Failure Is an Orphan

by Dave Schuler on June 13, 2014

When Mao’s People’s Liberation Army defeated Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist army in 1949, practically overnight China transmogrified from a staunch ally of the United States to a bitter adversary. In Washington a debate broke out. The question on their minds was “Who Lost China?” In Washington today, propelled by the blitzkrieg of the terrorist army of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham in Iraq, the World Series of Finger-Pointing has begun over “Who Lost Iraq?” As it turns out, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Fareed Zakaria identifies the primary culprit as Nouri al-Maliki:

The first answer to the question is: Nouri al-Maliki lost Iraq.

The prime minister and his ruling party have behaved like thugs, excluding the Sunnis from power, using the army, police forces and militias to terrorize their opponents. The insurgency the al-Maliki government faces today was utterly predictable because, in fact, it happened before. From 2003 onward, Iraq faced a Sunni insurgency that was finally tamped down by Gen. David Petraeus, who said explicitly at the time that the core element of his strategy was political, bringing Sunni tribes and militias into the fold. The surge’s success, he often noted, bought time for a real power-sharing deal in Iraq that would bring the Sunnis into the structure of the government.

That did not happen.

However, he gives both George W. Bush and Barack Obama a share of the blame:

If the Bush administration deserves a fair share of blame for “losing Iraq,” what about the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw American forces from the country by the end of 2011? I would have preferred to see a small American force in Iraq to try to prevent the country’s collapse.

But let’s remember why this force is not there. Prime Minister al-Maliki refused to provide the guarantees that every other country in the world that hosts U.S. forces offers. Some commentators have blamed the Obama administration for negotiating badly or halfheartedly and perhaps this is true.

David Ignatius, too, blames Maliki:

The stunning gains this week by Iraq’s Sunni insurgents carry a crucial political message: Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, is a polarizing sectarian politician who has lost the confidence of his army and nation. He cannot put a splintered Iraq together again, no matter how many weapons the Obama administration sends him.

Maliki’s failure has been increasingly obvious since the elections of 2010, when the Iraqi people in their wisdom elected a broader, less-sectarian coalition. But the Obama administration, bizarrely working in tandem with Iran, brokered a deal that allowed Maliki to continue and has worked with him as an ally against al-Qaeda. Maliki’s coalition triumphed in April’s elections, but the balloting was boycotted by Sunnis.

Given Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian style, a growing number of Iraq experts are questioning why the Obama administration continues to provide him billions in military aid — and is said to be weighing his plea for lethal Predator drones. The skeptics include some who were once among Maliki’s champions.

As you might expect, the editors of the Wall Street Journal blame President Obama:

Iraq was largely at peace when Mr. Obama came to office in 2009. Reporters who had known Baghdad during the worst days of the insurgency in 2006 marveled at how peaceful the city had become thanks to the U.S. military surge and counterinsurgency. In 2012 Anthony Blinken, then Mr. Biden’s top security adviser, boasted that, “What’s beyond debate” is that “Iraq today is less violent, more democratic, and more prosperous. And the United States is more deeply engaged there than at any time in recent history.”

Mr. Obama employed the same breezy confidence in a speech last year at the National Defense University, saying that “the core of al Qaeda” was on a “path to defeat,” and that the “future of terrorism” came from “less capable” terrorist groups that mainly threatened “diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad.” Mr. Obama concluded his remarks by calling on Congress to repeal its 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against al Qaeda.

If the war on terror was over, ISIS didn’t get the message. The group, known as Tawhid al-Jihad when it was led a decade ago by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was all but defeated by 2009 but revived as U.S. troops withdrew and especially after the uprising in Syria spiraled into chaos. It now controls territory from the outskirts of Aleppo in northwestern Syria to Fallujah in central Iraq.

I think that we should also keep in mind that the “diplomatic surge” and weapons we promised Iraq after our withdrawal never materialized. This is a movie we’ve seen before: once American forces have been withdrawn, don’t expect our promises to be kept.

I find all of these analyses terribly short-sighted. The path of least resistance in reconstructing Iraq was alway replacing Saddam Hussein, the Sunni Arab strongman, with a Shi’a Arab strongman. Any number of old Iraq hands said as much at the onset of our invasion of the country in 2003. I think that any Shi’a Arab strongman would have done much as Nouri al-Maliki has: shored up his constituency. That they had old grievances to address contributed to the problem.

While we’re assigning blame I’d give some to David Petraeus. COIN has always had the underlying assumption that those employing felt a right to stick around and manage things and would do so. That was never an alternative in Iraq so, consequently, COIN was not an appropriate strategy there. While it might be a good strategy for the colonizing British, it’s far less appropriate for Americans eager to beat a hasty path to the exit door.

I don’t think there’s any question that the Bush Administration botched the entire post-9/11 period from its invasions and occupations to its mismanagement of the tenuous peaces. There was never a good strategy of invading Iraq or Afghanistan. Not unless we were willing to remain in both places indefinitely, something I did not see then and still don’t.

However, let’s not lose track of the senators who voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq. Those included not only the usual Republican suspects, most notably John McCain, a man who apparently has never met a war he didn’t like, but the following Democratic senators: Clinton, Biden, Kerry, Feinstein, and Reid. Don’t believe the mealy-mouthed and self-serving statements they’ve made since 2004. They saw all of the same intelligence that the White House did. If they believed that we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, they should never have voted to do so.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

... June 13, 2014 at 8:15 am

Who lost Iraq? Saddam Hussein lost Iraq, probably when he decided to invade Kuwait.

CStanley June 13, 2014 at 8:59 am

Ignatius’ comments about the Obama administration having brokered a deal to keep Maliki in power are interesting. I must not have been paying attention at the time, but in retrospect this certainly sounds like a major error. Maybe that did seem like the best course for stability at the time, but clearly it hasn’t worked out well.

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 9:03 am

Dave:

Well written and fair.


Indeed.

CStanley:
I thought the same thing. Ignatius has often been a water-carrier for the intel community, so I’m not sure I buy this. I don’t know that he’s wrong, just not convinced on his say-so alone.

Guarneri June 13, 2014 at 9:26 am

So Dave, to riff off of a comment you made yesterday, I believe, — given that what’s done is done, we never seem to get past Shia vs Sunni (or even Kurds in the north). Should the country have been partitioned?

... June 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

Partitioning would not have been easy, as ethnic lines aren’t as clear cut as it is often made to sound. Massive ethnic cleansing would have been needed, and then an international ptrssence would have been needed for a long time to keep the peace. Think post-WWII Eastern Europe with the shifting of populations and the Red Army to keep the peace.

You know, the kind of stuff we said was evil and fought wars against untie 1990s.

... June 13, 2014 at 10:06 am

Not to mention that the oil doesn’t divide up ‘fairly’, if memory serves.

Andy June 13, 2014 at 11:29 am

The single person most responsible is Gertrude Bell.

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

Andy:

Let’s dig her up and yell at her. I looked it up and it seems she’s still buried in Baghdad.

PD Shaw June 13, 2014 at 11:56 am

“Saddam Hussein lost Iraq, probably when he decided to invade Kuwait.”

I would argue more precisely that he lost Iraq when he failed to withdraw from Kuwait. He could have treated the invasion as a punitive reprisal for Kuwait’s refusal to compromise war debts and its violation of OPEC limitations. He could have seized assets and returned home, and repeated as necessary.

jan June 13, 2014 at 12:45 pm

“I don’t think there’s any question that the Bush Administration botched the entire post-9/11 period from its invasions and occupations to its mismanagement of the tenuous peaces. There was never a good strategy of invading Iraq or Afghanistan. Not unless we were willing to remain in both places indefinitely, something I did not see then and still don’t.”

Looking in the rear view mirror of any event — including the decisions made to implement it — it is far easier to pick apart the flaws and the merits. However, at the initiation of anything one ultimately makes choices with the time constraints, information, consultant’s advice, and gut feelings one has at hand during the given moment. Usually the greater, more imminent the crisis, the less chance there also is of having the luxury of mulling over “the odds of this or that,” in an endless arm chair of time. That’s why so many errors are committed in war, in heightened emotions etc. People often have to decisively commit to a direction, and then afterwards deal with the usual differing appraisals of their actions.

Even our much commemorated Lincoln made a poor choice in appointing McClellen as his initial military leader — similar to Bush putting Paul Bremer in charge after the Iraq invaasion. However, as important as it is in making a ‘good’ decision, at the get go, it is the keen adjustments made afterwards, that can make the difference as to how positive or negative an outcome is during a myriad of usually unknown, revolving circumstances.

I often wonder, though, if history could be reconfigured, what would have happened if the U.S. hadn’t engaged in any robust or even significant military response in either Afghanistan or Iraq? The WMD impetus to go into Iraq, although cited by liberals as a deliberate ‘lie,’ was backed by multiple sources of intelligence, rather than from ones gleaned exclusively from this country. However, what if we had just put all that aside and simply let things evolve without our intervention? Haven’t we kind of done that in Syria, already? And, how has that turned out? Are we better off now with the germination of ISIS, a group considered more radical and dangerous than even Al Qaeda?

Also, there is a consensus among all groups that Maliki’s error-filled leadership has created the crux of problems now cascading down on Iraq. But, isn’t Maliki’s Shiiti bias, not including Sunnis into a more joint decision-making capacity, similar to what is happening in our own partisan-oriented government? All Maliki has done is take a symbolic “pen and phone,” to unilaterally shuffle decisions and people around favoring his tribe, rather than governing in ways that would unify the various factions in Iraq. And, in a way, the chaos ensuing in Iraq somewhat mimics the results of what extreme polarization is doing to this country.

BTW, my understanding is what GWB attempted to do with Maliki’s troubling leadership was to keep an eye on him, via open and constant communication channels, allowing for corrective U.S. nudging in order to stay on a more cooperative, less ethnic homogenous path. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons there was some semblance of stability when Obama first assumed office in ’09. This kind of oversight, though, was not a diplomatic practice carried on by the new POTUS. The same lack of communication has been noted with the corrupt Karzai regime in Afghanistan, which speaks to reasons why it’s been difficult obtaining a Status of Forces Agreement, as we end our presence in that ME country.

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Jan:

Maliki was a known Shiite thug when Mr. Bush chose him. He wasn’t chosen because we had any real hopes, he was chosen because we didn’t really know the players well enough to find a better alternative and Mr. Bush wanted to declare victory.

Once we decided to cut the Iraqi government loose – elections and whatnot – we surrendered any ability to control Mr. Maliki who (surprise!) tended to his own constituency and screwed the Sunnis to the wall. That screwing of the Sunnis started Day 1 with Maliki. We have tried (in both administrations) to deal with this mini-monster but once you establish “democracy” you can’t really argue effectively with the results.

Just one more guy we thought would be a useful puppet who turned out to be poisonous. See also: every South Vietnamese government, the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, Saddam . . . there’s a long list.

We suck at puppetry.

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Just to repeat what I said within weeks of the invasion of Iraq: Occupations 101 starts with placing boot firmly on neck. Once you fail to do that, particularly in the open-air asylum that is Iraq, it all unravels in a heartbeat.

At the time I was subjected to much scorn from both right and left. But occupation is a hard business. Re-making a society is a 10 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. This war was lost while it was still in the planning stages. Mr. Rumsfeld lost this war before the first bomb dropped.

TastyBits June 13, 2014 at 2:10 pm

@jan

The reason for understanding the mistakes of the past is not to fix blame. It is to not repeat them. We learned there are no “good rebels” from President Reagan arming the Afghanistan rebels. 9/11 was not a thank-you from Osama bin Laden.

Gaddafi was a US rat, and the US should have protected him. That is what you do with your rats. The response to Syria should have been to support Assad.

You and all the people you read thought Assad would fall within weeks if not days. None of you had the slightest inkling of what Russia’s involvement in Syria was, and yet, you all think you are the smartest people in the whole wide world.

None of you are prepared to do what it takes to achieve your goals. You are no better than your political opponents. You do not like dictators. You are squeamish about getting your hands dirty. You think you can bluff your way to victory. You do not want to spend the amount of money to rebuild the military capability necessary. You think civilized behavior is the natural state of man. You believe most people will play by the rules.

At the end of the Cold War, it was not the end of history. It was a return to history. History took a break during the Cold War, but again, this was one more thing nobody wanted to hear. The smartest people in the world always seem to be wrong over and over.

jan June 13, 2014 at 2:20 pm

The reason for understanding the mistakes of the past is not to fix blame. It is to not repeat them.

The problem, tasty, is that very few people, let alone leaders, will ever admit their mistakes. You can’t circumvent repeating them if they go unacknowledged.

As for the rest of your comments, there was a mixed bag of opinions out there regarding Assad’s departure. I think the common person, though, has so little real information, as to what the circumstances are on the ground, that it becomes a blind call to decisively say what should or should not happen.

... June 13, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Tasty, Assad isn’t/wasn’t our rat, so we have/had no reason to support him. We just needed to butt out and let ‘Nature’ take its course. It’s not all about us.

TastyBits June 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

@jan

Knocking off Gaddafi was a mistake. Screwing the Russians in Libya was a mistake. Not supporting Assad in Syria was a mistake. I do not see anybody who supported those decisions taking responsibility for those mistakes. Instead, I am told the world is better of without Gaddafi and would be without Assad.

What world do you people live in? It sure ain’t the same one I do. This has been building for twenty-five years, but nobody wanted to believe reality.

Assad is the best solution, and he always was. The problem is not him. The problem is people who believe that the world operates like their nice safe suburban community. It does not.

There are no “good rebels”. None of them are your friends. You never turn your back on them. The weapons you give them will eventually be used against you. This is why dictators will NEVER give nuclear weapons to terrorists. Iranian nukes will stay locked up in Iran. The Mullahs are not stupid.

As to information, you need to find sources that actually know what they are talking about and has a history of being correct. This is not difficult, but it does take some digging. Furthermore, you have to stay on top of it.

By the way, the problem with President Bush was not that “he was a cowboy.” As with most hawks, he did not have the balls to do what he set out to do.

TastyBits June 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

@Icepick

Tasty, Assad isn’t/wasn’t our rat, so we have/had no reason to support him. We just needed to butt out and let ‘Nature’ take its course. It’s not all about us.

Not oppose would have been a better term, but his being in power was always the best outcome. I know that makes me a monster, but it is what it is.

Guarneri June 13, 2014 at 4:19 pm

This is all fine and well, but its Friday. That means golf……………and news of 2 years worth of lost Lois Lerner emails. Natch.

PD Shaw June 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I think this New York Times article from 2012 contains the background of what the Administration was trying to do:

a) Obama was trying to broker a power-sharing arrangement with Allawi and al-Maliki, with Allawi expected to curb Maliki’s authoritarian streak and keep the Sunnis happy. There may have been spooks that would have liked to go all in with Allawi, and so see this as a pro-Maliki position, but I think the Administration saw Maliki as inevitable, so they were looking to create a marriage.

b) The power arrangement failed because of Iraqi politics, and Obama had a weak hand due to the coming withdrawal and perception that the U.S. had no clear strategy. “It is not clear to us how they have defined their interests in Iraq,” Mr. Hussein said. “They are picking events and reacting on the basis of events. That is the policy.”

c) Assumptions: “Maliki wants us to stick around because he does not see a future in Iraq otherwise,” Mr. Biden said. “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” he added, referring to the Status of Forces Agreement the Obama administration hoped to negotiate.

d) Hubris: “the president emphasized that any [SOFA] agreement would need to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament. But not everybody in the American camp agreed with this stipulation.” Maliki was willing to agree to a SOFA that bypassed the Parliament.

e) Denial: “The White House insisted that the collapse of the talks was not a setback. “As we reviewed the 10,000 [troop] option, we came to the conclusion that achieving the goal of a security partnership was not dependent on the size of our footprint in-country, and that stability in Iraq did not depend on the presence of U.S. forces,” a senior Obama administration official said.”

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm

PD:

The one I disagree with most is (D). Had we accepted a SOFA not backed by the Iraqi parliament we’d be putting our soldiers’ security in the hands of a single man, Maliki, who had not demonstrated his reliability and indeed was known to be strongly anti-American.

At that time we had some weight with the Kurds and the Sunnis – both of whom were represented in Parliament. Maliki was seen as an Iranian ally. We’d have had to take the extra-legal assurance of a Shiite partisan allied with Iran. No American president could have taken that deal.

There was no deal to be made, the American people were done with Iraq, and the missing reality we’re all just sort of pretending away, is that 10,000 US in Iraq would have been Target #1 for every asshole with an IED, Sunni and Shia alike.

Had we gotten a real SOFA I’d still be dubious about keeping forces there. How many more years would that have gone on? And to what end? What would have been accomplished? The US forces couldn’t force Maliki to be inclusive or even less of a thug. Had US forces become involved in politics they’d have been ejected. 10,000 is not an occupying force. You don’t dictate terms with a single division.

So the 10k would have been a target and would have ended up either doing nothing, or acting as back-up to a Shiite strong-man regime.

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

The point I’d like Americans to take from all this is that the United States of America is not a surgeon. We do not use scalpels effectively. When we win wars and are able to re-order entire societies (as we did with Japan, Austria and Germany) and make our decisions stick, we do it with massive blunt force trauma.

If we are going to keep doing this stuff we need a whole lot less of clever low-cost, low-risk, low death-rate fantasy war. If we are going to go to war we need to go all-in. We need to crush and destroy and do all the awful things that will look very bad on the evening news.

Or, not go to war. Enough of this half-in, one hand tied behind our back, everyone-just-keep-shopping wars. This all started with Bomber Command’s fantasy of a purely air war, and has now become an even more tempting fantasy of war with machines where our boys don’t get hurt, and no innocent civilians die.

Ultimately it’s down to the American people. If they don’t have the stomach for burning civilian cities to the ground then it’s probably because the war isn’t worth it. In which case, let’s not do it, let’s just carry out punitive raids where needed.

Guarneri June 13, 2014 at 7:55 pm

I think that’s correct, Michael. A view I’ve long held. Interestingly, or perhaps oddly, Colin Powell supposedly holds the same worldview.

I find it extremely distressing that we (our politicians actually – but they are unfortunately just reacting to public opinion) believe we can have some sort of limited or antiseptic war. War is one of the most grotesque facets of the human existence (but then again, just look at nature and that fellow named Darwin) and should be one of those last resort options. But if we cross the Rubicon, get it on big time. We have then passed the “war is hell” “war is messy” phase. Those are trite observations. The decision has been made; get it done fast and decisively and “collateral damage” is by definition a long since evaluated but discounted consideration.

I think the term “neocons” is stupid, used by silly people. Its utility as a pejorative label is obvious but not helpful. But a wing of the Republican Party is, yes, all too willing to strike first and evaluate later. But do we need to be reminded of the Iraq I positions of certain high profile Dems, including a certain H Clinton? And let’s initiate an evaluation of how to deal with the practical matter of a leftist wing that is anti-war always and everywhere. I wish the world was a simple as their brains. Seriously, how does one (Dem or Repub Administration) deal with nightly TV exposure of the reality of war to a public with truly naïve to furiously stupid views, other agendas, and/or ahem, “journalists” similarly mind-numbing anti-war commentary such as the politically motivated MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS or CNN. “We” routinely get played by these people.

(Before anyone throws up, I simply used those outlets not because FOX is “fair and balanced” but because they are reflexively anti-conflict. They are not dealing with reality, but emotions. Not the way to think about war.)

Guarneri June 13, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I know this will get muttering and harpoons thrown my way. But its spot on. I’ve watched these characters for some 20 years in what I do. Executives who are reasonably smart, but arrogant and worse – knowing they have the power to do what they want. Surround yourself with Bozos (Kerry – really, Kerry?? Kerry?!) Smooth delivery. Sound good. Acolytes all around.

Nice gig if you can get it. We’d fire the poor bastard in a heartbeat. Put him out of his misery. Unfortunately, those opportunities only exist every 4 years in his profession.

http://freebeacon.com/national-security/blame-obama-first/

michael reynolds June 13, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Guarneri:

I understand the allure of the antiseptic war as you call it. It must seem so tantalizing. It appeals to modern man. It seems civilized, small ‘l’ liberal. And it works if what you’re doing is launching a punitive raid. Bombers and missiles are brilliant for punitive raids, but useless for nation-building which is what we tried in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s been a tragedy from the start and the only guy I know who called it right from the start is Schuler.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

Guarneri June 13, 2014 at 8:59 pm

I’m probably the only one watching the Stanley Cup Finals right now. Brain Boyle just totally abused the Kings and Quick. Quick goes down (as is his wont) and Boyle buries it.

steve June 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Nope. We won the field piece part of the war quickly and much more efficiently in Iraq than we did with Japan or Germany. We were better prepared and better armed. There was no lack of willingness. We crushed Japan and Germany so that we could begin the occupation. Once we had won those wars we did not continue to commit atrocities. We did not engage in blunt force trauma after winning the shooting part of the war.

There were several key differences with those older occupations. First, they were functional countries before we occupied them. They had a history of stable societies and functional governments. Not so with Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter. Next, they were cultures we could sort of understand, certainly at least in the case of Germany and Austria. Next, you did not have the religious component inherent in Iraq. None of the three countries Michael noted had recently been occupied by a colonial power and had its boundaries artificially created. They didnt have ethnic/religious factions with years of hostilities among them. Last of all, we handled the occupations much more competently. We left remnants of the old governments in place so that they could actually function when we occupied those other countries.

Our problem does not lie in winning the shooting war. We simply dont know how to build a brand new culture compatible with democracy where it did not exist before. Perhaps that represents a lack of will. Maybe if we were willing to fund a 30 year effort towards that end we could do it. I dont think so. I dont think you can gift a democracy anymore than you can force it into place.

Steve

Steve June 13, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Spooky ‘Honey’ Moon Casts Glow on Friday the 13th – Video

http://commoncts.blogspot.com/2014/06/spooky-honey-moon-casts-glow-on-friday.html

ps. Link Exchange??

Janis Gore June 14, 2014 at 12:53 am

All I know is that my brother’s Hodgkins has come back, in different places, and still attributable to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

None of you has been exposed to war, but he has.

Now as for basic obliteration in the case of war, remember, we used Iraq against Iran little more than than ten years before the US came against Iraq.

Hell, the people were better off under the the Soviets. And so was Afghanistan.

We are untrustworthy. We are individualists and democratic and they aren’t.

Janis Gore June 14, 2014 at 12:58 am

Or better, what steve said with additions.

Andy June 14, 2014 at 2:26 am

Dave,

“The path of least resistance in reconstructing Iraq was alway replacing Saddam Hussein, the Sunni Arab strongman, with a Shi’a Arab strongman. Any number of old Iraq hands said as much at the onset of our invasion of the country in 2003. I think that any Shi’a Arab strongman would have done much as Nouri al-Maliki has: shored up his constituency. That they had old grievances to address contributed to the problem.”

Well, a couple of things about that. The first issue is that the Bush administration wasn’t of one mind regarding a post-invasion Iraq. One faction wanted to do just what you suggest here, put a friendly dictator at the top to run things for us. That guy was going to be Ahmed Chalabi. The other faction consisted of the idealist wing of the neocons, the people who believed that there was a little George Washington inside every Iraqi and all we had to do is gut Saddam’s power structure, add a little water, and the democracy would bloom. Both of these viewpoints failed to appreciate the realities of Iraq then or now.

For instance, there was simply no way to simply replace Saddam with a Shi’a strongman. Saddam built his power base in a pyramid structure with him at the top. This structure’s primary purpose was to keep him alive and in power. Below him in the pyramid, in order, were his immediate family, his clan, his allied clans, Tikriti’s, the military, Sunni’s and finally Shia’s and Kurds at the bottom. The pyramid was also compartmentalized to prevent coup plotting. There’s no way that power structure can work with a Shi’a strongman at the top, it was built for one man or, perhaps, one family.

The second issue we ran into was that our chosen one, Chalabi, was not acceptable to the Shi’as, especially those with significant influence such as al Sistani and Moqtada al Sadr (the junior one). They made it clear from the beginning they weren’t about to accept that. We Americans tend forget that we don’t have the only vote and that the opinions of the power brokers in the countries we invade matter a great deal in the character and outcomes of governance.

Michael,

“Maliki was a known Shiite thug when Mr. Bush chose him. He wasn’t chosen because we had any real hopes, he was chosen because we didn’t really know the players well enough to find a better alternative and Mr. Bush wanted to declare victory.”

Mr. Bush didn’t chose anyone. We were not, and could not be, puppetmasters in that situation. Iraq has its own politics and Maliki, for all his faults, is a savvy political actor with a very real and strong power base. What or who was the alternative? Were we willing to let Maliki have a “tragic accident” to get him out of the way?

More generally, we seem to think the post-WWII ideal in Europe and Japan is the goal, one that is achievable if only we Americans had the will to bring it about. To my mind that is foolish thinking – Europe and Japan were aberrations, unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. And the key to success in those places was the threat of of the USSR. And not just the USSR, but Stalin’s USSR. We had the will to stay for generations and the Europeans and Japanese accepted that because of the Soviet threat. They understood their choice wasn’t between dominance vs. independence, it was between US dominance and Soviet dominance. That’s why we saw German units racing at the end of the war to surrender to Americans instead of preparing for anti-occupation guerilla warfare. They understood that resistance against an occupation was both futile and dumb and we were, quite obviously, the lesser of two evils. Yet our own historical narrative ignores this.

Those aspects, and others not mentioned, made our situation in Iraq or Afghanistan fundamentally different from the so-called post-WWII ideal. so I think this popular notion that we can “win” (or could have won in Iraq and Afghanistan) if only we were willing to be sufficiently violent and committed is a wrong and dangerous lesson.

Anyway, enough with that tangent. Dave, I would add Bush 41 and Clinton to your list. OIF didn’t happen in a vaccuum, but was a culmination of events that began with decisions made at the end of Desert Storm. (BTW, Desert Storm is often cited as the ideal way to conduct a “limited” war, but I don’t think history will view it that way.) Without the sanctions, the no-fly zones, the no-drive zones, and the half-assed attempts to weaken Saddam we would not have had OIF. Over the course of the 1990′s we set up a situation where there were only two likely outcomes – the toppling of Saddam’s government (one way or another), or a Saddam political victory where he remains in power and the sanctions and sovereignty limitations are removed. This is a situation the Bush administration understood – they could see that containment was weakening and as more and more countries (particularly France and Russia), wanted to ease or remove restrictions for economic reasons. This was unnacceptable so the decision was made that Saddam had to go….

This experience in Iraq is why I am uniformally opposed to all the various proposals for “humanitarian corridors,” no fly-zones, etc. in Syria. They are preludes to regime change. A similar justification was used in Libya. Everyone, except perhaps we Americans, understand where such measures lead.

Janis Gore June 14, 2014 at 4:47 am

Beside you, our acting military agent, where do we find good non-USA but not anti-USA centric (readable, meaning in English) sources for information about world events.

I like Spiegel and Sight and Sound (or is it the other way?), but they’re both German sources.

I will say that I was tentatively in favor of the war. I wasn’t so much afraid of Saddam as his sons. But you know how I am.

TastyBits June 14, 2014 at 8:05 am

@Janis Gore

Honey, I love you, but you are dead wrong. I do have combat experience, and I have the DD-214 to prove it.

Am I to assume that since I have never been a garbage man, I have no say in whether my cans are thrown onto my lawn? Do people who have not been in a police shootout have no say in how policing is done?

TastyBits June 14, 2014 at 8:39 am

@Andy

When Germany and Japan surrendered, the people’s will to resist had been broken. This was due to years of being pounded and deprived. Had the Germans been able to occupy England, the British would have folded.

The US took Iraq too quickly. By the time Assad finally takes back control, whoever is left will have lost the will to resist. Outside forces may want to start trouble.

The British and the Romans were very successful at occupations. They left the local structures mostly in place with a governing body over them. It was great for the British and the Romans, but it sucked for the locals.

In Iraq, the Iraqi army should have been told to report for duty, and they would be paid by the US. The police and civil service should have gotten the same orders. Once the place is stable and running, you can put somebody in charge, and later, you can start holding elections at the bottom – dog catcher. All of this would be well beyond the US public’s patience.

The simpler solution would have been to co-opt Saddam. Have a “George Bush goes to Baghdad” event. He could look in Saddam’s eyes and declare him free of evil.

Janis Gore June 14, 2014 at 9:06 am

Oh, for Lord’s sake, Tasty, I can’t remember everything. I do know that you told me to buy a$250 sofa after a hurricane because it’s better than nothing. (Haven’t needed that yet.) I’ve never been a Marine, so I can’t say “Semper Fi.”

Andy’s currently serving in Africa. Are you that current a source? No problem, I will take all suggestions.

Janis Gore June 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

steve served too, I think.

TastyBits June 14, 2014 at 10:03 am

@Janis Gore

You can always say Semper Fi. It is also a mindset about duty and honor, but few people care about those things today.

I still have my $250 sofa, and we are still trying to get back everything we lost. My next door neighbor said she was in the same boat.

A lot of this is time consuming. It takes a lot of work to establish the reliability of sources, and you need to follow them regularly. Otherwise, you will quickly lose track of the players and the threads, and sometimes the info is not in the places you would expect.

I picked up on the Russia, Libya, Syria connection from a passing remark somewhere, and I began pulling on that thread. Once I understood the connection, I knew Assad was not going to be gone in “weeks if not days”.

There is also human history. The 21st century is no different than the 1st century. Power was, is, and always will be what drives the human animal. Those not driven to power will be driven by those in power.

Andy June 14, 2014 at 10:28 am

Janis,

I primarily use twitter now for current events. There is a lot of crap on twitter, but over time one finds the good people to follow who are either quality sources or good condiuts for quality information.

For historical stuff, I try to find primary sources. The GWU National Security Archive is a good place to start.

michael reynolds June 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Andy:

I don’t think you can just dismiss Japan, Germany and Austria – and to a lesser extent Italy – as aberrations. That’s a hell of a lot of aberration.

Yes, the Soviet threat was useful in cementing acceptance of US domination inGermany, but the Soviets were nowhere close to invading the Japanese homeland. The Sea of Japan is not the English channel, and Vladivostok itself is one hell of a long train ride from Moscow or the Urals. And don’t forget, we had the only A-Bombs and the only truly strategic bombers, as well as total dominance of the sea lanes. Japan was not under Soviet threat post-Hiroshima.

Even in the case of Germany the Soviets would have had to be ready to go to war with the US – not going to happen in 1945 with the USSR exhausted and already struggling to cope with occupations of Poland and the Balkans. We were barely blooded, had more tanks, planes, men, money etc… than the USSR could hope to match. We certainly played up the Soviet threat in order to add an additional argument to German submission. But as we saw in 1948, the Soviets couldn’t nerve themselves up to take West Berlin, let alone go toe-to-toe in a shooting war with the US.

Veritas June 19, 2014 at 12:39 am

Clearly Obama gifted Iraq to the Iranians. Try as you may to blame whomever Obama is covered in blood. There is no way he can “rice” us into believing otherwise.

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