Take a look at the September/October 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs and you’ll find a fascinating article by James Dobbins: “Who Lost Iraq? Lessons From the Debacle.” An Assistant Secretary of State under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Dobbins candidly admits that Bush’s invasion of Iraq qualifies as a “national catastrophe,” and notes that the changes made thus far, including the so-called “surge,” have not “reversed a worsening situation.” But his main objective is to assure that the “current debate over the United States’ failure in Iraq . . . yield[s] constructive results” for future administrations.
Thus, he recommends — presumably tongue-in-cheek — against “invading large hostile countries on the basis of faulty intelligence and with the support of narrow, unrepresentative coalitions.” Yet, Dobbins is too subtle by half when he observes, “other nations will never be prepared to exempt the United States from internationally recognized restraints on the unprovoked use of force.” Indeed, naked aggression is the worst of war crimes.
More troubling, however, is Dobbins’ willingness to dismiss the evil wrought by America’s neoconservatives. If their warmongering was merely a matter of “excess,” then so was the similarly despicable warmongering practiced by their predecessors — the Nazi propagandists.
Nevertheless, Dobbins is quite constructive when he recommends: (1) electing leaders willing to encourage “disciplined dissent,” (2) the “better use of existing structures for policy formulation and implementation,” which means the avoidance of future cabals of the Rumsfeld-Cheney type, (3) the retiring of “‘preemption’ . . . from the lexicon of declared policy” and (4) the reevaluation of nation building and democratization.
He also recommends that the “war on terror” be “reconceived and renamed.” For although “the Bush administration’s rhetoric since 9/11 has accentuated the warlike character of the terrorist threat . . . most of the tangible successes in the ‘war on terror’ have come as a result of police, intelligence and diplomatic activity.”
But, Dobbins’ constructive recommendations go astray when he concludes: “Above all, Americans should accept that the entire nation has, to one degree or another, failed in Iraq.” This astonishing recommendation is based upon two seemingly indisputable facts: (1) “the United States went into Iraq with a higher level of domestic support for war than at almost anytime in its history and (2) Congress authorized the invasion by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.”
Yet, to refuse to acknowledge the efforts of experts, politicians (mostly liberal) and the millions of Americans who either argued against the war or protested the invasion before it occurred is to engage in a whitewash of the evil committed by the scoundrels and dupes who wanted war.
Granted, in addition to the scoundrels calling themselves neoconservatives and the criminals occupying the White House, many feckless congressmen — Democrats and Republicans — merit blame for fostering Bush’s war. Democrats merit blame, because many ducked their responsibility to challenge the warmongers. Thus, they violated a norm of American political life: “Regardless of which party holds a majority of seats in Congresses, it is almost always the opposition party that creates the most trouble for a president intent on waging war.” (William G. Howell and Jon C. Pevehouse, “When Congress Stops Wars,” Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct. 2007)
Two additional observations by Professors Howell and Pevehouse also point to the pre-invasion political irresponsibility of many congressional Democrats: (1) the “media regularly follow official debates about war in Washington, adjusting their coverage to the scope of the discussions among the nation’s political elite” and (2) “the airing of more critical viewpoints led to greater public disapproval of the proposed war.”
Thus, all three observations by Howell and Pevehouse support Dobbins assertion that “primary responsibility for opposing or at least critically examining the case for war falls on the opposition party.” It’s not only a responsibility that many Democrats ducked during the run-up to war in Iraq; it’s also a responsibility they should keep in mind, when Bush/Cheney push for war against Iran.
Nevertheless, Dobbins’ attempt to blame the “entire nation” still doesn’t wash. Although hardly alone, I was not among those who, “to one degree or another, failed in Iraq.” In fact, on 24 September 2002, I went on record — in an op-ed published by the Philadelphia Inquirer — opposing Bush’s just-released National Security Strategy enshrining preemptive war as national policy.
Immediately after Bush’s mad invasion, I called it “murderous and illegal,” and wrote that the world was now confronted with the phenomenon of “an arrogant, willful, and, arguably unconquerable hegemon capable of breaking things around the world to the enthusiastic applause of its ‘famously ill-informed’ citizenry.” (Walter C. Uhler, “Undone by current events,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2003)
By the summer of 2004 I was quoting Gen. Richard Myers, Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who on May 12, 2004 told a Senate committee, “there is no way to militarily win in Iraq.” I did so, because I took seriously the observation made by renowned military historian, Williamson Murray and (Ret.) Major General Robert H. Scales: “As has become apparent over the past two decades, intelligence gathered by thinking human beings, with their ability to interpret local languages, customs, and cultures, is a depressingly weak link in America’s attempt to grasp the nature of its opponents and their capabilities.” [The Iraq War: A Military History, p. 182]
While quoting Gen. Myers, I publicly endorsed the sobering admonition of Murray and Scales, writing that unless the technological superiority of America’s military “is soon coupled with intelligent thinking, ‘improved technologies will ensure only that political and military defeats will come later, and at greater cost.’” (Walter C. Uhler, “Preempting the truth,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2004)
The expert insights of Murray and Scales found support two days ago, when the New York Times published the collective observations of six U.S. Army sergeants and one specialist from the 82nd Airborne Division, just returning home from a 15-month deployment in Iraq. They claim “we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.” [Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, et al, "The War as We See It," New York Times, August 19, 2007]
Consequently, when the criminals and liars in the Bush administration (aided by politicized Generals) try to persuade you and the Congress, in September, that the surge is working, keep in mind the words of these seven combat-tested grunts: “We are skeptical of the recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.” [Ibid]
Bush’s illegal, immoral war against Iraq should never have been fought. But it was quickly lost in the wake of his “Mission Accomplished” speech. Credit the defeat to his administration’s gross strategic incompetence — which allowed the insurgency to develop — and (to quote Murray and Scales) its inability “to grasp the nature of its opponents and their capabilities.”
Finally, if we genuinely seek to assure that the current debate over the United States’ failure in Iraq yields constructive results, we must ignore the advice of James Dobbins to blame all Americans and begin the painful and potentially disruptive process of racking and stacking. After all, in America’s so-called meritocracy, the people who got it wrong should pay a price. Public humiliations, remedial training, demotions, resignations, dismissals, newsroom shakeups, think-tank purges, criminal indictments, congressional investigations and impeachments, where warranted, would mark the beginning of genuine accountability.
What better way to yield constructive results for future administrations than to expose the arguments of, and render justice to, the ideologues, pundits and politicians who either mongered for an unprovoked war or acquiesced in it?