When the President decided to bring about regime change in Iraq, I thought it was a good idea. Saddam Hussein was among one of the world’s worst dictators, widely credited with slaughtering large numbers of Iraqis and using chemical warfare against both the Kurds of northern Iraq and during his eight-year war in the 1980s against Iran.
However, I couldn’t shake the notion that his animus toward Saddam was personal. His father, Bush 41, had been the object of a thwarted assassination attempt attributed to Saddam, and had lost his bid for a second term despite the successful execution of the first war to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait.
Bush 43 came into office with a promise to cut taxes and then 9/11 completely altered whatever other plans he had. What followed was a brief, successful incursion into Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban, but it was a war largely fought by local warlords whose assistance was purchased with gobs of money and by the application of American air warfare. The result, however, is that the Taliban are back. I doubt anyone wants to take any bets on how long the Bush-backed government in Kabul will last.
In retrospect, one is forced to ask if democracy, American-style, can be implemented in places where there never has been any true democracy? It’s a question I should have asked myself back then.
Within a year of the Iraq war’s inception, some warnings regarding its prosecution were being issued, but few were listening. In January 2004 the Army War College issued a report that criticized the Bush administration’s global war on terrorism as “unfocused.” Its author, Jeffrey Record, said that the war in Iraq was “unnecessary” and “a detour” that diverted attention and resources from the threat posed by al Qaeda.
Given that five years after 9/11 the United States has been unable to find Osama bin Laden or penetrate al Qaeda, Record seems prescient. The election, however, may turn out to be as big a victory for al Qaeda as for the Democrats.
Record recently was part of a Cato Institute panel on the current state of affairs in Iraq and delivered a stinging denunciation of the conduct of the war there. In October he had written, “America’s defeat in Vietnam, humiliation in Lebanon and Somalia, and continuing difficulties in Iraq underscore the limits of U.S. conventional military strategy.”
We have, without parallel, the most powerful military establishment the world has ever seen. We could defeat any nation that declared war on us, but we have not been fighting nations since World War II.
We have inserted ourselves into civil wars, as was the case of Korea, a stalemate to this day, and, of course, Vietnam, taking over after the colonial French were defeated. “In Vietnam,” Record noted, “the communists fought a guerrilla war against a politically impatient America and a tactically inflexible American army.”
“Democracies,” said Record, “have limited tolerance for prolonged wars that their citizens do not regard as essential.” As the war in Iraq continued, Americans—at least those who voted—had concluded that Iraq could and should be abandoned to the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds within that nation to determine its fate. Who has won in Iraq? The answer is the nation where the game of chess was invented, Iran.
The British strategist, Colin S. Gray, observed that “the American way of war is apolitical, impatient, ahistorical, culturally ignorant, technology-infatuated, firepower-focused, profoundly conventional, and sensitive to casualties.”
Despite President Bush’s exhortations about theWar on Terror, Americans concluded that his failure to focus on the over-riding threat of al Qaeda was a major error of judgment. That’s what the Democrats kept saying. Other factors played a role, of course, but political pundits tend to agree that Iraq was Bush’s Waterloo.
Our “ally” Pakistan has since ceded much of that nation to its impenetrable mountain tribes that border Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Iran is firing off some of its arsenal of missiles to demonstrate its military power. It will soon join the world’s nuclear nations.
An army that Record describes as “profoundly averse to counterinsurgency” is unlikely to adapt to the way the Iraq war is being fought. Though transformed into a fighting force that can be swiftly brought to the battlefield, it is still a conventional one against which guerrilla warfare has succeeded. This is in no way a criticism of the gallantry, the sacrifices, and the patriotism of the men and women who have fought this war.
Back in America, five years after 9/11, America has a huge new bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, elements of which like FEMA proved disappointing during Hurricane Katrina. The folks in charge of immigration enforcement seem overwhelmed despite efforts to increase the number of border patrols. The FBI still needs a major upgrade to its computer systems and a new counterintelligence mindset. The CIA, grown risk adverse over the years, often appears to be operating independently of White House policy.
Most certainly, political power has been shifted to a party that is adverse to many of the counterintelligence measures necessary to protect the nation. The Democrats are consumed with hatred for the President. Those who will take over major committees are mostly longtime, devout leftists. Whatever else is wrong with it, it understood that Americans want to leave Iraq.
We will leave, though probably not while George W. Bush is President. The good news is that our conventional military can defeat a nation like Iran in a conventional war. The bad news is that Iran will not fight a conventional war. Instead, its proxies in the Middle East will be fighting unconventional wars until they destroy Israel and hold the West hostage because of its dependence on Middle East oil.
We are still not drilling in ANWR. We are still largely stymied by coastal States that do not want to grant permission to explore for rich reserves of oil and natural gas in the continental shelf. Between discovery and delivery is perhaps ten years of heavy investment. Life in America is going to become more expensive unless these energy reserves are tapped.
Iraq is likely to join a growing list of American military disappointments and defeats. How fast and how soon we can adjust to the learning curve of such failures will say much about the world in which we live in the decades ahead. The only certainty is that there will not and cannot be any negotiated end to the conflict with the leaders of the Islamic Jihad. Until they are found and killed, the war against America will continue.