As a general matter, I didn’t have a “problem” with general idea of invading Iraq. I still don’t. Furthermore, I don’t primarily even really care if we had a good reason for it or not. This means, I don’t care if the reason for invasion was, WMD, oil, we just wanted to play with our tanks and tactical bombers, or even because we didn’t like Sadaam’s mustache. You can talk about those “moral” issues endlessly, and reasonable minds may differ.
I’m really not so much concerned that the war was “wrong” or “immoral” or even whether it ticked off Arabs, increased the ranks of terrorists, or whatever.
What I care about is the fact that it was a fight we probably weren’t capable of doing properly, and we should have known it. Bush should have known it. It’s like a pick-up game of three-on-three basketball in a rough neighborhood. If you’re going to talk smack, you’d better be able to back it up. My objections to the war are, first and foremost, pragmatic – matters of competence and ability. You only get to cry “oh the humanity” when you’ve dealt with the threshold questions of logistics and capacity. And that’s where my disgust with the Bush administration lies.
Let’s look back to the strategic U.S. military situation, post-Persian Gulf War (under Bush senior). Back then, U.S. military strategists were saying that our military needed to maintain the logistical and tactical capability of fighting “two and one-half” small-scale wars. The obvious candidates these planners had in mind were:
1. The Middle East (like Iraq, for example)
2. North Korea
3. One Somalia, Haiti or Yugoslavia-style peacekeeping mission of choice.
The strategists wanted our nation to have the capability of conducting all three of those simultaneously.
At the end of the Persian Gulf War, most were admitting we didn’t have quite the firepower, manpower, and supply lines we needed to do all three. That was the early 90s.
Since that time, the Clinton administration saw a trend of severe military cutbacks, and the three and one-half war military never came to fruition. Conservative talking heads were forever complaining about how Clinton was jeopardizing our national security. In my opinion, they were probably right.
But here’s the thing: Bush Jr. did exactly the same thing. Rather than strengthening our military, Bush one-upped Clinton by cutting back even more on our military. Anyone remember all that B.S. Rumsfeld was talking about back in 2000 about an “agile, fast, and lightly equipped military” mostly consisting of special forces units, light infantry, and other “surgical instruments?” In terms of sheer manpower, in terms of raw firepower, in terms of logistical capacity, our military in 2002 was a mere shadow of the military machine Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf led on his famous “left hook” around the vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard.
Not only that, but the support points we had in 1990 were largely absent in 2002. All those post Cold War military airbases we had in Germany and the rest of Europe had been dismantled under spending cuts. We simply didn’t have the landing strips we needed to supply a serious effort in the Middle East. Why do you think that Bush had to spend all that time kissing-up to mad dictators like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov begging for airstrips (which he was happy to do, on condition that we look the other way as he continued to have opposition political leaders and journalists tortured to death)?
Having gutted our military, Bush then carelessly threw it into two major military commitments. The first was Afghanistan. That was fine, even gutted, our military was capable of ferreting out the Taliban and starting a nation-building project. We could have handled this and still maintained a sufficient show of force in places like South Korea, to maintain global peace (more or less).
But then Bush went after Iraq. Even before the invasion happened, I was saying this was a bad idea. I felt that we simply didn’t have the military strength to take on a “second Afghanistan.” I also felt it was premature. We needed to turn Afghanistan into a success story. We needed to prove to people that we could spread democracy and do it right. We needed to maintain focus.
I’m not talking about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and all that “hills of Tora Bora” crap that Kerry was spouting. Honestly, Osama is small potatoes compared to the strategic obligation we had to rebuild Afghanistan properly. That’s where we dropped the ball.
Not at first. During the opening stages of the Iraq War, things were going fine. Sadaam’s military, crippled by over a decade of embargos and economic sanctions (not to mention continuous U.S.-British air strikes over the “no-fly zone”) put up just about as much resistance as could be expected (i.e. not much). This was fine, Rumsfeld’s “surgical army” was performing well so far. We could maintain Afghanistan and do this… Note that even here, however, Bush had to call out the National Guard and send them off to Iraq in order to meet even the bare minimum needed for the invasion.
Then civil order went to hell in a handbasket and it turned out that we just didn’t have enough troops to do the job of policing a nation that big. Who would have thought?!
So, of course, we eventually have to gut the nation-building force in Afghanistan in order to keep order. But by that point, things had deteriorated so much that even that troop increase was not enough. So we now had an ugly situation in Afghanistan, that we once had under control until the crisis in Iraq leached all the military assets that were needed to make it work.
Right now Afghanistan doesn’t look good. You don’t hear much about Afghanistan anymore, simply because Iraq is such a catastrophe that it’s hard to notice much else. But things aren’t good and they’ve been steadily deteriorating over the last few years. There are regular suicide bombings, the Karzai government is proving impotent, and the Taliban, whom everyone thought permanently dead, are starting to reassert control over parts of the countryside, with the U.S. forces powerless to stop them. We could easily lose Afghanistan to a hostile government of iron-fisted mullahs. And that’s the best-case scenario!
Not only did Bush jeopardize Afghanistan, he also jeopardized the Korean peninsula. I don’t know if any of you noticed the large U.S. troop withdrawals from the demilitarized zone. But the Koreans sure did. China noticed. Japan noticed. Japan noticed so much, in fact, that they’ve been abandoning half-a-century of pacifism in favor of rearming their military. This makes Beijing extremely paranoid. Unlike the oblivious Americans, the Chinese are well aware of Japan’s military strength. Even back in the 1980s, Japan had about the 8th largest military budget in the world. Japan’s equipment is flat-out superior to China’s. Their Navy could annihilate the Chinese naval forces in a week. The only thing Japan doesn’t have that China has, is nukes … yet.
If the Korean peninsula flares up again, the entire Pacific Rim could erupt in flames. Nuclear powers like the U.S., Russia, India and Pakistan would have to make some really scary decisions.
Bush has single-handedly put the entire globe at risk over this. Everywhere, countries that never really liked us all that much to begin with, are starting to realize that with the U.S. military assets bogged down, and our national budget hemorrhaging in Iraq, they can get away with a whole lot more than they could before 2001. I’m almost surprised Castro hasn’t tried to invade Haiti already. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Russia quietly re-annex the Caucasus. I just hope that China doesn’t notice that there’s still an independent Taiwan next door.
Not to mention Bush’s singular decision to become the first U.S. President in history to cut taxes during a time of war…
It didn’t have to be this way. If Bush had enough brains to wait one stinking year for the frustrating, but crucial, diplomatic process to do its work (both the UN and bilateral negotiations), we could have had German troops in there fighting along with us. Maybe not, but I guarantee you that Germany (and many others) would have footed a large portion of the bill for Iraq if Bush hadn’t been so keen on giving everyone in Europe “the finger.”
The pathetic thing is, even without international support, even with a gutted military, we might have pulled Iraq off. But frankly, our nation didn’t have the backbone to do it properly. If you intend to invade a nation, knock out all the utilities, annihilate the government, disband the police force, and cause pandemonium in the streets, you have to take responsibility for public order. You owe it to the people and you owe it to your soldiers – not to put them in an unworkable situation.
Here’s just one small example of what we needed to do in Iraq if we really wanted to play “Imperial Britain of the 1800s” in Iraq. This is what we needed to do to succeed in establishing order in Iraq:
Remember that period where there was all that looting right after the conclusion of the invasion? When U.S. soldiers stood by bemusedly as Iraqi mobs looted government buildings, museums, and just about everything that wasn’t nailed down?
“All looters are to be shot on-sight.”
That’s the order that needed to be given at that time. And it needed to be enforced.
You want a repeat of the sort of wildly successful nation-building we had in post WWII Germany and Japan? Those are the kind of things you need to be willing to do. Democracy at a bayonet point, no questions asked. We owed it to the Iraqi people to be in charge of the situation. 50 looters shot vs. the thousands of civilians tortured and murdered since then? Your call.
Too brutal you say? Uncivilized? Immoral? Fine, I’ll go along with that. But that’s what we needed to accomplish what Bush wanted. If we weren’t willing to do it, we shouldn’t have invaded. It’s that simple.
That’s just one small example of the multitude of ways we went into this thing half-hearted without the national political commitment and will to win in Iraq.
This adventure has been mismanaged on every level. And nobody gets it! The Republicans don’t get it. They’re too busy covering their butts to really look at how badly their team has screwed up here. The Democrats don’t get it. They’re too busy whining about whether this was the “right thing to do.” They’re too busy fussing about weak little non-issues like “were there any WMD? Look how Bush lied to us! What about the children?” No wonder the nation thinks they’re a bunch of pansies.
It’s not about whether Bush is moral. It’s not about whether the war is just. You don’t even need to go there. You don’t even need to discuss those issues.
It’s about whether we could pull it off or not. The Bush administration’s primary transgression is not wanting to oust Sadaam. Their crime is trying to fight two wars on the cheap, without the manpower, budget, or international support needed to make it work. They thought this would be a walk in the park. Look at the old press conferences if you don’t believe me. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the facts who wasn’t blinded by partisan politics could have told them that such assumptions were criminally stupid.
Now the U.S. has been humiliated before the entire world. The sword enforcing our empire of democracy and capitalism looks like a joke. Bush has put our nation and its military in a position where it cannot win. Our enemies will be emboldened and our allies will lose faith. It’s already happening everywhere. All you need to do is read the headlines.
U.S. imperial power throughout the globe in the last 50 years has been more complete, more absolute, more far-reaching, than any other empire in history. But every empire has its limits. If things are going well, the empire can usually keep its enemies guessing about its true capabilities, and therefore, can keep them relatively docile.
But there’s no guesswork anymore. Our weaknesses and limitations have been outed. The U.S. lion has been discovered alone and wounded in the meadow. It’s only a matter of time before the jackals show up with enough numbers…
Small comfort to the lion as it’s being torn apart, that it has been “bravely waging the war on terror,” if its own stupidity caused the wounds that make victory in such a war impossible. National indignation and self-righteousness are only so much hot air if we don’t have the capability to back it up.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Bush administration. “It’s not always wrong, it’s not always dishonest, but it is always incompetent.”