Sunday, October 23, 2011

Iraq War 2009-2012: Lessons to Learn.

Last Friday, president Obama announced the withdrawal of the remaining US troops inIraq by the end of the year, thus giving an end date to the war in Iraq, which will have lasted 9 years – 2003-2012.
You might have thought this would make the headlines in the US, but not really, the economy (understandably) or even Albert Pujols’ three impressive home runs got more coverage (really ?).
This may be because, unlike the wat in Vietnam and its draft, the American people are not really personally connected to the war in Iraq.
« You have to knock on something like a 150 doors today before you’ll find a household from which somebody is serving » said an analyst on NBC evening news last night.

This piece of news should be an opportunity for assessing the achievement of the war. Lester Holt asked the only important question : WAS IT WORTH IT?
  • 4,469 US troops killed
  • 32,213 wounded
  • $700 billion

It might also be argued that the mess in Afghanistan is a result of too much manpower devoted to another war.
Words like « useless », « endless », « pointless », « questionably costly » were used in the NBC evening news presentation and it seems that the American media at least are beginning to look back and focus on the controversy of it all.
Toppling a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein may have been the best thing that happened to Iraq but did the war have to last 9 years to have at the end of the war still a very fragile Iraqi government and terrorist attacks on a regular basis?
It might be worth remembering that the reason for going to Iraq was 9/11, with very early after the attack the notion that Saddam Hussein may have been somewhat linked to 9/11 and when that was debunked, the idea that Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction that constituted a threat to the US. Of course, the WMD, it turned out, did not exist.

What lessons to learn ?

Maybe the Bush administration really believed there were WMD and simply decided to sexy it up for argument’s sake, and maybe Saddam Hussein himself believe he had WMD. After all his behavior during the standoff in 2003 showed he was out of touch with reality.

But 9 years later, Bush’s  « MissionAccomplished » speech on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sounds like a cruel reminder of his incredible hubris. It is often said that Americans are good at winning wars but bad at winning the peace. There’s some truth in this, at least in most wars since WWII, and certainly in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Winning a war with a country that has a incredibly weaker army is easy, making the nation building efforts necessary to win the peace is much more difficult. It
requires the sort of man power that the US did not have. (some estimates say that between 250,000 to 450,000 troops were needed rather than the actual176,000 at its peak).
The US should have worked harder on convincing the UN to support the war and send troops to secure the ensued peace. But, to be fair, this is where I also blame French President Jacques Chirac for not allowing the vote for a new resolution that would have given Iraq a deadline for complying with the inspectors’ demands. (after all, the French intelligence alos believed he might have WMDs).
France’s foreign minister De Villepin (who was then deemed as a hero in France) was right when he said : “the option of war might seem a priori to be the swiftest, but let us not forget that having won the war, one has to build peace” (here) but it is precisely that veto that made the peace impossible to win. 

The lesson to learn is one of humility for both France and the US.
France should have let the democratic process of the UN vote take place and not play the “deal breaker”.  Even more importantly, the lesson is for the US - despite its might, and wealth, it could not afford a do-it-alone war in Iraq, unless it instituted a draft, which would have been political suicide.  

The nation cannot base its foreign policy and war decision on a mythical view of self as a lone rider with a few loyal men. What Bush failed to see is that even in the Frontier myth, the hero must respond to the demand of the community for cooperation to civilize and settle the Wild West. The result is that chaos is likely to remain in both Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time. 

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