SPECIAL EDITION: IRAQ AT 10 [part three: reckoning]

SPECIAL EDITION:IRAQ AT 10 [part one: witness]

SPECIAL EDITION:IRAQ AT 10 [part two: choice]



Charles McDermid | Al Jazeera

The final breakdown of every tax dollar spent by the United States to rebuild post-invasion Iraq was presented to Congress earlier this month – a down-to-the-nickel analysis of nine years and $60bn worth of waste, arrogance and ineptitude unequalled in American history.

The conclusive report by Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), was a 186-page document titled “Learning From Iraq”, which followed that misspent money on a tragic joyride through the expensive and embarrassing mega-blunders that have become synonymous with US”nation-building” efforts in Iraq since 2003.

. . . The level of fraud, waste, and abuse in Iraq was appalling,” said Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine who was described as the most consistent supporter of oversight in Iraq. There are plenty of examples to prove the point:

  • The half-built prison sitting in Diyala province that cost the United States $40m and will never incarcerate anyone.
  • Basra Children’s Hospital, the largest US health care construction effort at $345m, was 200 percent over budget, four years behind schedule, and is still not fully operational.
  • An unfinished wastewater plant in Fallujah that has cost more than $100m, and counting, and is reportedly a local joke for its limited service that will require another $87m to reach the rest of the city.
  • he US spent $27m to fix the Mosul dam in 2005, but an inspection in 2007 found that $19.4m worth of equipment and materials for the improvements were not being used.
  • The massive $277m Nassiriya Water Treatment Plant broke down immediately after transfer to Iraqi control and is considered a failure.
  • The millions stacked up as the list went on: faulty bridges, power stations, training programmes, roads, and, most famously, the company that billed the US Defense Department $900 for a switch that retails for $7.


Ramzi Mardini | Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies | The New York Times

it’s not surprising that Iraqi foreign policy would conflict, rather than converge, with U.S. desires. An allied or friendly bilateral relationship was unlikely to ever be a realistic trajectory. This isn’t necessarily because of bad policies or lost opportunities, but rather on the basis of countervailing strategic and cultural forces. Iraq is not going to radiate liberal and democratic values anytime soon, and more important, unlike post-World War II alliances with West Germany and Japan, there are no systemic and geopolitical forces that provide a foundation for an alliance to exist.

The insurgency had forced the U.S. to be entrapped in the weeds of internal stabilization, unable to transcend the relationship outside the realm of military affairs. Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to primarily bet on a dependency relationship based on providing American military hardware. Although foreign military sales can strengthen ties with clients, don’t expect them to produce a reliable ally when there’s no common strategic purpose.



John Judis | The New Republic

In December of 2002, I was invited by the Ethics and Public Policy Center to a ritzy conference at an ocean front resort in Key West. The subject was to be Political Islam, and many of the best-known political journalists from Washington and New York were there. The conversation invariably got around to Iraq, and I found myself one of the few attendees who outright opposed an invasion. Two of the speakers at the event—Christopher Hitchens, who was then writing for Slate, and Jeffrey Goldberg, who was then writing for The New Yorker—generously offered to school me on the errors of my way.

I found fellow dissenters to the war in two curious places: the CIA and the military intelligentsia. That fall, I got an invitation to participate in a seminar at the Central Intelligence Agency on what the world would be like in fifteen or twenty years. I went out of curiosity—I don’t like this kind of speculation—but as it turned out, much of the discussion was about the pending invasion of Iraq. Except for me and the chairman, who was a thinktank person, the participants were professors of international relations. And almost all of them were opposed to invading Iraq.



Paul Bacevich | Harper’s

Wohlstetter’s perspective (which became yours) emphasized five distinct propositions. Call them the Wohlstetter Precepts.

First, liberal internationalism, with its optimistic expectation that the world will embrace a set of common norms to achieve peace, is an illusion. Of course virtually every president since Franklin Roosevelt has paid lip service to that illusion, and doing so during the Cold War may even have served a certain purpose. But to indulge it further constitutes sheer folly.

Second, the system that replaces liberal internationalism must address the ever-present (and growing) danger posed by catastrophic surprise. Remember Pearl Harbor. Now imagine something orders of magnitude worse — for instance, a nuclear attack from out of the blue.

Third, the key to averting or at least minimizing surprise is to act preventively. If shrewdly conceived and skillfully executed, action holds some possibility of safety, whereas inaction reduces that possibility to near zero. Eliminate the threat before it materializes. In statecraft, that defines the standard of excellence.

Fourth, the ultimate in preventive action is dominion. The best insurance against unpleasant surprises is to achieve unquestioned supremacy.

Lastly, by transforming the very nature of war, information technology — an arena in which the United States has historically enjoyed a clear edge — brings outright supremacy within reach. Of all the products of Albert Wohlstetter’s fertile brain, this one impressed you most. The potential implications were dazzling. According to Mao, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Wohlstetter went further. Given the right sort of gun — preferably one that fires very fast and very accurately — so, too, does world order.

. . . Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater.

In an instant, you grasped that the attacks provided a fresh opportunity to implement Wohlstetter’s Precepts, and Iraq offered a made-to-order venue. “We cannot wait to act until the threat is imminent,” you said in 2002. Toppling Saddam Hussein would validate the alternative to waiting. In Iraq the United States would demonstrate the efficacy of preventive war.

. . . One of Wohlstetter’s distinguishing qualities, you once told an interviewer, was that he “was so insistent on ascertaining the facts. He had a very fact-based approach to policy.” Albert’s approach was ruthlessly pragmatic. “It derived from saying, Here’s the problem, look at it factually, see what the questions are that emerged from the thing itself, so to speak.” Then confront those questions.

One of the questions emerging from the Iraq debacle must be this one: Why did liberation at gunpoint yield results that differed so radically from what the war’s advocates had expected? Or, to sharpen the point, How did preventive war undertaken by ostensibly the strongest military in history produce a cataclysm?

Not one of your colleagues from the Bush Administration possesses the necessary combination of honesty, courage, and wit to answer these questions . . .


David Corn | The Nation

On Wednesday morning, NPR’s Renee Montagne interviewed Perle. It wasn’t a grilling. Perle was allowed to explain his Iraq war fever, noting that “we had intelligence assessments” indicating Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He pleaded his case by remarking that after 9/11, “You ask yourself what could happen next, you do the obvious thing….[The Bush administration] made a list of potential threats and on that list the single most important potential threat was another attack with a weapon of mass destruction. So then you make a list of who has weapons of mass destruction and who might be motivated either to attack or enable someone else to attack the US. And Iraq was clearly on that list.” Perle then offhandedly observed, “It’s easy a decade later to say, well, it turned out this fact or that presumption was wrong.” He insisted that the biggest “blunder” with Iraq was the post-invasion occupation.

This is all standard fare for a neocon who won’t let go. But the final exchange of the interview was a chilling driveway moment:

Montagne: Ten years later, nearly 5,000 American troops dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded. When you think about this, was it worth it?

Perle: I’ve got to say I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done with the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t a decade later go back and say we shouldn’t have done that.

That was cold.



Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy | 21 March 2013

But here’s one surprising detail about the flood of retrospectives: They have almost exclusively been written by Americans, talking about Americans, for Americans. Indeed, many Iraqis fail to see the point of commemorating the disastrous war for the benefit of the American media.

American strategic narcissism is nothing new, of course. The notion that what the United States does is the most important aspect of every development pervades American foreign-policy punditry, whether about Iraq or Egypt, Syria and the Arab uprisings. But we really should know better by now: First, the entire point of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq was to get soldiers out in to the population, meeting with people and winning their trust. What’s more, the “surge” of U.S. troops in 2007 could not have succeeded without the Sunni turn against al Qaeda in Iraq, which preceded it. Second, the Arab Spring’s ethos of citizen empowerment should have made it impossible to ignore the agency of the people in the region.


Kathleen Geier | The National Memo | 22 March 2013

Pundits like to imagine that they take political positions only after a careful consideration of the merits — listening to arguments, studying position papers, weighing the pros and cons, and coming to a decision.

But politics is not necessarily so rational, and never was irrationality more plainly on display than in the months leading up to the Iraq War. Ten years later, it is worth exploring why so many opinion-makers – including those who were otherwise critical of the Bush administration — passionately advocated war.

For at least some leading pundits, their position seems to have been shaped less by “reason” or “ideas” than something more primal and even tribal, reflecting their fantasies about who they imagined themselves to be. What follows is a taxonomy of certain pundits on the center and the left who, to their eternal shame, beat the drums of war — hard. . .



29 March 2003



James Fallows | The Atlantic

If we were to “learn” from mistakes, we might avoid this specific set of biases and miscalibrations when it comes to another “preventive” strike against another threatening nation in exactly the same part of the world. But we see every one of these four elements of this syndrome — exaggeration, impatience, polyanna-ism about military measures, naivete about long-term effects – in discussions about the “need” and “moral duty” to condone military action against Iran.



Glenn Greenwald | The Guardian | 17 March 2013

Frum’s most interesting revelation comes from his discussion of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile whom many neocons intended to install as leader of that country after the US took over. Frum says that “the first time [he] met Ahmed Chalabi was a year or two before the war, in Christopher Hitchens’s apartment”. He then details the specific goals Chalabi and Dick Cheney discussed when planning the war:

“I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those ‘others’ was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to US dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.”

Wars rarely have one clear and singular purpose, and the Iraq War in particular was driven by different agendas prioritized by different factions. To say it was fought exclusively due to oil is an oversimplification. But the fact that oil is a major factor in every Western military action in the Middle East is so self-evident that it’s astonishing that it’s even considered debatable, let alone some fringe and edgy idea.
. . . Prior to the invasion of Iraq, nothing produced faster or more vicious attacks on war opponents than the claim that oil was playing a substantial role in the desire to invade. On February 23, 2003, then-Cogressman Dennis Kucinich appeared on Meet the Press and argued that oil was a primary reason for the US to want to invade Iraq, and in response, Richard Perle (Frum’s co-author in their 2004 “An End to Evil”) replied: “It is a lie, Congressman. It is an out and out lie.” That exchange led the Washington Post’s liberal columnist Richard Cohen to write this:

“‘Liar’ is a word rarely used in Washington . . . So it was particularly shocking, not to mention refreshing, to hear Richard Perle on Sunday call Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) a liar to his face . . .

“Kucinich himself seemed only momentarily fazed by Perle’s sharp right to his integrity and went on, indomitable demagogue that he seems to be, to maintain that the coming war with Iraq will be fought to control that nation’s oil . . . How did this fool get on ‘Meet the Press’?”

There are countless other examples of people having their reputations viciously maligned for suggesting that oil was a significant factor in the US and its allies wanting to invade Iraq.

conservative takeaways


Reihan Salam | The Agenda | The National Review

Meghan O’Sullivan was one of the leading advocates of what came to be known as the surge strategy . . . O’Sullivan’s chief allies were Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who was serving at the time on the NSC staff, and Stephen Hadley, the national security advisor. And so I’ve been reading O’Sullivan and Feaver with great interest this week, the tenth anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

O’Sullivan has offered what she acknowledges is a very preliminary assessment of whether or not OIF was a mission worth undertaking in The American Interest, and summarized in Bloomberg View. In the course of doing so, she goes beyond the caricatures of controversial decisions on disbanding the Iraqi military, the de-Ba’athification of the civil service, etc., to explain the reasoning behind them; she offers detailed thoughts on how decisions surrounding the early stages of Iraq’s democratization process shape its current political environment; and she emphasizes the central importance of security as a precondition for political progress. . . .


Daniel Drezner | Foreign Policy

After reading some of the self-reflections this week, however, I’m beginning to think that my flaw was generational in nature. John B. Judis wrote something interesting on this earlier in the week on why he was so dubious about Operation Iraq Freedom:

I opposed the war, and didn’t listen to those who claimed to have “inside information” probably because I had come of age politically during the Vietnam War and had learned then not to trust government justifications for war. I had backed the first Bush administration’s Gulf War, but precisely because of its limited aims. Ditto the Clinton administration intervention in Kosovo. George W. Bush’s aims in Iraq were similar to American aims in South Vietnam. During those months leading up to the war, I kept having déjà vu experiences, which failed to interest my colleagues. Still, I wavered after Colin Powell’s thoroughly deceptive speech at the United Nations in February 2003, where he unveiled what he claimed was evidence of Iraqi nuclear preparations. I had to have an old friend from the anti-war days remind me again of the arguments against an invasion.

Contrast this with Operation Iraqi Freedom supporter Jonathan Chait’s recollections:

The Gulf War took place during my freshman year in college. It was the first major American war since Vietnam, and the legacy of Vietnam cast a heavy shadow — the news was filled with dire warnings of bloody warfare, tens of thousands of U.S. deaths, uprisings across the Middle East. None of it happened. And again, through the nineties, the United States intervened in the Balkans twice under Bill Clinton, saving countless lives and disproving the fears of the skeptics, which had grown weaker but remained.

These events had conditioned me to trust the hawks, or at least, the better informed hawks. They also conditioned me unconsciously to regard wars through this frame, as relatively fast attacks without a heavy occupation phase. People tend to think the next war will be somewhat like the last. That is a failing I will try to avoid again.

Age-wise, I’m a contemporary of Chait’s and a generation younger than Judis. Ironically, for all the Gen-Xer tropes about irony and cynicism, the foreign policy arc of our generation looked pretty damn optimistic until March 2003. Indeed, reading the above paragraphs I can recall my attitudes about the use of force in 2002 and 2003. America’s use of force during the 1990s — and, at the time, Operation Enduring Freedom — had been limited in scope and pretty efficient in its execution. Furthermore, the foreign policy principals who were planning the Second Gulf War had run the first one, which, again, had gone pretty well. So yes, I think I had a generational bias — I badly overestimated the capacities of George W. Bush’s national security and foreign policy hands.

How does this affect my thinking about the use of force now? I think so, but in a limited way. I’m more leery of arguments that the overwhelming use of force will change things for the better in places like Syria or Iran. I’m extremely leery about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy. I think to read people I disagree with on policy — even, say, the Leveretts — with a more generous eye than I did a decade ago, because I’m less sure I’m right.

That said, I was by and large supportive of U.S. actions in Libya, and I’ve been skeptical about the constant warnings from 2006 onwards that the United States is being pulled inexorably into a war with Iran. So I suppose that some of that nineties optimism still resides within me about the use of force as an adjunct to American foreign policy.

[Lest one think I’m doing this to maintain my “viability” for a foreign policy position in the federal government, let me assure you that for very good personal and professional reasons, there is no way I’ll ever be serving the U.S. government in an foreign policy capacity in the future.



Tom Tomorrow | Daily Kos
Tom Tomorrow

ADDENDUM – 28 March 2013


Emily Deprang | The Atlantic

Sahaf stuck to his post–and his story–until the day before Baghdad fell. Then he surrendered to American forces, was interrogated and promptly released, suggesting a lowly spot on the Ba’ath party totem pole. He surfaced in Abu Dhabi in July of 2003, gave a couple of interviews, and settled into obscurity.

“My information was correct, but my interpretations were not,” he explained.

But in retrospect, the opposite seems truer. Sahaf had bad information, sure, but several of his more ludicrous predictions have since come true–some in the ways he meant, and, more chillingly, some in ways no one (else) could have foreseen.


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