Thursday, September 1, 2011

What I Hated About the Second Iraq War

I supported the decision to invade Iraq by George W. Bush. There, I said it; the libertarian wing of the tea party can forcibly eject me. Early on, I became worried about the direction of the war because of Donald Rumsfeld's personality. Mark Salter's review of Dick Cheney's book reminded me of my bitterness.

I was in the military when Bush was elected and Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense. At the time, Rummy made it clear that he was out to downsize the military. His vision was for more special forces and aircraft and fewer soldiers, sailors and marines. I remember thinking that this was a risky proposition, because we had learned from Desert Storm that massive numerical superiority along with speed of maneuver could close out a war in weeks, rather than the years we had been bogged down in other ventures. Interestingly, Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense during that first Gulf War and I would have thought he would have drawn the correct lessons from the "Powell Doctrine," as well as the use of overwhelming force. From Salter:
But for four years, Cheney went along with the “light footprint” strategy of his closest administration ally, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. The original Rumsfeld-Cheney policy was an under-resourced and poorly planned policy that cost the Bush administration public and congressional support for the war. Rumsfeld had no stronger defender than Cheney, and he resisted the surge until Bush showed him the door.
To win his argument about the future of the military force structure, Rumsfeld, with Cheney's backing, crafted a risky strategy to score points. There have been any number of changes to the organization of the Department of Defense, all designed to make it a more effective war fighting organization. This was the first time we had gambled on using the theater of war to win an argument about the shape of the forces. Rumsfeld had become the consummate Washington insider, who judged success in the corridors of power as more important than battlefield triumph.

I supported the war for two reasons, both of which seemed correct at the time. One, I was convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, based on his behavior with regards to refusal to allow weapons inspectors into key sites in the country. It now appears that he was either bluffing for bravado, lied to by people too scared to tell him that there were no weapons, or the weapons were smuggled out to Syria near the start of the war. The other and more important reason was that the war was a "world-historical gamble." The trend lines for our national interests in the Middle East had been moving in the wrong direction for a long time. The increasing levels of violence were inimical to our justified desire to maintain the international order. Just allowing events to take their course would eventually result in catastrophe. Dictators were becoming increasing bellicose and more vocally anti-American, funding efforts to destabilize Israel. This was true of Saddam as well. Circumstance and Saddam's violation of treaty (vis-à-vis the inspectors) gave us the opportunity to invade. The intended effect was to topple one unfriendly regime and give pause to the rest. And indeed, that worked, as we saw Gadaffi give up his own WMD program.

But if you are going "all in" as they say in poker, then you go all in. Using insufficient numbers of troops was a key problem. Other mistakes were made to be sure, but the low numbers of troops exacerbated every problem. The looting which we couldn't stop, that started after the defeat of Saddam, seemed to cause a tipping point. The Iraqis unhappy with our presence were emboldened to continue to take on coalition forces. This unhappy war dragged on into the Obama administration. Ultimately, the extended length of the war resulted in more deficit spending and of course greater loss of life. One might attribute $800 billion or more of our current debt to the length of the war. Ultimately, the decisions in how to conduct the war were not conservative at all, if carried out by purported conservatives. We paid a steep price for the failure to quickly close out the war, not the least of which were the elections of massive numbers of leftists to the Congress in 2006 and 2008, and the election of Obama in 2008.

It should give us pause when we consider who should get the Republican nomination to challenge Obama in 2012. On current trends, the race has the making of a route. I fear Republican excess with massive majorities as well. We need a President we can trust to limit, not expand the government, which would include a wary eye towards more wars. It would be ironic if Gary Johnson or Ron Paul were the nominee and ran against Obama as anti-war candidates.

No comments:

Post a Comment