Blaming All Americans for Bush’s Debacle in Iraq?

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?

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including Dissident Voice, The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. David Kennedy said on August 21st, 2007 at 6:36am #

    John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” was a study of the nature of evil. What is evil? Are some people born evil? Can the behaviour of a group of people be evil? Can an entire country (or empire) be evil?

    Arguments can be made in favour of anything. We all know what is meant by the expressions “might is right” and “the winner writes history”.

    Most people nowadays would consider the deliberate harming of innocent people simply for pleasure as evil. However, the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome had a large element of this about them and people at that time didn’t think it wrong. The torture and murder of innocent people precisely because they didn’t believe in someone else’s god might also be considered evil, but that is precisely what the Catholic Church did for many years and few if any of the adherents objected.

    Few would consider lying and cheating for personal gain to be good behaviour, yet this is what successful countries frequently do and are commended for it.

    History is full of examples of acts and behaviour that were all right at that time but which, in a changed moral climate, are now thought to be wrong. Huns, Tartars, Goths and many, many others have been vilified in history while others are held as shining examples of all that is good. But who writes the history?

    Over time, countries have come together to devise rules for living peacefully. These are the basis of international law. Countries signed up to these treaties and agreements in the expectation that all would behave in accordance to the agreements.

    When a country arbitrarily and unilaterally violates these agreements, other signatories might well feel such a country to be irresponsible, at least. If that country then breaks the agreements by deliberate acts of aggression against individuals, groups and recognised sovereign countries, others might view this to be evil.

    Such evil actions are the attribute of that country, at that time. Of course this does not mean that every single individual in that country agrees with what is done by those in power. Presumably not all ancient Romans thought the Games were moral, but they had no power, no voice and no significance. History ignores them.

    Now, countries that carry out actions or behaviour that others consider to be evil will almost certainly seek to justify their actions.
    Dropping of atomic bombs on civilian populations will be justified; carpet-bombing of civil populations will likewise be justified by those doing this, exterminating groups within a population that are thought to be anti-social or undesirable will be justified and approved by those benefiting from such actions. Using the latest technology to terrorise local populations will likewise be justified by those on the dominant side. Does this make such actions or behaviour less evil?

    Clearly, the writer (Walter Uhler) feels it unfair to blame his country (and its people) for the evil it has wrought. Who else is to blame? Are there other examples of that country behaving in a similar manner under different leaders? Is there evidence of successful mass protest?
    Has there been a ‘slaves revolt’?

    My experience has taught me that we are all corruptible, but we are not all corrupt. Some brave souls will always be willing to stand out against the tyranny of the prevailing force be it mob, mass, or country. Walter Uhler is such a person, but that doesn’t excuse his country for what it has done and is doing in the world against international law, but most importantly against innocent people who have done nothing against America.

  2. Michael Kenny said on August 21st, 2007 at 8:15am #

    There is, of course, no such thing as unanimity in politics, but ther’s no denying that there was widespread support for the Iraq war at the start and things only changed as people began to realise that the “cakewalk” wasn’t going to happen. In other words, what Bush did wrong in most people’s eyes was not to start the Iraq war, but to lose it!

    And, of course, having lost it, the blame game now starts. There will be a tacit consensus to blame some small group: the neocons, the Republicans, the Israel Lobby, the Jews, Israel, the conservative think tanks, the oil industry, the arms industry etc. On the other side, it will be the Left, the Democrats, university professors, Europe. The one thing nobody will do is balme themselves or any group which includes themselves, such as “the entire society”. Or rather, only those who forsee blame being inevitably attached to themseves, in Mr Dobbins’s case, the Beltway elite, will adopt that variant of “I was just following orders”.

  3. brian said on August 21st, 2007 at 10:56am #

    We all could have done more, and all could do more. I opposed this war and thought it would be a disaster. I told everyone I know what I thought, and put together a massive email list to spread my opposition to a long list of friends and aquaintences. But I didn’t take to the streets and protest it. I supported anti-War candidates, as did enough of the American people to give Congress back to the Democrats. Of course, the Democrats are now just as much to blame as the Republicans, because the Democrats don’t have the courage to cut off funding for this war, instead choosing to play politics with the lives of our troops in the hope that it helps them in the 2008 elections. All the while, the troops go on dieing. The cynicism is heartbreaking.

    The truth, IMHO, is that the overwhelming majority of Americans drank the Administration’s cool aid that this was going to be quick, easy and cheap, and, gosh, might keep their gasoline prices down, too. I had “conservative” friends admit that of course it was all about the oil, but Saddam deserved to go. IMHO, the biggest legitimate threat posed by Saddam was that the sanctions were weakening and likely to be removed, and he was likely to start freely selling his oil, in euros rather than dollars. That could have glutted the oil market, but more importantly to American financial interests, could have substantially devalued the dollar. That was at least an arguable national security threat, but it was not stated or debated as a cause for war. My guess is that the public wasn’t told because big oil, errrr, I mean the Bush Administration, knew that the American people couldn’t be convinced to send their sons and daughters to fight and die for big oil and a strong dollar, and certainly not on a permanent (oops, I mean “enduring”) basis. But, the administration “knew better” than the people, so it was going in anyway. Hence, the administration scared the public with the obviously bogus WMD claims and the ludicrous claim that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda, lured the public with the “war will pay for itself and be over in six months” claims, and topped off the snow job with the laughable “overthrowing a tyrant and spreading democracy” frosting. This gross propaganda to generate the fig leaf of the the authorization to use force, which the warmongers now spin as a bipartisan “vote for the war.” This snow job would not have worked if the administration had actually called up the 300,000-plus troops Shinseki and the Army war plans called for, resulting in the “light footprint” of troops (supplemented by lots of private mercenaries being paid for with government money) that were unable to maintain order after the military victory. The gamble was that the American people could be kept in line behind the war (and even expand the commitment to the size needed for success) because, hey, we are a militant, warlike culture and wouldn’t want to lose ANOTHER war, plus anyone who criticized the war (or its conduct) could be marginalized by calling them naive, liberal, cowardly, traitorous, and anti-Christian. AND, SO FAR IT HAS WORKED PRETTY WELL FOR THE WARMONGERS!

    The tragedy is that the loyalty, lives, limbs and minds of our troops are being sacrificed for greed, not to mention our national treasure and international prestige. Sooner or later even the most diehard among the troops will realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods, just as David Hackworth and John Paul Vann did in Vietnam. Will the troops, and the public, answer the call next time, when there might be an actual direct threat to our national security? Or, will they sit the next one out, having been burned so badly again in Iraq, only thirty years after Vietnam ended. Fool us once, fool us twice, but fool us a third time?

  4. Samih Z. said on August 21st, 2007 at 9:31pm #

    I would blame the American Corporate Media in the first place, for running story after story about WMD to the extent that they started believing their own crap. The Neocons jumped in on the opportunity but only after the media wipped he public opinion into submission.
    The question is why would the media take such a concerted effort towards war. Quite possibly because war stories improve ratings and circulation. But also, interest groups well represented in the corporate media sought to advance their desires. The AIPAC was at the forefront of war parties, a war which was presented as a gift to the state of Israel.

    Beyond entry into the the war, Israeli interest played a role into the dissolving of the Iraqi army and other government institutions, a feat now strongly blamed for the insurgency and prevailing lawlessness .

    The media learned nothing from this, as they now divert their attention from Iraq to Iran. Incidentally, I recall last fall when Olmert let slip a quote that “Iraq war good for Israel”. The media was quick to purge all such mention from its archives. It was erased because its bad PR for you know who. Because it gives the impression that what is good for Israel, Can be terribly bad for America.

  5. John Bambey said on August 23rd, 2007 at 12:25pm #

    Dear sirs
    First the plan to invade Iraq was not the product of a small group of deluded American would be Imperialists you call the Neocons. It was the product of a decision by a world wide group of imperialists known by several monikers ( Globalist elite New World Order etc)
    Second they do not consider the invasion of Iraq a failure, because (A) it has destroyed a secular political force capable of uniting and wielding the Sunni Moslems ( the Ba’athists) ( B) Started a fratricidal war which is going to reduce any external threat by Moslems to manageable proportions ( C)_ Inflamed the crazed Islamic fanatics to undertake more terroristic actions outside of traditionally Moslem areas thus hardening and unifying the opposition to Islam.
    The myopia Leftists writers display towards the intelligence, degree of organization, and ruthlessness of the Global elite is really astounding considering their otherwise demonstrated abilites. -JJB

  6. rosemarie jackowski said on August 23rd, 2007 at 12:25pm #

    The author here says that blaming all of us in the USA “doesn’t wash”. I disagree. We are all complicit. George Bush has no planes or bombs. Congress must be held responsible, but beyond that so must ALL of us. Being “anti-war” is not enough. If enough of us had simply done nothing – that is stayed home and did not go to work or consume anything, it would have had an effect on the economy. It would not have taken very long to bring the economy crashing down. To change the government it will either take a bloody revolution or else a bloodless war on the economy. Every time someone blames Bush, it takes the focus off the real problem – the military/academic/industrial complex and Capitalism.