April 12, 2008
The Success of Iraq PolicyBy Jim Hall
Contrary to the dominant media narrative, the Iraq war is working out as a global strategic success, albeit not to a comfortable time schedule or cost. A Walter Chronkite-type surrender won't be necessary, this time. America had the strength to endure, analyze, correct and advance the mission. America will be the global can-do superpower once again. Europe and the Middle East have seen this light.
The rough edges of the Iraq war have inspired negative rhetoric and carefully considered judgments that the war has been a total loss. The critics cite the turmoil, scramble, expense and destruction that is part of any large scale military action, and conclude that even minimal amounts war chaos are unacceptable and were unnecessary; any cost is too costly; the effort has been a failure.
Rough edges there have been, all along. But the attempt to proclaim the mission a failure has been inaccurate and shortsighted. It discounts as worthless potential future benefits of a global strategy that were reasonably probable, if not certain. It discounts insurance functions that only poor management of American life and limb would neglect. It discounts the capacity of the American system to plan and build for strategic success, assuming any misstep represents conceptual failure.
The Iraq war had to be conducted in a politically acceptable manner. It was. From Saddam's broken UN resolutions, to GWB's permission slip from the UN and the U.S. Congress, to the offer for Saddam to leave and avoid conflict, to efforts to take out Saddam individually before the larger invasion became a reality, the plan covered most bases.
The problems may well have come from conducting the war with such a degree of political correctness. The administration had to consider so carefully the anticipated concerns of the United Nations and world community. Broken resolutions against that body by Saddam counted for far less than the disapproval of any forceful attempt at enforcement of the resolutions. The UN's low level of respect and perceived effectiveness is well deserved.
The administration considered the concerns of the Iraqi National Congress, a group of concerned Iraqi expatriate experts on abuses by Saddam, and the issues of high priority to most of the sectarian groups in Iraq. It considered historical precedent, including the 1991 invasion, if not matching its coalition members in quantity. It considered concerns of critics who would demand evidence nearly courtroom-tight, before taking forceful means toward resolution enforcement. It considered minimizing collateral damage to greatest extent this concept has ever been considered. The administration considered how to remove Saddam without ground forces ever having to enter the country (take him out in a strategic air strike). It considered, and instructed the Iraqi army on what to do when and if the invasion were to occur, in order to preserve the lives of Iraqi officers and soldiers, and the Iraqi military as an institution.
The administration did not, however, consider the concerns or preferences of the League of Democracies. There isn't one, yet. It didn't consider planning issues related to conquering the country in Nazi lock-down style. It didn't consider a replacement for the entire Iraqi police force in case that Iraqi force proved to be totally incompetent, or even negatively effective. It didn't consider what to do if the advice offered to the Iraqi army went further than planned, to the point of Iraqi soldiers removing their uniforms and going home. It didn't consider installing a new king, as the British had done in 1921, following their forced adoption of the territory after the loss of it by the ruling Ottomans, who joined the German and Austrian empires During WWI. No, the Bush administration did not plan fully, by any means.
With the world being the dangerous place that it is, human freedom and liberty have faced considerable threats over the course of history. Democratic countries often raise armies and elect leaders to engage them when these threats arise. George Bush decided to use the American military, along with many international allies in Iraq, because our own liberty, and western civilization itself, were under threat. It had been since the events of 9/11, since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and since many similar but smaller events dating back to 1983 and before.
Have we achieved results worth the effort and expense, both human and financial? Republicans are not sure; they think, probably. Democrats are very sure; they think, no. Iraqis think, yes. Europe thinks, maybe, finally. The Middle East thinks, yes, finally, but will not to say so.
The probably-maybe and yes, finally equivocal evaluations are conditional because the process has taken so long. Republican politicians have to run for election and reelection, and they got legislatively hammered and timed-out in the 2006 mid terms. Their convictions and resolve faltered.
Democrats like it when Republicans falter. They have been firm in their own resolve that the war has been, and is, a disaster. Democrats haven't figured out yet that they are in danger being hammered and timed-out of the 2008 elections due to success in the Iraq war. The Europeans are of the maybe, finally opinion because they are seeing the U.S. success, and because they realize they haven't had to, and don't have to contribute more than their political systems can bear, as determined by near term convenience. But they don't want to incur additional debt to America, even though it would likely be forgiven, anyway.
uropeans are realizing to a greater degree than before the threat imposed by a nuclear Iran. They don't like suicide bomber attacks, they would like even less a nuclear suicide attack. They think the U.S. has the resolve, now, along with the obvious capacity to prevail in the region.
The Middle East thinks yes, finally because Iranian leaders are not conventionally rational. Some Middle East countries are either conventionally rational, or can at least understand conventional rationality. The Gulf States like their new, modern airports, hotels and downtowns. They would like to keep them. This will be easier with the U.S. presence and influence in the Gulf.
Why do the Middle East and Europe think this American effort might be worth it, and probably will be worth it, although won't say so, only just now? Enough time has gone by that both Europe and the Middle East have seen the Bush Administration in action. Described as incompetent, ill-prepared and possibly criminal, the Bush-led coalition conducted a surgical military invasion that was precise, quick, competent and powerful to a degree never before seen in modern history. The Middle East and Europe evaluated the performance on a scale that ranges from imperialist self-serving Nazi style bullies on one end, to mild mannered humanitarian peace keepers at the other. They placed us in some appropriate space between these two extremes.
The United States, leading the coalition of 30 nations, plus the quiet support of 15 more, performed a task impossible under any other leadership. The costs were too great to remain uncriticized on the American home front. It made us all sick. But the U.S. military performed its job, admirably and incredibly. The administration picked and adjusted a strategy that finally worked, under conditions that had to conform to a strict checklist of disqualifiers.
We tried, and succeeded, in not performing a Germany-style take over, as both Bismarck and Hitler did in France. It may have proven cleaner if we would have used these models. But General Jay Garner's mission after the successful initial invasion was to supervise and keep order. It wasn't to conquer, occupy and impose order.
If a Saddam administrative subordinate or two had stepped forward and offered to assume the helm, they could have had the place simply by showing some credentials and cooperation. None took the step. There were none who could. If the Iraqi military would have stepped forward, they could have had the place, with a cooperative attitude and after passing a sanity test. They couldn't and didn't. If Iraqi exiles could have gotten along, gotten organized and gotten together some justification of their ability and evenhandedness, they could have had the place. But they couldn't.
If General Garner could have assumed control and supervised the functioning of existing Iraqi institutions, he would have. But all the Iraqi institutions were broken. It wasn't Jay Garner's fault. No one could have performed that management miracle. There was nothing to work with. Iraqi institutions needed Mukhabarat master mechanics -- the Iraqi Intelligence Service -- to function. Europe and the Middle East saw this.
The U.S.-led coalition had to backpedal and regroup. This job couldn't be done quickly, because there were no administrative Iraqi assets able to function. It would have been nice to have known this. But we didn't. The Iraqi National Congress expatriate experts didn't know it, and neither did anybody else. To be legitimate, the job would have to be done transparently, fairly, and quickly. We were only able to achieve transparency and fairness. We sent in Paul Bremer to establish Iraqi rule that was representative and legitimate in the eyes of Iraq and of the world.
Following WWI, Japan took over several German colonial holdings in China. Japan had permission from the greatest assemblage of world political representatives ever assembled: the Paris Peace Conference, of 1919. But the administrative handoff to Japan was not fair. Bremer would have to accomplish something more acceptable in Iraq than Woodrow Wilson and his European counterparts did at Versailles. He did. There were rough edges aplenty, and the process was brutal on Bremer and his group. They were the best we felt we had available to manage the process. Europe and the Middle East saw this.
Bremer assembled Iraqis who would organize other Iraqis, who would write a constitution, which would be ratified by all Iraqis, and then organize elections that would be voted upon throughout Iraq. The elections would be so fair, and the turnout so great, and the purple fingers and smiling faces of the Iraqi voters so prominent and happy that the world saw and judged with approval. Unbelievably, all of this occurred without the assistance of the best foreign-vote-supervision dignitary we have -- former President Jimmy Carter. The voting did not quell the violence or solve unresolved problems. There would be continued Hell to pay. We paid it. And Europe and the Middle East saw this.
The reconfiguration of Iraq was done well enough that the nature of the region is in the middle of a giant step forward. The Middle East could stumble--it has been clumsy for ever so long. But there are enough conventionally rational political players in this game that the chances of success are decent. The alternative to sure footed stability is tragedy, and on display for all to see in the Palestinian debacle of Gaza and the West Bank. There isn't enough conventional rationality available there to succeed. Rational Palestinians in numbers sufficient to realize when to come in out of the rain have long since departed that land. Its only chance is example, persuasion or pressure by neighbors who are in the position now to take a breath and realize that civilization is more than masses of people living in close proximity.
A League of Democracies might go a long way toward cooperative international efforts at worthwhile global management projects. We had hoped for this with the League of Nations and the United Nations. If John McCain is serious about national security and international communal sanity -- he certainly sounds so -- we might yet look back on Iraq and its reformation with pride, and relief.