On Iraq, I was wrong and right, but mostly right

It is interesting to go back and look at my blog, along with conversations I have had online, prior to and during the war to see how my crystal ball was doing.

Where was I wrong? Well, so far at least the war with Iraq has gone quite well for our side in the military sense. The vaunted Republican Guard proved to be a weakling with one arm tied behind its back. Calling it a scared rabbit might be more accurate. Lots of Saddam Hussein’s most loyal troops simply left the combat field when the action got too tough and our bombs quickly obliterated many of the rest.

Overall Iraqis didn’t put up much of a defense against the American invasion. I was worried trying to take over Baghdad with its 7 million or so residents would prove to be a long and fought out guerrilla war. But we had overwhelming firepower on our side and most residents were too frightened to do much more than find a corner somewhere, hide, and pray to Allah for survival. I’m not complaining. A lot fewer people, including our soldiers, died because Iraqis didn’t have the stomach for much of a fight. But perhaps the real reason was that there is no nation called Iraq. Saddam forced one together but with Saddam gone maybe they realized they were just a large area of people of different ethnicities who didn’t much like each other and wanted it to stay that way.

Also, while things are still very tentative it looks like we might well be able to form an interim government in Iraq that actually commands some respect from its inhabitants. There are hopeful noises and Iraqis seem to understand they have to move on and establish a real government again. This is for the good. Perhaps, although the odds are against it, in the long term maybe a democratic government with staying power will emerge.

I missed some things entirely. The looting was entirely predictable but I never gave it much thought. The degree of looting shocked and horrified me. What does it say about a people that would loot their own museums of their national treasures and cart off even the wall receptacles as pillage? Was it a reaction to likely long term unemployment most Iraqis now faced? Did it mean that those calls to daily prayer and Iraqis prostrating themselves toward Mecca six times a day were insincere beliefs? Or was it just a wrenching poverty caused by years of sanctions, oppression and unemployment that caused people to go berserk?

Where was I right? Well, based on a month of so of searching, and based on interrogating those high level ex-Iraqi officials we could find, it appears that we aren’t going to find any weapons of mass destruction. Right now we are too busy celebrating our stunning victory to appreciate what this really means. The WMD issue was the reason that we went into Iraq in the first place. Or did you forget? The vitriol by the administration right before the invasion was amazingly high. According to our administration Iraq was on the brink of using these weapons against us therefore we had to invade in order to maintain a peaceful world. Iraq also probably had a nuclear weapons program and was close to developing a nuclear bomb.

All this appears to by hyperbolic piffle. In addition the links to al Qaeda were simply not there. That terrorist training camp in Northern Iraq, outside of Saddam’s control, was actively working to remove Saddam from power, not working with him to spread more terrorism. These Islamic fundamentalists were very upset that, among other things, in Saddam’s Iraq women had many more rights and could do things like attend universities. Clearly Saddam was an evil man, but there were some advantages for women and others because of his secular state.

In short the WMD as a catalyst for our engagement appears to be much ado about nothing. Either we knew these weapons likely did not exist and used them for a pretext for invasion, or our intelligence failure was immense. But also as I pointed out in my web log entry “Critical Thinking? Who needs it, we’ve got ideology!” all the conditions were ripe for a rush to judgment. We have an administration certain of what it believed and some disparities between the actual facts and their beliefs could easily be explained by their paranoia and ideology. Indeed before the war there were occasional articles indicating that the intelligence community couldn’t find the evidence on WMD, or links to al Qaeda that the Administration wanted. Colin Powell went before the Security Council and showed his proof. I heard from many a person I respect that this “proof” was concrete, reasonable and that perhaps there was something wrong with me for asking nagging questions about what was being presented. It is now clearer that I was likely right, and my critics were wrong. This “proof” was largely bogus and hearsay.

The international community was right on this one. That’s not to say that I think certain countries like France and Germany weren’t being unilateral and obstructionist trying to find common ground on Iraq. They clearly were, as was our own government. But the majority of the Security Council, looking at the evidence, looking at the assessment of Hans Blix and his team, aware that Saddam had hidden and obfuscated in the past, nonetheless seemed inclined to give the inspectors more time in the interest of peace. For reasons that don’t seem to be borne out by the facts we drew a line in the sand and let our hubris substitute for reasoned judgment.

Yes, it is good that Saddam is gone. It is entirely unclear whether we got our $90B initial down payment for this invasion. It hasn’t bought us any more national security because apparently there were no WMD. Nor were they likely to be used against us even if they had been found. We have succeeded in riling up the whole region. Our troops are being sniped at and in defending ourselves we are killing more Iraqis even though our war is supposed to be over. We can hope that our invasion doesn’t inspire more terrorism against us, but my view is that in the long term it will give those who might be inclined toward terrorism against us more reasons to give it a try. I don’t feel this helped our national security at all; it probably made it worse in the long run.

Why did we do it? I remain baffled by the whole thing. I just don’t understand why we went in there in the first place. Maybe it was about oil and American companies getting leverage in that region, although I personally doubt these conspiracy theories. If it was about getting rid of an evil and oppression then it is time to pack up our forces and move to plenty of other promising countries. A few that come to mind: Congo, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Belarus (and a number of former Soviet satellite states), Burma … and I am sure there are more. But don’t hold your breath. Whatever our real motivation was these countries don’t have the little trigger that will make us go after them. It’s just everyday and ordinary oppression and brutality in these countries. Ho hum.

As for our war on evil, Saddam is gone but clerics who seem to have the support of the people seem eager to turn Iraq into an Islamic republic. It seems you can’t get rid of evil by removing people. Maybe evil is not amenable to short-term solutions. God forbid, maybe we have to send in the Peace Corps instead of the Marines. I bet the Peace Corps can do the job for a lot less than $90B.

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