Monday, July 30, 2007

Success in Iraq

Several days ago, digby posted something along these lines: people who talk about how 'the president lost the Iraq war' or 'the democrats lost the Iraq war' or 'the media lost the Iraq war' are completely missing the truth, which is that from the beginning the war was doomed, being hubristic, illegal, insane, etc. I initially had a very strong response to this, which I have since reconsidered.

At first, my thought was that the concept of an aggressive war was illegal, and unjustified, and the intelligence used to promote it was fatally flawed, but the military plan could have been made to work. I remember when I was watching the TV coverage of the invasion, how they made this huge deal about how we had a revolutionary new way of waging war, officially dubbed 'Shock and Awe.' And as juvenile as that name is, it follows from the basic principle that we learned from Vietnam, which is if you're going to fight, use overwhelming force to crush the enemy as fast and decisively as possible. Don't pussyfoot around with slow escalations, and don't restrict the number of soldiers you bring in for political reasons. The way to win militarily is to use overwhelming force. Incidentally, this strategy can also help minimize infrastructure damage and civilian deaths, in theory; it's not guaranteed, but a short sharp battle has a chance of doing less damage than a prolonged campaign.

Looking at it now, it seems dreadfully ironic that the initial war, the one that was supposed to be over in just a few months, was planned with this strategy in mind, because obviously the occupation took zero notice of the information we took from Vietnam. In order to crush and hold a country the size of Iraq, if we wanted to follow the policy of overwhelming force, we needed something like 500,000 soldiers on the ground. If I recall correctly, proper counterinsurgency requires something like 1 soldier per 10 occupied civilians. What we had was much much less than that. Our invasion actually left a fair amount of Iraqi infrastructure- roads, electric grids, museums- intact, but it was destroyed in the aftermath when we eliminated the Iraqi government without replacing it with anything. The looting, as everyone knows, was horrific, and the state of lawlessness has continued to this day.

So when I first read digby's post, my thought was that if we had put as much thought into the occupation as we put into the invasion, if we had had 500,000+ troops and a high percentage of the soldiers on the ground were trained in the appropriate languages, if we had run the rebuilding efforts properly instead of corruptly, if we had policed the country instead of letting it fall into anarchy, if we had kept people secure from the beginning until there was a stable Iraqi government that could keep them secure, maybe we could have headed off the insurgency. If we had lived up to our rhetoric, maybe things would have turned out differently. But we didn't, and I guess we'll never know just how bad it didn't have to be.

After a lot of thought, though, I'm not so sure that anything we could have done would have made things turn out differently. Probably making and keeping the entire country safe, protecting people's ability to raise their kids and run their businesses and basically not turning the country into a wasteland would have made things somewhat better than they are... but I don't know that even that would be something that anyone could call a success.

I'm reading Tom Paine's Common Sense, and this quote struck me as rather appropriate:
I ask, hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and you yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not the judge of those who have. But if you have, and can still shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy the name husband, father, friend or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit of a sycophant.
So I think that if I can see how right Mr. Paine is when he says this about British abuse in the colonies, how can I expect the citizens of any country to love the United States when we come into their country and kill even one person and expect them to roll over and take it?

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