The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath

I strongly urge you to read the study with the above sub-title, mentioned in this post, a study which I think has been widely misinterpreted in the media and by the blogosphere. IMO the author of the paper, Joseph Collins, does an excellent job of laying out the institutional failures that have brought us to where we are now. Here’s a snippet that caught my eye:

In May 2003, war A was ending, but war B was about to begin. We had a complex, flexible plan for war A but no such plan for war B. War A was a rapid, high-tech, conventional battle, war American style, but war B was a protracted conflict, an insurgency with high levels of criminality and sustained sectarian violence, just the sort of ambiguous, asymmetric conflict that the American public finds hard to understand and even harder to endure. The military had not prepared for insurgency and took more than a year to adjust well in the field. From 2005 on, although short of troops, our Soldiers and Marines did a much better job in dealing with the insurgency and laid the security groundwork for successful nationwide elections and the further development of Iraqi security forces. The flare in sectarian violence in 2006 cast a pall over military efforts until the start of the surge in spring 2007. Political development and progress continue to lag behind military efforts.

which jibes nicely with Rusty Shackleford’s observations about “two wars”.

There’s plenty of criticism for specific individuals including then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer but I think the study’s focus is that institutional failures have been the primary source of problems. Among those institutions I’d include not only the White House and the Pentagon but the Congress.

I also wonder if others will read the study as I have? I think that Gen. Jay Garner comes off very well in the description of the aftermath of the invasion, in fact something of a hero.

While we’re on the subject of Iraq, you might want to read Col. Pat Lang’s status report on Iraq, which I humbly note dovetails pretty closely with my own. He concludes his summary:

Bottom line, “there will be blood,” but not as much as there used to be.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Iraq War, , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Hal says:

    So what’s your conclusion here, Dave? That it was a splendid war marred only by incompetence and we need to give it another 5 years, 4K bodies of our soldiers, 30K wounded with a chaser of another 2 or 3 trillion dollars? Or what? You haven’t actually *said* anything about this or given your interpretation other than “it’s been widely misinterpreted”, the implication being that those on the left are the one’s doing so.

    I’m sorry Dave, but this is pretty much nothing. Lot’s of innuendo and weasel words, but no – you know – actual putting your own stake in the ground. That’s cool for striking the centrist pose that you can portray as anything you like, depending on which way the winds end up blowing the strongest, but I was actually looking for more from you. Some actual opinions.

  2. Hal says:

    Okay, after reading this thoroughly, I don’t find where the media and the left wildly misinterpreted this. Perhaps, rather than just stating it, you could lead us through the delusions?

    And WRT Pat Lang’s post, I guess I can take this as your position as well?

    The US continues to insist that its chosen Iraqi faction has already achieved the status of “legitimacy” in the eyes of “the Iraqi people.” No. It has not, but, you never know, this might work if we stick with that idea for enough years. McCain would give us the chance to find out if that is possible.

    Stick with that idea for “enough” years. So I guess we can assume you’re in the camp which believes we have several more years ahead of the same troop levels, same rate of troops dying and injured, and same rate of cash flow? Is it fair to conclude that’s your position?

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Hal, I’ve been repeatedly extremely clear about my opinion on this subject. I opposed the invasion of Iraq—thought it was ill-considered. That’s not to defend Saddam Hussein or say that liberal democracy isn’t a good thing or that the Iraqis can’t handle liberal democracy. I thought Saddam Hussein was a monster; I think liberal democracy is a good thing; I don’t know enough to say whether the Iraqis can handle liberal democracy.

    I don’t kid myself into thinking that my preference, not invading Iraq, would have been without cost. We were already bearing considerable costs in containing Saddam, e.g. maintaining the northern and southern no-fly zones and the troops we had garrisoned in the KSA. I think that continuing to contain Saddam would have borne higher costs than had been borne to date.

    I didn’t get my preference then and I don’t have the opportunity to change that now. You can’t unbreak an egg. I think that maintaining a substantial number of troops in Iraq is probably less costly to the troops themselves, to the rest of us, and to the Iraqi people than withdrawing them before Iraq is more stable than it is now would be.

    How many? I have no idea. Probably fewer than are there now but more than a token force.

    Which way the wind blows? I opposed the war in 2001 and 2002 and continue to think it was a bad idea; I’ve thought the same about staying since 2003. That charge is baseless.

    Splendid war? I don’t think any was is splendid. Nor do I think that the war would end if we withdrew. If I did, I’d favor withdrawing.

    Hal, it’s completely unnecessary for you to insult me every time you comment on one of my posts. I’m a reasonable person and try to respond reasonably to everybody. If the only weapon you have in your arsenal is ad hominem, sheathe it.

  4. Hal says:

    Dave, again, this is not the point. I was asking what your conclusions were WRT this particular article. I was specifically referring to what you referred to as the “misinterpretations”.

    Now wrt your whining, I really don’t see any ad hominem. I know that term is great to throw around, but really Dave, where have I attacked you as a person? Your two posts on this article haven’t drawn any conclusions. The term “weasel words” is widely known not to actually imply that you’re a weasel. Rather it means that you’re not willing to come down and make actual declarative statements such that someone can actually see where you stand on the issue. And again, that issue isn’t the war per se, but rather the article which you’ve implied has been misinterpreted. You can throw your arm over your forehead and faint, but really Dave, ad hominem actually requires attacks on the person, not on their actions and I was clearly and most certainly criticizing your actions. Ad hominem would be calling your argument stupid because I didn’t like your hair or that I thought smelled funny.

    Rather, I complained about the lack of any definable positions, any actual opinions. You claimed it was widely misinterpreted. Again, where? How? What did this article say in your reading that damns these others for their reading ability and obvious partisan interpretation that you are implying sways their views? If you want to walk the thin line in the middle on everything, then that’s your choice. A strategy of opaqueness is useful to obscure such that one never has to really stake out a position clearly. But to claim that someone criticizing it is using an ad hominem is just trying to poison the well, so to speak.

    And again, I’m not talking about your position vis a vis the *war* and it’s aftermath. I’m talking about this article and what you think it says that everyone else misinterpreted.

    The last bit wrt Pat Lang in my second comment actually was about this position, but that wasn’t my first comment and clearly the comment you are getting yourself into a fainting spell over.

    The victim pose isn’t flattering, Dave.

  5. anjin-san says:

    I think that continuing to contain Saddam would have borne higher costs than had been borne to date.

    Could you elaborate on this? It seems to me that the cost of maintaining the no fly zone and maintaining a garrison are trivial compared to what we are paying now.

    Pres. GHW Bush dealt with Saddam very effectively. His fangs were pulled. We had widespread international support. In other words, the Iraq situation was under control before Bush, Cheney and company decided to become conquerers.

  6. Hal says:

    It seems to me that the cost of maintaining the no fly zone and maintaining a garrison are trivial compared to what we are paying now.

    Yea, that’s something I’m eternally curious about, too, but have never gotten anything from people when they make that claim.

    BTW, there’s an interesting piece in by Steve Simon in Foreign Affairs people might be interested in: The Price of the Surge

    At this stage, the United States has no good option in Iraq. But the drawbacks and dangers of the current bottom-up approach demand a change of course. The only alternative is a return to a top-down strategy. To be more effective this time around, Washington must return to the kind of diplomacy that the Bush administration has largely neglected. Even with 160,000 troops in Iraq, Washington lacks the leverage on its own to push the Maliki government to take meaningful steps to accommodate Sunni concerns and thereby empower Sunni moderates. (The legislative package and the de-Baathification reform law passed earlier this year were seriously flawed and did more to spur the Sunnis’ anxieties than redress their grievances.) What the United States could not do unilaterally, it must try to do with others, including neighboring countries, European allies, and the United Nations (UN).

    In order to attain that kind of cooperation, Washington must make a public commitment to a phased withdrawal. Cooperation from surrounding countries and European partners is unlikely to be forthcoming without a corresponding U.S. readiness to cede a degree of the dubious control it now has over events in Iraq. Currently, the dominant U.S. presence in Iraq allows the rest of the world to avoid responsibility for stability in and around Iraq even as everyone realizes the stakes involved. A plan to draw down U.S. forces would therefore contribute to the success of a larger diplomatic strategy, prompting Middle Eastern states, European governments, and the UN to be more constructive and proactive in working to salvage stability in the Persian Gulf.

    The point, therefore, is not to focus on the precise speed and choreography of a troop withdrawal. Rather, what is necessary is to make clear that the United States intends to withdraw. Should the Bush administration suspend the currently programmed withdrawals of the surge force, it would send precisely the opposite message. President Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and General Petraeus have all signaled their interest in halting any further drawdowns after the last surge brigade has come home this summer. Petraeus, who has already begun to lay out his case in interviews, argues that “the key is to hang on to what you’ve got.” The president has suggested that he is unwilling to withdraw additional troops until after the Iraqi provincial elections — which, although originally scheduled for October, could very well be delayed. It is therefore possible that the next U.S. president will have to decide what to do with approximately 140,000 troops, a considerably larger number than most observers assumed would still be on the ground in Iraq at the end of 2008. (Some consideration will also have to be given to the problem of removing 56,000 contractors and facilitating the departure of a segment of the 30,000-50,000 Iraqi and foreign workers supporting the U.S. presence.)

    It really is a pity that the only rejoinder to a phased withdrawl as a strategy to put pressure on Malaki is that we’re Cutting and Running(tm) rather than an actual strategy that clearly has advantages over the current string of failed strategies over the last five years.

    Would be nice to have a debate over the actual merits of such a plan rather than simply the catcalls from the war supporters.

  7. davod says:

    “Pres. GHW Bush dealt with Saddam very effectively. His fangs were pulled. We had widespread international support. In other words, the Iraq situation was under control before Bush, Cheney and company decided to become conquerers.”

    Widespread international support? The no-fly zone was considered illegal by a large number of countries. The oil for food program (such as ot was with so much graft going to the regime) was considered by many to be the cause of bay deaths and widespread famine.

    I doubt whether either program would have lasted much longer.

  8. davod says:

    Sorry –

    “such as it was, with so much graft going to the regime) was considered by many to be the cause of baby deaths and widespread famine.”