than Al Qaeda driving toward Baghdad in American Humvees and tanks. Don’t tell me this is President Obama’s fault because we left too soon. It would have taken an occupation of a generation or more to for Iraq to have any chance at a stable, even moderately democratic future. I am thankful we have a president who isn’t quick on the trigger and has an appreciation for how difficult, even intractable, these situations are. You might not agree with all of his strategies and tactics, but no one’s going to write a book about an Obama military fiasco.