Who Lost Iraq?

Who Lost Iraq?


Just a flesh wound.

From the McClatchy newspapers:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Bush administration’s decision to move thousands of U.S. soldiers into Baghdad to quell sectarian warfare before it explodes into outright civil war underscores a problem that’s hindered the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq from the beginning: There aren’t enough troops to do the job.

Many U.S. officials in Baghdad and in Washington privately concede the point. They say they’ve been forced to shuffle U.S. units from one part of the country to another for at least two years because there haven’t been enough soldiers and Marines to deal simultaneously with Sunni Muslim insurgents and Shiite militias; train Iraqi forces; and secure roads, power lines, border crossings and ammunition dumps.

From Time Magazine’s Joe Klein:

“We have been pointed toward civil war since the new Iraqi constitution was approved last October and reinforced in the December elections,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told me last week. “The Sunnis have united behind the insurgency because they don’t believe the Shi’ites will give them a fair deal.” In recent months, according to U.S. intelligence sources, the Saudis and Jordanians, who are predominantly Sunni, have quietly moved to support the insurgency with money and intelligence, fearing that Shi’ite Iran will dominate the new Iraqi government if the U.S. decides to leave.

“They absolutely think we’re leaving,” said retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. “This is what happened in Afghanistan when it became clear the Russians were leaving. The factions began fighting each other.” Afghanistan is instructive: civil war led to the Taliban government; the Taliban provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda; and you know the rest. A U.S. skedaddle from Iraq would probably lead to far worse consequences, given Iraq’s strategic location and potential oil wealth. So what do we do now? I asked six leading U.S. military strategists, four of them on active duty, and the despair was universal.

Why are we in this condition? The main culprit is self-evident: the criminally incompetent Bush administration. But in political terms the Bush administration is already past tense. Mr. Bush has left his stain on American history and now we’re moving into a post-Bush world.

In the post-Bush environment who will take the blame for losing Iraq?

There are two scapegoats up for consideration by a Right wing that has no choice but to try and spread the blame for this fiasco around:

1) The media.
2) The Democrats.

Not at all surprisingly there is a major push on by the conservative blogosphere to blame the Media and their supposed dupes, the Left. At least a year ago prominent pro-war bloggers began what seemed to me a doomed effort to blame the media.

The main line of attack — and it seems even more bizarre now — was that the media was hurting morale by failing to report the “good news” from Iraq. I ridiculed that then, and today I don’t even have to bother. That line of attack seems to have largely evaporated. No one who is not actively experiencing hallucinations can talk about the “good news” from Iraq. 100 Iraqis a day die in the chaos of Iraq, the equivalent of 1100 Americans a day. For us that would mean losing the entire population of Omaha or Miami between now and next year this time. How exactly do you put a silver lining on that? Remind people that Fort Lauderdale has a nice beach, too?

But still, the Denialist Right will blame the media because, they will say, without the media we would have convinced the Iraqis we were staying forever, not leaving, and thus the Iraqis would have behaved themselves. In other words, it was only because the media insisted on saying that an insurgency existed, and insisted on announcing that the insurgency was killing US troops that the insurgency the media reported on became an insurgency for the media to report on.

In this fascinating cause-effect reversal scenario media reporting on the insurgency and US casualties did not follow but rather preceded the insurgency and resulting deaths. And, once the media has caused the insurgency, the media should have refused to report on it for fear that the American people might not think things were going well. What with an insurgency and all.

Any attempt to blame the Democrats or the Left is equally absurd. Number of troop requests turned down because of Democratic opposition? Zero. Number of Defense budgets cut by Democrats? Zero. Number of times the Democrats have called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Zero. Impact of the Democratic party or the Left on the actual conduct of this war? Non-existent.

The Democrats are insulated from blame for the conduct of this war by their utter impotence. Everyone knows the Democrats did nothing. Nothing. Didn’t even try.

I have a third choice for supplemental scapegoat, if we’re in the market:

Uncritical supporters of this war.

I’m talking about the patriotic chest-thumpers, the shrill denouncers-of-traitors, the more-macho-than-thou bloggers who attacked every critic of this war, trashed generals and former officials, savaged pundits and ridiculed books that questioned the conduct of this monumental disaster in the making.

Setting aside issues of whether we should have fought this war to begin with, one thing has been clear for three years now: we didn’t have enough men in Iraq. WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. It has been as clear as a waving flag on a bright sunny day. Everyone knew it. Everyone saw it. It could hardly have been more obvious.

And this was something we could have fixed. We could have fixed this. Lots of things we couldn’t fix, but this we could have fixed.

But to the Denialists to say that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ was lese majeste against our Boy King and his All-Jester Court. Only traitors said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. Only naive fools who didn’t understand the oh-so-deep subtleties of the Rumsfeld reforms said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. Only the impatient, week-kneed sob-sisters said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ.

So month after month, and season after season, and year after year, we did nothing to address the fact that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. As former military officers, former secretaries of state, war hero Senators, and finally even Right-wing pundits said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ, our fool of a President and his imbecile Secretary of Defense were insulated, defended, protected from presure to do the right thing.

And now it is too late.

Now there is no chance of us putting significantly more men into Iraq. Now we’re running our overworked men back and forth across the country playing whack-a-mole while the Denialist Right calls for more patience. Patience and silence, silence and patience and acceptance and patience and shhhh, don’t criticize, let’s leave it all in the capable hands of good King George.

The United States has been incalculably weakened by this Iraq fiasco. The terrorists and Iran have been greatly strengthened. That’s what the Denialists have brought about. By pretending that day was night, and night day, they ennabled fools to continue making foolish decisions and hurt the country they claim to love.

Patriotism is not uncritical support for whatever man happens to be president. Patriotism is love for our country. Our president is not our country. Patriotism was trying to fix this fiasco, not ennabling it. In this case the critics were the patriots.

(Tip to Raw Story.)

(cross posted from Mighty Middle.)

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  • http://probligo.blogspot.com probligo

    I agree with your analysis, not necessarily with your conclusion.

    I personally believe that it would not have mattered how many men the US put into Iraq, or for how long, the result would have been the same.

    To look to just two factions is also simplistic.

    Iraq is in fact a three ring circus.

    In addition to the two that you mention, there are also the Kurds. The Kurds are in fact probably the most subtle, and in many respects also the most powerful of the three factions.

    The Shi’a / Sunni split is confusing, given that the various Iraqi “sides” are supported by Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, with informal attachments to AlQaeda and other less known power seekers.

    The Kurds have one objective. That objective goes outside of Iraq.


  • http://www.mightymiddle.com/ Michael Reynolds

    I don’t maintain that more troops would have necessarily ensured a happy outcome. It would have helped. It would have shortened the odds. You’re right about the Kurds, I think they have no interest in being part of Iraq.

    What I’m trying to get at with this post, and some previous ones, is the question of why we are fighting a war we define as vital, and then take actions which clearly signal that we lack seriousness. Have we forgotten what war is? Has the term been so overused as to become meaningless? Have we changed in some fundamental way so that the America of Hiroshima no longer exists? Was it propaganda all along, a lot of loud chest-beating without anyone meaning a word of it?

    I think we should make war only when the necessity is so great that we can justify any means to achieve victory. It’s what they tell cops: don’t unholster the gun unless you intend to shoot someone. Is Iraq that kind of war? If so then why aren’t more people angry that we’re losing it?

    There’s a disconnect here.

  • http://ronbeas2.blogspot.com Ron Beasley

    Another great analysis Michael although I agree with probiglo that more troops wouldn’t have changed things much. I think the Cheney/Bush cabal thought they could just put in a Washingtom friendly tyrrant who would hold the place together. Sistani didn’t buy it and it turned out their tyrrant of choice was working for Iran, at least part time.

  • Joshua

    Have we forgotten what war is? Has the term been so overused as to become meaningless?

    The “war on drugs”, anyone? (Speaking of quagmires…)

    Actually a big part of the problem may be most of us Americans have lived their entire lives knowing only “little” wars, and because we know that America is the only superpower and has won “big” wars (such as WWII) in the past, we intuitively expect these “little” wars to be cakewalks. Then when they turn out not to be so one-sided after all, we tend to put too much blame on our own side and not give enough credit to our enemies (the Viet Cong, the Somali warlords, and now both the Sunni and Shi’ite militias in Iraq) who have figured out how to level the battlefield.

  • Barrie Higgins

    Thomas E. Ricks is the Washington Post’s Pentagon correspondent whose new book, “FIASCO” is excellent for understanding how we lost the “war” in Iraq in the first year:
    No Plan for Phase IV: (mistakes in order of appearance)
    #1, Looting of government ministries and museums 133
    #2, Failing to secure weapons caches 146
    #3, Too few forces 147
    #4, Total dissolution of Iraq Army 158
    #5, and Baathist leadership 158
    #6, and national police force 161
    #7, No Iraqi government anytime soon 165
    #8, Jerry-rigged chain of command: Sanchez and Bremmer report to Rumsfeld
    #9, Hobo Saddam gets free dental check 264 (videotape courtesy of
    #10 Hard drive crash due to RIP/TOA 323
    #11 CPA all lit up at night 326
    #12 New Iraqi Army trained by contractors and National Guard 328
    #13 Pro-Iranian Shiites, fundamentalists, favored by Americans
    (Shiite”militias” and “fighters”)__ Anti-Iranian Sunnis, sectarians, not
    favored by Americans 428 (Sunni “insurgents” __”enemy”)
    #14 Containment continues, this time on the ground, ala Israel in Lebanon
    (And somewhere in there Abu Graib and other symptoms of mission ignorance.)
    Anyone who thinks the world hasn’t noticed the incompetence of Rumsfeld, Bremer and Sanchez, in the most important FIRST YEAR, is not capable of understanding much of anything.

  • Pug

    There are millions who will cling to the Ann Coulter explanation: “Things are going very well in Iraq and, if they aren’t, it is the fault of the traitorous liberals.”

    It’s all they know and all they have left.

  • DosPeros

    That is not all we have left Pug. We also have…the P-175 Polecat!!


    God Bless Lockheed Martin.

  • ES

    Will more troops help now? Probably not. But it could have well helped in the beginning of the conflict. As a poster has said above me, the number one reason for the fiasco is the looting that occured the weeks that followed the fall of the Ba’athist regime. That event nailed our proverbial feet to the ground and we have played catch up ever since.

    People forget the administration has tried almost everything to bolster troops up to the point a draft would have been called. People forget the privatized security firms over there doing business, and very good business that is drawing soldiers out of the military to get higher paying jobs doing the same exact thing they were doing for Uncle Sam a few months earlier. The security firms are also not part of the chain of command for the military – though we pay handsomely for their services, they are a force among themselves.

    I blame administration for not planning. I blame the 101st Fighting Keyboardists for their political covering fire by spreading the ‘truthiness’ of the administration’s talking point memos. I blame columnists and journalists (Bill Kristol, Judy whatever her name is, Charles Kratherhammer, Ann Coulter) for public deception with their hollow promises. Finally I blame the American public for sitting on the sideline and waiting for other people to do the dirty work for them – compare the X-generation folks to the men and women in 1941. The X-gen failed to live up to the earlier generation’s standard. In WW2, 25% of the population was in the war. Today, that number is somewhere around 0.1%.

  • http://beats40.blogspot.com/ Kevin

    ES, you make a great point on the amount of population commited to the war effort but I ask you, whose fault is that?

    After 9/11 the numbr of people joining the armed forces increased significantly just like in 1941. But there was no follow up call for more (unless you count army recruitment commercials). There was no message from the President saying we need all of you to make some small sacrifice to help this effort, we need more volunteers to win this struggle, etc. etc. Had this been done in 2001/2002, there would have been a lot more boots to put on the ground in 2003. Instead we were told to go out and spend and to not ask questions.

    So when you imply that Gen-X didn’t give a crap. I say yes, we were practically ordered by the government not to give a crap.

    P.s. I don’t know what the policy is around here on commenting in old posts but I had to go somewhere now that the Mighty Middle is closing up shop and ES made some intelligent comments that deserve a response.

  • ES

    Before I respond, I just wanted to say that I am a Gen-X person. I am also one of the older persons in this generational group.

    I agree with you, at least somewhat. The administration and Pentagon leadership have done a dis-service to the nation, especially when it became apparent more soldiers were needed and instead they chose to contract nearly everything out or putting reserve units on the front line nearly continuously.

    Back in 2001, it was chic to join the military. No doubt about it. Two and three years later, that was no longer the case – who in their right mind want to live in crap, be shot at, and then having to do it all over again in twelve months? The military has had a hard time meeting its recruiting goals for a couple of years now. They have over come that in one of three ways. One is to provide signing bonuses and retention bonuses (one state is giving $20,000 bonus, GI Bill, and forgiveness of student loans up to $20,000). Clearly unheard of for the military, but the $$$ is staggering in of itself. Second is to lower the number of recruits being looked to be brought in (just a numbers game in the beginning and horrible at the end). Third is to lower the bar of the recruits quality – the dreaded Category IV personnel (these are the ones who have tested on the apptitude somewhere between 10 and 30 percent). Historically, the military capped the Cat IV to 2% per year, but in the middle of 2005 the number was altered by the Pentagon to be increased up to 4%, and a few months later it was reported the numbers were actually creeping up to 20%. Congress though mandates by law the numbers never to go over 25% – but for all the talk of a volunteer force needed to do the complex tasks at hand these days, the use of Cat IV personnel just throws that argument out the window.

    In addition to that, the National Guard is the unsung hero in this whole episode. They are a reserve unit that is being treated as an active unit – and the rules for their deployment has just been altered once again to enable them to spend more time out in the field. No longer is it two of four years in the field, but now where it is two on, two off, and two on.

    On top of that, we have stop loss (a back entrance to a draft IMO). There is also direction provided by the Pentagon in April I believe to have a plan in place to call up recently retired military personnel under the age of 60. This call up of retired folks will most probably not be a general call-up, but one where people with specific job skills will be needed (in the first Gulf War, the physical assistants were called up in this manner).

    Granted the US Government should have done more to keep people being brought in, but I think their fear of a Vietnam backlash is too great for them. The recruiting numbers being spoken right now are somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand per year (off the cuff estimate) – with all I of the examples I have shown above, is it too much to ask for 20 to 40 thousand volunteers per year to make up the short fall? Can the public be called for this small sacrifice?

    Was the Government dishonest with the sacrifices needed to wage this event to a successful state? Most probably. That though does not let people back home off the hook. They made their own decisions to best serve this event in its own particular way – they went on oblivious to the events that were around them. They lost focus. They lost steadfastness. They went on to do what was best for them.

    With the expression of my point of view, and having volunteered to do two tours over the past four years, you can see that my anger at people back home fighting the ‘War of Ideas’ and providing ‘support for the troops’. Having people wrap themselves in the flag to support the troops is not volunteering to help the country – far too many people these days are following the steps of Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh than our fathers who actually did something for the country in her hour of need.

    “Forgive me Lord for the sins I have done and have left undone.”

  • http://beats40.blogspot.com/ Kevin

    “Granted the US Government should have done more to keep people being brought in, but I think their fear of a Vietnam backlash is too great for them.”

    ES, you just hit on my biggest beef with this administration. If Iraq is important, vitally important, a battle we must win, then wasn’t it worth risking a little more political capital to ensure victory?

    I think that even in 2003, it would have been possible to bring more people in. It would might have forced Bush to give up a couple of other sacred cows (tax-cuts, etc) but it could have been done.

    Now, it’s impossible, because who would want to join a battle when there’s still no commitment to winning and the administration still wont admit they goofed. I don’t like the idea of volunteering to be part of Bush’s political cover and I don’t like it when men and women like yourself are sent overseas by people who lack the courage of their convictions.

    As for your service, thank you.

  • Jason

    Well I think it’s good all our troops will be leaving Iraq in a next few weeks. At least one more dictator is gone and there seems to be more stability now. I think it is right to go now, let’s hope there does not start a civil war or that it turns into another hotbed for terrorists.