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10 years after Iraq War: What do we have to show for it?

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President George W. Bush announcing the start of war between the United States and Iraq during a televised address from the Oval Office on March 19, 2003.

First of two articles.

I agree with John McCain on this: Chuck Hagel’s statement that the surge in Iraq could turn into the biggest U.S. foreign policy blunder since Vietnam was silly. McCain may be right that the surge was a successful tactical move, but it was a mere tactic, undeserving of neither Hagel’s extreme condemnation nor McCain’s extreme praise.

In fact, it was a tactic to try to extricate the United States from its biggest post-Vietnam blunder, namely the Iraq War itself. The overall story — of which the surge was a mere blip — is so awful that it’s hard to face it squarely.

The Iraq War has still not ended. Iraqis (and, every once in a while an American) still dies violently from forces let loose by the U.S. invasion. But as we approach this month the 10th anniversary of the beginning of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” we should face it and try to draw the right lessons. I will offer my version of that exercise in this piece and another one Friday about the “neoconservative” ideology that was used to justify the war 10 years ago.

For me, one of the biggest right lessons is this: When you are the mightiest country in the history of the world, wars are too easy to get into and too hard to get out of. The United States, which – let’s face it – gets into far more wars than any other nation and almost all of them are wars of choice, should get into fewer.

The Iraq War cost the United States more than $3 trillion, according to the calculations of at least one Nobel prize-winning economist (that compares to 2003 Bush administration estimates that it would cost a mere $50 billion to $60 billion). The $3 trillion figure has some fancy economic effects in it, but the direct cost to the taxpayers was well into the trillions. Even if it was only a trillion or two, what do we have to show for it?

More than 4,400 U.S. military personnel lost their lives and another 32,000 were wounded in action in the Iraq fighting. That’s about double the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. Of course, because of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. territory, Osama bin Laden’s base in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s refusal to relinquish bin Laden, the Afghan War is easier to justify as a war of defense or perhaps retaliation. Among the blunderous qualities of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the distraction from Afghanistan, as President Obama has often argued. Even that war, for which the justification was considerably better, is drifting toward an inconclusive conclusion.

1 million killed

Perhaps something in the neighborhood of 1 million Iraqis died as a result of the U.S. decision to liberate them from the tyrant Saddam Hussein (although that number is easily disputed, it’s still rising). You could oversimplify the costs and benefits. And it is normal, natural and in some sense hideous and amoral that we focus so much more on our own casualties than on those of the enemy. But, of course, a huge portion of the Iraqi dead were not our enemies. They were neither soldiers of Saddam Hussein nor terrorists. They were just Iraqis who were in the wrong time and place when this war blew things up.

The United States often likes to justify its wars as part of its (self-assigned) mission of spreading democracy. Yes, elections have occurred in Iraq, certainly much more legitimate than the one-candidate-allowed-and-he-gets-100-percent-of-the-vote elections that Saddam used to stage. But Iraq has not been turned into anything that could seriously be called a stable democracy. Who knows what the future might bring? But the nation seethes with ethnic, sectarian, tribal and ideological grievances. All of the post-war governments have been corrupt. Hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars intended for post-war “reconstruction” of Iraq have been wasted or stolen.

Operation Iraqi Freedom failed to send a wave of democracy cascading across the Middle East, as the war’s architects had envisioned. You can try to credit the Iraq War for the recent “Arab spring,” although it seems like a reach. It remains to be seen how many stable democracies, if any, will emerge from the “spring.”

From a purely U.S.-national-self-interest point of view, it’s hard to argue that — if the day ever comes when Mideast countries have governments that reflect the real sentiment of their populations — those governments will be friendly to the United States or its interests or its main ally in the region, Israel. Personally, I think the United States should promote democracy more by words, and aid, and alliances with other democracies, and by our example, and less by guns and bombs.

The weapons of mass destruction that comprised the chief public justification for the war were, to put it politely, never found — on account of not existing. The murderous thug Saddam certainly bears a significant portion of the blame for his refusal to cooperate with international weapons inspection regimes. The ridiculous cat-and-mouse games Saddam played with the various inspection teams — often, for example, requiring advance warning before inspectors were allowed access to suspected weapons sites — surely contributed to the reasonable suspicion that he was hiding something. And, it turns out, what he was hiding was that he had no WMD nor active programs to acquire them.

U.N. inspectors had prompt access

It nonetheless remains a big deal to me, which I bring up on every occasion when apologists for the war suggest that President George W. Bush had ample reason to suspect that banned weapons work was proceeding, that before the United States launched the “shock and awe” bombardment, Saddam had finally relented and U.N. inspectors had prompt access to all the sites where U.S. officials and others thought the weapons were hidden. No weapons.

The actual war began, over the protestations of the U.N. inspectors that there appeared to be no weapons and that if they (the inspectors) could have a brief while longer to finish their work, they believed they could settle the question. Instead, Hans Blix and his inspectors were evacuated so they would not be killed by U.S. bombs.

If the demonstration of U.S. might (and willingness to use it) in Iraq was intended to have a salutary warning effect on other potential misbehavers, it seems not have yet produced such an effect on Iran, the country the United States is currently most often threatening to bomb over its alleged pursuit of WMD.

In fact, the Iraq War significantly strengthened Iran. After a decade-long incredibly bloody war between Iraq and Iran through the 1980s (which Saddam started and during which Washington “tilted” in favor of Saddam’s side), Iran was enervated and forced to devote energy to its long border with Iraq. By destroying Saddam’s military, the United States freed Iran’s leaders to pursue other priorities, such as nuclear fuel and technology and seeking the leadership of the Pan-Islamic campaign to threaten Israel.

Making possible the rule of the majority in Iraq should have been a good thing, democracy-wise, but was also a good thing for Shiite Iran, since it empowered the long-suppressed Shiite majority of Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki, the current (since 2007) prime minister of Iraq, spent the decade of the 1980 as a refugee from Saddam and a guest of Iran.

Peter Van Buren was a State Department foreign service officer sent to Iraq after the war as part of the “reconstruction” teams. His blog bears the sardonic title  We Meant Well. His book is also titled “We Meant Well” but subtitled “How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi people.” On the blog, he writes:

On this 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Iraq itself remains, by any measure, a dangerous and unstable place. Even the usually sunny Department of State advises American travelers to Iraq that U.S. citizens “remain at risk for kidnapping… [as] numerous insurgent groups, including Al Qaida, remain active…” and notes that “State Department guidance to U.S. businesses in Iraq advises the use of Protective Security Details.”

Friday: The “neoconservative” ideology on the Iraq War, today and 10 years ago.

Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2013 - 09:22 am.

    What we’ve got to show for it

    is first of all a huge deficit, and the human suffering that results from the resulting cuts in social services. OUR military losses pale in comparison.
    And I’d agree more with Hagel than with McCain.
    The basic blunder is in assuming that military power enables one to intervene in a civil war against someone fighting on their own turf. In the long run you can’t win.
    In this case the Taliban are holed up on the Pashtunistan border, while Al Qaeda has simply moved. Since neither posed a serious direct threat to us, fighting them hurts us more than them (why should they kill us here when we come to them to be killed?).
    More after I’ve read the article more carefully.

  2. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/14/2013 - 09:54 am.

    It was always clear to me that the neocons were spoiling for a

    fight, not to mention an opportunity to funnel hundreds of billions of taxpayer and borrowed dollars to their friends who happened to be military contractors. (There are your real welfare queens–the private contractors who received piles of money to provide inferior services to the troops.)

    It also fit in with the neocons’ stated purpose of “drowning the government in a bathtub,” since the $250 million per day that they were spending on a dubious war would not be available for the social programs that they hated.

    Then they could start whining about the budget deficit that they had caused.

    Such a deal!

  3. Submitted by Doug Gray on 03/14/2013 - 10:08 am.

    another one for the history books

    Other than being distinguished by duration and cost in human lives, national honor and economic near-collapse, Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003 are just two more entries in the long list of places and times the U.S. has interfered, justly or not, in the affairs of other nations, a list which includes Mexico 1846, Argentina 1890, Chile 1891, Haiti 1891, Nicaragua 1894, China 1894, Panama 1895, Nicaragua 1896, Spanish colonies 1898, Nicaragua 1899, Panama 1901, Honduras 1903, Dominican Republic 1903, Korea 1904, Cuba 1906, Nicaragua 1907, Honduras 1907, Panama 1908, Nicaragua 1910, Honduras 1911, Cuba 1912, Panama 1912, Honduras 1912, Nicaragua 1912, Mexico 1913, Dominican Republic 1914, Haiti 1914, Dominican Republic 1916, Mexico 1916, Cuba 1917, Russia 1918, Panama 1918, Honduras 1919, Yugoslavia 1919, Guatemala 1920, Turkey 1922, China 1922, Mexico 1923, Honduras 1924, Panama 1925, China 1927, El Salvador 1932, Uruguay 1947, Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Lebanon 1958, Panama 1958, Vietnam 1960, Cuba 1961, Laos 1962, Ira1 1963, Indonesia 1965, Dominican Republic 1965, Guatemala 1966, Cambodia 1969, Chile 1973, Lebanon 1982, Grenada 1983, Libya 1986, Iran 1987, Philippines 1989, Panama 1989, Somalia 1992, Yugoslavia 1992, Haiti 1994, Somalia 2006 and Libya 2011.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/14/2013 - 10:09 am.

    The Iraq War Turned Out EXACTLY the Way We Knew It Would

    We spent $3 trillion dollars (off budget, back in the era when Republicans were in charge and proclaimed “deficits don’t matter,”),…

    killed a MILLION people,…

    saw entire industrial pallets loaded with $100 bills vanish with NO accounting for who received them or how they were spent (welfare queens, indeed!?),…

    went into a “cakewalk” war with NO plan and the completely stupid, ignorant “conservative” idea that no plan would be needed, for what we’d need to do AFTER we “won that war,”…

    not even a ghost of a clue that winning the “peace” would be a far more difficult undertaking, (despite the state department AND the military continuously protesting and predicting that such would be the case),…

    and will leave in our wake a destabilized nation, in which it is far more difficult for the average citizen to build a stable life than it ever was under Saddam Hussein (the Sunis and Shiites will not grow out of their culture of revenge and their continuous cycle of killing each other to get even for killing each other for decades, yet).

    We now face the cost of paying for continuing disability, medical and psychological treatment for hundreds of thousands of vets,…

    whose benefits the same chicken hawks who were so anxious to prove their own toughness by sending those other peoples’ sons and daughter to war will continuously try to cut.

    We have not even considered evaluating the level of war profiteering accomplished through outrageous and unprecedented no-bid, “cost plus” Defense Department contracting,…

    but suffice it to say that a lot of people who got VERY rich stealing directly out of the US treasury are now among those who swear we have to “fix the deficit” which THEY caused, and keen, whine and wail, that as “job creators” they can’t possibly be asked to pay any of their dishonestly stolen wealth back to pay to the treasury to help the people whose lives were damaged or destroyed as a direct result of the ways they gained that wealth.

    If this were a movie, I’d like to see a “Treadstone Project” visit or an old fashioned “Mission Impossible” experience carried out on each and every one of the people who arranged for a nation to be destroyed, our own nation to be impoverished, and other people’s children to be killed or wounded in combat,…

    for no good reason but to pad their own pockets, increase their own political power, and prove how “tough” they were (when we all know that such folks, in the depths of their souls, are abject cowards).

    If there were justice in this world, such people would live in shame, fear and terror over the evil they have directly or indirectly visited upon the rest of us.

    But I find comfort in the thought that those people, although they are riding high in this life due to their selfish, self-serving, murderously dishonest, duplicity, and rank dysfunction, will receive their just reward when they reach the next.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/14/2013 - 10:12 am.

    I just finished reading “The Good Soldiers” by David Finkel last night. It aroused an old and deep anger in me. Read it, if you can find it.

    The monumental disregard of an administration for truth, the citizens of America, the soldiers of America, and a people in a far away country mirrored the Vietnam experience. The almost casual and creeping contamination of thousands and eventually millions of peoples lives with the spillover of “collateral damage”.

    A war is only won and lost by the people who live there. The winners and losers are decided by the people after the outsiders leave. As an outsider, you are an interloper with only a dim view of the motivations and loyalties that exists. As an outsider, you are as likely to be damaging to the good guys as well as the bad guys. As an outsider, you will leave and then the tides of history will flow in the ways that they will.

    It remains my contention that Bin Laden was the best thing to happen to Bush, and Bush was the best thing to happen for Bin Laden. They both grew in importance and stature as the other carried out their action..

    I can only dream of an America that decided to simply get Bin Laden after 9/11, and that was the sole focus of its activities. I can dream we didn’t outsource the capture of Bin Laden to the treacherous Northern Alliance. I can dream the we took advantage of the shock of 9/11 and used the temporary cooperation of Pakistan to clean out Al Qaeda.

    Instead we engaged in a incremental war in an unrelated country that ratcheted up the inflammation of the Middle East to a general conflagration. We have not yet felt the full effect of the unjustified and unrelated war in Iraq.

    What do we have to show after 10 years?

    *Trillions of dollars spent
    *Trillions in debt
    *Hundreds of thousands of live in America ruined (the effects of deaths and injuries in the war)
    *Invigorated terrorist movements around the world
    *Terrorists further educated on how to drive the US from a country
    *A debased legal system
    *An abrogated Constitution and Bill of Rights
    *Human rights hypocrisy
    *Millions dead, injured and displace
    *Instability increased
    *International unpopularity
    *”Frozen” foreign policy

    And I would argue that a good portion of the financial collapse of the US in 2007 and the continued financial difficulties is due to the overspending of the war and the desire of the government to overcome the negatives of the war with the artificial goosing of the economy. It was very easy for most of America to ignore the war when, “Hey, our house is worth 25% more–let’s take out the cash!!”. It was a policy of “guns and butter”–how better to carry out an unnecessary and increasingly damaging war than to make it invisible to your own people? Take away the punchbowl and people might start to see the mounting bills and the bodies stacked in the corner. A deliberate policy of ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ has turned into a monumental hangover for the US and the world.

  6. Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/14/2013 - 12:02 pm.

    The futility of “lessons learned”

    It was a juggernaut propelling the drive to invasion (I refuse to call those early days a “war”) and I’m not sure what could have stopped it. Talking about “lessons learned” is a nice exercise, but at that time, no one (in a position of power) gave a rat’s behind about anything but getting in there and starting to drop bombs. And they pulled the hawkish sector of the American public right along with them.

    I still remember the woman who simply posted a sign reading “Peace” on her fence – how innocuous – and how vandals actually pulled down her entire FENCE in order to make their point. Vandals who probably would have hollered about the importance of protecting THEIR First Amendment freedoms had there been and opportunity to ask them.

    There were lots of other, more well-known examples of what happened to those who spoke out against the drive towards invasion (Dixie Chicks anyone?). But this example with the fence hit very close to home, and reminds me to this day how hellbent we were on invading Iraq no matter what the cost and who needs to plan for the aftermath anyway?

    • Submitted by Diane Nelson on 03/15/2013 - 02:34 pm.

      My own post-invasion memory

      Was a discussion with a my son’s friend, (all of 22!), where I simply stated it was my understanding they had yet to find any evidence of WMDs and I felt we had no reason to mess with Iraq.

      He promptly cited the conservative lines how Iraq was connected to 9/11 and it was the right thing to do. I maintained war should be a last resort, and our focus should be on bin Laden. He couldn’t believe that I could be so naive and unpatriotic, how Iraq had *everything* to do with 9/11 and I was just dead wrong.

      While I maintained my peaceful composure, he heated up in anger and in attack mode, sort of appropriately matching our positions.

      I have since reminded my conservative friends how for years those of us against invading Iraq were labeled unpatriotic. Few things will shame them quite like that little bit of truthiness.

  7. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 03/14/2013 - 12:04 pm.

    It’s really astonishing how quickly the Iraq War has left the country’s popular conscience, and also how quickly everyone forgot about the WMDs a couple years into it. Er…what were we talking about again? Sorry, I was looking at my phone.

  8. Submitted by Ed Felien on 03/14/2013 - 12:42 pm.

    After the war

    After the war

    Americans feel pretty good about the ending of the Afghan war. Obama says he will withdraw 34,000 troops (more than half the total U.S. troops in Afghanistan) by the end of 2013 and turn all responsibility for military operations over to the Afghan government. In his State of the Union Address, he said, “[W]e can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.”

    Was that what it was all about?

    Getting al Qaeda?

    Was that the whole story?

    In the 19th century, Afghanistan was a pawn in the Great Game that Russia and Great Britain played in Central Asia. Britain insisted it was essential for them to maintain influence in Afghanistan to protect their colony in India. But there was an even darker and more immediately profitable motivation. Afghanistan produced the opium that Britain forced on the Chinese. When Chinese authorities stopped the opium trade in 1838, the British invaded in 1839, defeated the Chinese troops by 1842 and reasserted their right to sell opium in China. They also forced the Chinese to concede Hong Kong and other ports. By 1858 they were importing about 4,480 tons of opium a year to their Chinese markets. The Chinese again resisted and were again defeated in 1860 and forced to concede unrestricted foreign trade and a continuation of the importation of Afghan opium.

    After World War II, the U.S. and Britain agreed to let Russia have dominant influence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in exchange for Western influence in Iran. The U.S. promptly overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh government and installed the Shah on a Peacock Throne. Opium cultivation continued predominantly in Helmand Province in Afghanistan and with British help and tactical support was transported to labs in Pakistan and refined into heroin, then transported over the mountain ranges in Iran (The Golden Route) to Beirut and then to markets in Europe and the U.S.

    The Iranian Revolution in 1979 disrupted the Golden Route. The Islamists refused to collaborate with opium smuggling, and after fierce gun battles, smugglers had to settle for new and longer routes. Also, once the U.S.-backed Mujahideen beat the Soviets in Afghanistan, like their cousins in Iran, they systematically eliminated their secular fellow freedom fighters and established an Islamic republic. And one of the first things the Taliban government did was to outlaw the cultivation and exporting of opium. In recognition of their efforts and as a reward for successfully supporting the War on Drugs, in 2002 Secretary of State Colin Powell awarded the Taliban government $43 million for eliminating opium production in Afghanistan. That was the public face of the Bush Administration. Privately, the CIA was working with Opium Warlords to overthrow the Taliban, and a few months later, with Hamid Karzai as their fig leaf of legitimacy, the U.S. invaded.

    Today, as Obama has said, we have completed our mission and achieved our objectives. We have re-established a narco-terrorist state ruled by Opium Warlords. Afghanistan is once again the leading producer of opium, contributing 90% of the world’s supply. According to Ghanizada in his April 29, 2012 piece for Khamma Press, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics in Afghanistan has said that the opium trade is worth $70 billion a year.

    The CIA has a long history of working with the drug warlords. When the U.S. needed to invade Italy in World War II, the OSS (Wild Bill Donovan’s precursor to the CIA) made a deal with the Mafia: They would get Lucky Luciano released from prison in exchange for Mafia support for an Allied invasion of Sicily. No doubt it was to the Mafia that Ollie North turned when he needed cash for the cocaine he was smuggling into the U.S. as part of his arms for the Contras caper hatched in the basement of the Reagan White House.

    So, what will happen when the U.S. leaves?

    Well, of course, the U.S. isn’t leaving. The uniformed troops may stop military operations, but the CIA, and the muscle they provide for the Opium Warlords, will stay. Peter Apps for Reuters reported, “At its peak, the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting, a bipartisan legislative commission established to study wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, estimated there might have been as many as 260,000 contractors in the two countries.” Time magazine said in October of 2012, according to the most recent quarterly contractor census report issued by the U.S. Central Command there were 113,376 private contractors in Afghanistan working for the CIA and the U.S. government. That figure does not include private contractors working for the Afghan government or local warlords. And it does not include the number of contractors protecting private mining exploration that is underway.

    Private security firms have had a generally horrific history in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, Blackwater was banned from Iraq because some of their gunmen opened fire and killed several civilians. Similar incidents in Afghanistan led Hamid Karzai to try to ban them as well, but he became convinced by his U.S. advisors that they were essential to business as usual. When his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was assassinated in his own home by one of his personal bodyguards in 2011, Hamid began to appreciate the value of professional security teams. Most analysts agree that Ahmed was probably the leader of the opium trade in Afghanistan and, at the same time, on the payroll of the CIA.
    But Hamid Karzai is concerned that these private security firms are becoming little more than armed gangs. Student Pulse, citing a New York Times article by Dexter Filkins in June 6, 2010, reported in 2012: “After a pair of bloody confrontations with Afghan civilians, two of the biggest private security companies, Watan Risk Management and Compass Security, were banned from escorting NATO convoys on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. The ban took effect on May 14. At 10:30 a.m. that day, a NATO supply convoy rolling through the area came under attack. An Afghan driver and a soldier were killed, and a truck was overturned and burned. Within two weeks, with more than 1,000 trucks sitting stalled on the highway, the Afghan government granted Watan and Compass permission to resume. Watan’s president, Rashid Popal, strongly denied any suggestion that his men either colluded with insurgents or orchestrated attacks to emphasize the need for their services. Executives with Compass Security did not respond to questions. But the episode, and others like it, has raised the suspicions of investigators here and in Washington, who are trying to track the tens of millions in taxpayer dollars paid to private security companies to move supplies to American and other NATO bases. Although the investigation is not complete, the officials suspect that at least some of these security companies—many of which have ties to top Afghan officials—are using American money to bribe the Taliban. The officials suspect that the security companies may also engage in fake fighting to increase the sense of risk on the roads, and that they may sometimes stage attacks against competitors.”

    So, it seems, Afghanistan has come full circle. It is now back to the era of Opium Warlords defending their little kingdoms with terror and murder, and there are Taliban in the hills who want to end the opium trade and drive out the CIA and foreign mercenaries. Most Americans don’t want to be involved. They don’t want to know about tribal loyalties in Kandahar or opium production in Helmand. But, as long as the CIA is directing this tragedy, they are involved.

    We are involved.

    And we are responsible.

  9. Submitted by David Frenkel on 03/14/2013 - 01:17 pm.

    Wars long lasting effects

    Much of this article is old news. What has not been discussed at length is how these wars have undermined the US military both in equipment and morale. The US continues to be the self imposed policemen of the world but China may soon be the US equal in military power.

  10. Submitted by Dave Thul on 03/14/2013 - 01:32 pm.


    It’s hard to take your argument seriously when, talking about casualties, you cite a Wikipedia citation of a source so flawed that nobody else agrees with it, and the mainstream media ignored it.

    “This ORB estimate has been strongly criticized as exaggerated and ill-founded in peer reviewed literature.”

    You also fail to mention that the majority of the civilian casualties were caused by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and sectarian violence, instead implying that they died at US hands.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2013 - 03:56 pm.

      Who are you quoting?

      and the last I heard, neither Al Qaeda nor the various sects in Iraq had B-52’s.

      • Submitted by Dave Thul on 03/15/2013 - 06:45 am.


        I quoted the article that Eric linked to, from Wikipedia. His own source cast doubt on his source.

        And if you can find an example of the US or allies using b-52’s anytime during the Iraq War, I’d love to see it.

        The commenters here are doing a wonderful job of putting the Iraq war into a nice little stereotype box, which neatly fits into the preconceptions you already had. The only actual similarity to Vietnam is howmuch the soldiers who fought there will never forgive the civilians at home who failed to support them.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/15/2013 - 08:08 am.

          …The only actual similarity to Vietnam is how much the soldiers who fought there will never forgive the civilians at home who failed to support them….

          The only similarity to Vietnam????

          So how about the big lie to start the war ?

          How about the determined ignoring of “collateral damage” ?

          How about not knowing who was innocent civilian and who was trying to kill you?

          How about a population that was cowed by an ruthless indigenous insurgency?

          How about a war conducted mainly by non-uniformed opponents?

          How about a war fought by westerners mainly holed up in massive camps?

          How about an enemy that outfought the west with their superior weapons?

          How about the relocation of civilians to quarantine them from enemy influence?

          How about air-strikes against civilian targets?

          How about a war fought mainly by ambush and booby-trap from the enemy?

          How about relentless “We are winning” when we were not.

          How about the difference bet nights and days and who had control of what?

          How about the taking of one point in geography, abandoning it and taking it again?

          How about day after day of patrolling and then withdrawing to the safety of a fort at night?

          How about the proclamation of “insurgent” deaths?

          How about sanctioned torture, killings in custody, and indefinite imprisonment ?

          How about all that “standing up” of Iraqi troops ?

          How about enormous sums of money for the defense contractors?

          How about an enemy funded by narcotics trafficking?

          What about hearts and minds?

          What about the “inkblot” theory?

          What about ignorance of historical and local grievances?

          What about ignorance of culture and language?

          How about reinforcing local thugs as local leaders?

          How about looking the other way on the human rights abuses of our “allies”?

          How about ignoring the dreadful stresses our troops were under and the PTSD that results?

          It could go on and on.


          • Submitted by Dave Thul on 03/17/2013 - 12:26 am.

            First tell me

            why a guy who read about the war on Huffington Post is lecturing a guy who spent almost 2 years there?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/15/2013 - 09:36 am.

          There’s a difference

          between supporting soldiers and supporting a war.
          In Vietnam, a lot of people blamed soldiers for participating in the war; I don’t see that in Iraq/Afghanistan — partly because a tenth as many soldiers are involved.

          And a quick search will provide plenty of evidence of B-52’s bombing Iraq.
          Are you referring to the first war only?

    • Submitted by Brian Gandt on 03/14/2013 - 05:17 pm.

      AQ was Not An Issue Before Saddam

      AQ exploited our actions in Iraq. They had no chance under Saddam.

      Granted Saddam was a killer, but now we are dealing with an empowered Iran as a result of our actions in Iraq.

  11. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2013 - 01:35 pm.

    More reactions

    First, I would agree that the ‘surge’ was a major blunder, culminating the overall blunder of the second (2003) Iraqi war. Given the number of blunders in that area in the past 20 years, it’s hard to award a first prize to any specific one.
    The first (1991) Iraqi war definitely does not deserve a blunder award. It’s goals were limited and had an achievable endpoint: eliminating Saddam as a regional threat. This it accomplished, without destroying Iraq’s infrastructure and reducing it from a second world country to the third world. Achieving this limited goal left open the possibility of an internal challenge to Saddam that would (with our covert support) moved Iraq in the direction of democracy.
    The 2003 war, based on demonstrably false assumptions, eliminated this possibility.

    Whether the second Iraq war or the Afghan war was a bigger blunder is a more interesting debate.
    On the one hand, the invasion of Iraq, even if unjustified, was on terrain favorable to conventional military warfare, and involved a heterogeneous population in which we had at least some support. On the other hand, Iraq and Saddam did not pose a direct threat to us (just to international oil corporations).
    Afghanistan, on the other hand, did harbor a (non-native — most of the 9/11 attackers were Egyptian) group which posed a direct threat to us, although the extent of the threat was mostly fanciful. We kill more than ten times as many of our citizens on our highways and with guns as died on 9/11.
    Afghanistan, on the other hand, is terrain unsuited to industrialized warfare, as the results have shown. We leave with at best Kabul sort of controlled by a sort of friendly government, while the rest of it is controlled by the Taliban and local war lords (in other words, Afghan business as usual). They’re still the major (maybe the biggest) source of our heroin.
    So, while very limited target actions such as the killing of Bin Laden might be justified, a major war/invasion definitely falls into the blunder category.

    So, in summary, we might have ultimately benefited from our involvement in Iraq if it had been conducted with less hubris (it didn’t have to be a blunder); our Afghan adventure has fared no better than those of the British, the Russians, and all the way back (a blunder under any conditions).

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/14/2013 - 02:18 pm.

    “Weapon of Mass Destruction”– A good name for something that killed, injured and displaced millions of people in Iraq and killed and injured tens of thousands of Americans, burned up trillions of dollars and dinars, severely damaged the economy of two countries, and infected countless millions with the virus of extremism.

    How much more destruction do you need from a “weapon of mass destruction”?

  13. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/14/2013 - 03:14 pm.


    The main thing we have is two liars out of the White House and proof positive the GOP’s title “Fiscal Conservative” is the antonym of what it sounds like. It is a title given to the GOP by the GOP and it has no connection to reality whatsoever. We have lost blood and treasure that didn’t need to be lost. I have nothing but my sincere condolence for the families that lost loved ones or who have loved ones that are wounded or disabled during this senseless war, which was brought on by two immoral politicians who did nothing but lie their way to war just because they wanted to go to war. It is still a mystery to me why Bush and Cheney were not convicted of war crimes and put in prison for the rest of their lives. The GOP won’t tell you but the majority of the debt we have today as a country is because of Bush and Cheney’s propensity to spend and not pay for anything. Two wars, not paid for, Bush tax cuts, not paid for, and Medicare Part D, not paid for. Fiscal conservatives my patoot! The GOP talks about the tax and spend democrats. They are right because every time a Republican has been in charge the Democrats have to tax and spend to repair the damage done to the country by the Republicans.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 03/14/2013 - 03:49 pm.

      Better tax and spend than borrow and spend, I say

      Taxing and spending is the equivalent of We the People getting a job to pay for what we need. For a bunch of people who rail against “welfare fraud” — what the heck do they think borrowing without any means to or thought of ever paying your debt is? Large-scale check kiting and ponzi scheming are the GOPs stock in trade. Add plain old criminal to the war criminal charge.

  14. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/14/2013 - 05:08 pm.

    Wash Post Tues. Jan 28, commentary on-line Blix Report

    It was Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003 Colum Lynch of the Washington Post dialogued with readers much like here…

    “On Monday Jan.27,2003 Iraq: Weapons inspector Hans Blix reported to the UN Security Council Council that Iraq “appears not to have come to genuine acceptance” …Blix and inspectors proposed the security council allow more time…”

    Protest for that invasion was high in the minds of many – wrong country, wrong mission all wrapped in Cheney/ Bush lies, yes…Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz etc

    How many wasted men and women; theirs and ours, for the sake of power? Its a sore wound still, that keeps on festering as we try to mend our wounds and bring them home even now. Yes it was another Vietnam but we never learn and if the people cry for justice no one listens?

    The discussion on that Tuesday after the release of the Blix Report with Lynch moderating…I found it again on the web under -“Colum Lynch Gullsgate Minn. What angers me even now mine and others; and rereading words then and Colum’s response …on WMD’s…”I think they have done a fairly good job making the case that Iraq is not willing to them up” -WMD’s that is?

    This was a time when Washington Post was welded at the ear to the White House…must have been a cow path across the greens as chapter-and-verse dogma was given priority over truth.

    Many lost faith in the system as a nation with too many ‘dead heroes’ among our best and brightest our hope for them; hope for a future.

    We live with our mistakes and the lack of power to change ; sad indeed even in retrospect, even now?

  15. Submitted by Donald Larsson on 03/14/2013 - 05:33 pm.

    In addition

    (Poison) icing on a rotten cake–the theft/destruction of priceless historical and archeological artifacts in the “cradle of civilization.” Now it’s happening in Syria too, but at least not with the direct participation or incompetent oversight of American generals (so far).

    Based on my very limited knowledge, one of the less-bad outcomes of the Iraq war/occupation seems to be the relative autonomy achieved (so far) by the Kurdish north. Even that, though, is likely to be a mixed blessing.

    Eric may take this up in the next installment, but if you look at what happens when historically antogonistic ethnic groups are tied together by a dictatorial regime in the name of a larger “national” unity, those ties will break with different degrees of explosive force once that “uniting” dictoratorship is gone (USSR, Yugoslavia, now Syria, etc.). Those who ignore history, etc.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/14/2013 - 08:55 pm.

      Those who ignore history

      are doomed to rewrite it?
      Actually, Turkey has taken over the persecution of the Kurds from Iraq.
      Kurdistan is an intersection of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria; none of which want it to exist as an independent state. Saladin was a Kurd by the way. They have a history of military capability.

  16. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/14/2013 - 06:59 pm.

    What have we to show for it?

    My $0.02: What we have to show for it is

    1. proof positive, in almost every conceivable way, that the terrorists achieved much of their objective of making this a closed and unhappy society, and, as an aside, that George Orwell was, indeed, prophetic.

    2. thousands of young American lives taken — absolutely needlessly — to promote a massive lie.

    3. hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives taken in “retaliation” for something their country did not do, was incapable of doing, and about which most of those killed had absolutely no idea.

    4. robbery of the American treasury on a genuinely stupendous and jaw-dropping scale by cynical militarists who don’t mind blood on their hands if their wallets are full enough.

    5. the last, feeble barriers to the triumph of the military-industrial complex we were warned against more than half a century ago by a man who knew what he was talking about in that context have been swept aside.

    6. total moral collapse on the part of national politicians, as they demonstrate, over and over again, that they can be purchased outright by campaign contributions from that same military-industrial (and now, financial) complex. When banks are “too big to prosecute,” we have government by banks.

    7. a serious national debt brought about largely, as others have commented, by the dishonest refusal of the Bush administration to pay for a war it started, while simultaneously cutting taxes for its most generous campaign contributors. Seldom has political corruption been more blatant, more overt, and more damaging to the society.

    8. a President and Vice-President who not only have blood on their hands, but are swimming in a vat of it, and who qualify for treatment as war criminals, but could also credibly be charged with treason, having provided “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States by utterly and completely destroying this nation’s credibility and example as a democratic state, a “good guy” whose word could be trusted and whose example was worth following. The succeeding administration has served as “enabler” by prolonging the torture to our own and Iraqi society through a foolish insistence that there is some honorable or dignified way to admit the greatest error of military and foreign policy, the most astonishing display of hubris, made in the history of this country.

    9. the Bill of Rights tossed aside by way of Guantanamo, the public cowed into sheep at every airport, and the reinvention of France’s landed aristocracy of the 18th century in the form of industrial and financial executives whose arrogance would have made the cheeks of America’s “robber barons” of a century ago crimson with embarrassment.

    And we’re still there, so it’s not over, nor is the list above complete.

  17. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/19/2013 - 10:11 pm.

    Give proper credit

    I know that this is a Bush-Cheney bash, but shouldn’t Obama-Biden get 40% credit for the cost, lives, etc.? MPR pointed out this morning that Iraq does have a democracy today with give and take in a Parliament. One side said that there were WMD and there weren’t. The other side that it was only for oil, and there isn’t any. Do two wrongs make a right? (The right to vote)

  18. Submitted by rolf westgard on 03/21/2013 - 02:21 am.

    Iraq oil

    Iraq is one rich sedimentary oil basin. But the Chinese are likely to end up with the lion’s share. That’s without a single soldier in the Middle East.

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