Why we went to war in Iraq

We all read all sorts of back-and-forth about Iraq. There are the coulda-woulda-shouldas of whether we should have gone in or not, how we could have managed things better after we got there (which we sure as anything coulda and shoulda, long before we finally implemented the Surge), and whether we should stay or not now (which, of course, we should).

But few couch the situation preceding the Iraq decision the way I remember it as clearly as Doug Feith's piece in The Wall Street Journal today.

What I remember is that we had an unsolved problem that needed solving. For 12 years Saddam had violated the terms under which we had stopped shooting in 1991. This was not a mere abstract problem, not a question of tidying up loose ends. As Feith writes, Iraq was shooting at U.S. and British pilots enforcing the No-Fly zone almost daily. Regime change had been, for good reason, the policy of this country since 1998 — but we hadn't figured out how to get it done.

Totally apart from the need to "drain swamps" in the Mideast, apart from whether Saddam still had the WMD we had already seen him use on his own people, this was the situation (and had been the situation ever since the first Bush administration):

    In the months before the 9/11 attack, Secretary of
State Colin Powell advocated diluting the multinational economic
sanctions, in the hope that a weaker set of sanctions could win
stronger and more sustained international support. Central Intelligence
Agency officials floated the possibility of a coup, though the 1990s
showed that Saddam was far better at undoing coup plots than the CIA
was at engineering them. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
asked if the U.S. might create an autonomous area in southern Iraq
similar to the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, with the goal of
making Saddam little more than the "mayor of Baghdad." U.S. officials
also discussed whether a popular uprising in Iraq should be encouraged,
and how we could best work with free Iraqi groups that opposed the
Saddam regime.

    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld worried
particularly about the U.S. and British pilots enforcing the no-fly
zones over northern and southern Iraq. Iraqi forces were shooting at
the U.S. and British aircraft virtually every day; if a plane went
down, the pilot would likely be killed or captured. What then? Mr.
Rumsfeld asked. Were the missions worth the risk? How might U.S. and
British responses be intensified to deter Saddam from shooting at our
planes? Would the intensification trigger a war? What would be the
consequences of cutting back on the missions, or ending them?

However wrong he'd later prove to be about how to conduct our operation in Iraq — and he was WAY wrong — Rumsfeld was at that time raising the right questions.

After 9/11, things changed — among them our willingness to let a problem such as this one fester. As Mr. Feith notes:

To contain the threat from Saddam, all reasonable means short of war had been tried unsuccessfully for a dozen years.
The U.S. did not rush to war. Working mainly through the U.N., we tried
a series of measures to contain the Iraqi threat: formal diplomatic
censure, weapons inspections, economic sanctions, no-fly zones,
no-drive zones and limited military strikes. A defiant Saddam, however,
dismantled the containment strategy and the U.N. Security Council had
no stomach to sustain its own resolutions, let alone compel Saddam's

You may remember it differently. But that's pretty much the way I remember it.

38 thoughts on “Why we went to war in Iraq

  1. bud

    Brad’s trying to rattle the lion’s cage with this one. All I’ll say for now it simply that Doug Feith is full of s***.

  2. Lee Muller

    Congress approved war with Iraq for President Clinton in 1998, and he immediately began a 70-day bombing campaign which dropped 80,000 tons of bombs on WMD sites.
    Two days before the invasion ordered by President Bush, the head of the UN weapons inspectors declared that Saddam had WMD, and for him to surrender them or face invasion. US forces captured 650,000 tons of Soviet bombs larger than 2,000 lbs, nerve gas, chlorine gas bombs, germ warfare bombs, ballistic missiles, mustard gas, Sarin gas warheads, and 2 hijacker training camps used by Al Qaeda.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Actually, my MAIN reason why we needed to go into Iraq was one of those I mentioned as an aside above — the "draining swamps" rationale. As I’ve said before, we did not take out Saddam in 1991 because our doctrine then was to preserve the status quo, and keep the oil flowing. But 9/11 taught us that the status quo in the region was unacceptably dangerous, and we needed to start toppling some dominoes

    But the substance of the Feith piece was the context within which I believed Iraq was the place to start the draining. Anyway, here’s what I wrote at the time (I referred to what Feith describes in the 10th paragraph of this piece):

    Published on: 02/02/2003
    Section: EDITORIAL
    Edition: FINAL
    Page: D2
    Editorial Page Editor
    AMERICA SEES ITSELF, quite admirably, as a nation that doesn’t go around starting fights, but is perfectly willing and able to end them once they start.
        Because of that, President Bush has a tall hill to climb when it comes to persuading the American people that, after 10 years of keeping Saddam Hussein in his box, we should now go in after him, guns blazing.
        In his State of the Union address, the president gave some pretty good reasons why we need to act in Iraq, but were they good enough? I don’t know. Probably not. It’s likely that no one outside of the choir loft was converted by his preaching on the subject. And that’s a problem. Overall, while there have been moments over the last 16 months when he has set out the situation with remarkable clarity, those times have been too few and far between.
        He has my sympathy on this count, though: His efforts have been hampered by the fact that the main reason we may need to invade Iraq is one that the president can’t state too clearly without creating more problems internationally than it would solve. At the same time, it’s a reason that seems so obvious that he shouldn’t have to state it. We should all be able to figure it out.
        And yet, it seems, we don’t.
        I hear people asking why, after all this time, we want to go after Saddam now. He was always a tyrant, so what’s changed? North Korea is probably closer to a nuclear bomb than he is, they say, so why not go after Kim Jong Il first?
        We left him in power a decade ago, they ask, so why the change?
        The answer to all of the above is: Sept. 11.
        Before that, U.S. policy-makers didn’t want to destabilize the status quo in the Mideast. What we learned on Sept. 11 is that the status quo in the region is unacceptable. It must change.
        Change has to start somewhere, and Iraq is the best place to insert the lever, for several reasons — geography, culture, demographics, but most of all because Saddam Hussein has given us all the justification we need to go in and take him out: We stopped shooting in 1991 because he agreed to certain terms, and he has repeatedly thumbed his nose at those agreements.
        Iraq may not be the best place in the world to try to nurture a liberal democracy, but it’s the best shot we have in the Mideast.
        I’m far from the only one saying this. The New York Times‘ Tom Friedman, who has more knowledge of the region in his mustache than I’ll ever have, has said it a number of times, most recently just last week:

        "What threatens Western societies today are not the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables — the boys who did 9/11, who hate us more than they love life. It’s these human missiles of mass destruction that could really destroy our open society. . . . If we don’t help transform these Arab states — which are also experiencing population explosions — to create better governance, to build more open and productive economies, to empower their women and to develop responsible news media that won’t blame all their ills on others, we will never begin to see the political, educational and religious reformations they need to shrink their output of undeterrables."

        Journalists can say these things, and some do. But if the president does, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Syrians and just about everybody else in the region will go nuts. In European capitals, and even in certain circles here at home, he will be denounced as the worst sort of imperialist. Osama bin Laden’s followers will seize upon such words as proof that the West has embarked upon another Crusade — not for Christ this time, but for secular Western culture.
        None of which changes the fact that the current state of affairs in Arab countries and Iran is a deadly threat to the United States. So we have to do something about it. We’ve seen what doing nothing gets us — Sept. 11. Action is very risky. But we’ve reached the point at which inaction is at least as dangerous.
        Should we go in as conquerors, lord it over the people of Iraq and force them to be like us? Absolutely not. It wouldn’t work, anyway. We have to create conditions under which Iraqis — all Iraqis, including women — can choose their own course. We did that in Germany and Japan, and it worked wonderfully (not that Iraq is Germany or Japan, but those are the examples at hand). And no one can say the Germans are under the American thumb.
        But that brings us to a problem. The recalcitrance of the Germans, the French and others undermines the international coalition that would be necessary to nation-building in Iraq. It causes another problem as well:
        Maybe we could accomplish our goal without invading Iraq — which of course would be preferable. By merely threatening to do so, we could embolden elements within the country to overthrow him, which might provide us with certain opportunities.
        But the irony is that people aren’t going to rise up against Saddam as long as Europeans and so many people in this country fail to support the president’s goal of going after him. As long as they see all this dissension, they’ll likely believe (rightly) that Saddam might just hang on yet again.
        If the United Nations, or at least the West, presented a united front, the possibility of Saddam collapsing without our firing a shot would be much greater. But for some reason, too many folks in Europe and in this country don’t see that. Or just don’t want to.
        Maybe somebody should point it out to them.
    Write to Mr. Warthen at P.O. Box 1333, Columbia, S.C. 29202, or bwarthen@thestate.com.

  4. Herb Brasher

    A professor at Yale, evangelical Christian, and person with an inside knowledge of Islam and Islamic countries, , Joseph Cumming, writes the following

    That is, if we wish to consider these questions in an authentically Christian way, then we must listen to the voices of believers in Christ from other nations – especially believers in the Middle East and in other Islamic nations. The effect of the Iraq war on Christians in Islamic nations has been little short of disastrous. Muslims widely consider the war to have been a “Christian” war against Islam, and local Christians have borne the brunt of the resultant Muslim hostility. Persecution of Christians has increased almost everywhere in the Muslim world, and foreign Christian workers have been driven from a number of Muslim countries by expulsion, murder or credible death threats.

    The problem with American attempts at nation building and exportation of our version of democracy is the naïve assumption that other cultures want it. They may be intrigued with some of the outward trappings, but that is not the same thing.
    Brad is an intelligent man, but his understanding of American involvement in the Middle East is too much colored by his military background and assumptions about the rest of the world, rather than acquaintance with it. See Rory Stewart’s Prince of the Marshes for a more realistic appraisal of nation building there.
    Europeans were not famous about getting involved in Iraq, that is certainly true. But there may be more reason to that than meets the American eye. (And is not part of our responsibility that of sizing up the ability of a needed coalition to help us, and a realistic understanding that we cannot and should not “go it alone?” Is there a “John Wayne” macho sense that we have to do it, even if the rest of the world won’t?)
    I remember in the 1960s a cartoon of Lyndon Johnson, dressed in armor, sitting aside a huge dragon labeled “Southeast Asia.” I fear we have been attempting something in Iraq that is just as short-sighted, and for which we too often lack the necessary background. No one I am aware of who has an intimate knowledge of the Middle East was enthusiastic about the prospect of toppling Saddam, evil as he was, and the work thereafter.
    I am not very courageous about writing this with my name attached to it. I have friends whose sons are laying their lives on the line in Iraq and elsewhere, and these words can be misconstrued as haughty and disdainful of their sacrifice. I don’t want that. I pray regularly, and fervently (and I am not flippant when I write that) for these friends and their children in combat. But I hope to appeal at least to some, especially evangelical Christians like myself, as the Good Book says, “with many counselors plans succeed.” I may be wrong, but I fear that Americans tend to listen only to those they want to hear.

  5. bud

    This is so infuriating to read all this utter nonsense. We went into Iraq because the president and his minions portrayed the country as a threat to security of the American people and to it’s surrounding neighbors. That was a lie, plain and simple. The Chief UN inspector did not believe at that time that the Iraqi’s were the threat the administration portrayed them to be. The administration knew, at the time of the invasion, that his justification was flimsy.
    And the result? Over 1 million Iraqi’s slaughtered. Millions more displaced. The fincancial cost to the U.S. is $3 trillion and counting. Over 4,100 American soldiers along with hundreds of journalists, contractors and security personal killed along with 30,000 wounded and many tens of thousands mentally scared for life.
    And for what? So we can build military bases there to stay for 100 years. So we can ensure American oil companies can have no-bid contracts on lucrative oil rights. And the killing goes on, albeit at a lower level. Given the shear animous we’ve engendered from this disaster it’s unlikely that we’ll ever achieve any kind of stability in the Middle-East. We’ve just simply blown any hope of securing the good-will of the people in that region. We’ll be stuck with a simmering level of terrorist attacks for generations to come.
    And to further show how much of a disaster this is just check out the price of gasoline and the ongoing housing slump. Both situations were greatly exacerbated by the shear waste of manpower and money squandered on this “swamp draining” misadventure. The whole thing just makes me sick. Defending this catastrophe is just an exercise in fantasy. We’re much worse off for it thanks to the enablers and history revisionists like Brad. And the legacy of George W. Bush is likely to be one of ridicule and shame. And the SOB has earned every bit of it.

  6. Mike Cakora

    Bud –
    Sorry you’re sick, but your allegations are not based in reality. Brad’s provided contemporaneous citations of the move to war, and Doug Feith’s book, War and Decision could just as well be called “War and Paperwork” according to the Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier:

    War and Decision? This book might better have been called “War and Paperwork.”
    That’s not meant as a criticism so much as a heads-up for the general reader. Douglas Feith’s inside account of his years in President Bush’s Pentagon is light on anecdotes about dramatic table-pounding (though it does have Gen. Tommy Franks hissing “Doug, I don’t have time for this [expletive deleted].”). But it’s replete with descriptions of meetings and quotations from memos and summaries of policies submitted for presidential approval.
    So is it boring? Not for anyone who wants to understand the origins of the current US predicament in Iraq. Feith, as undersecretary of Defense for policy, played an important role in the development of post-9/11 US national security policy. In this book, he says that his goal is to counter the now-common narrative of a reckless administration that twisted intelligence and was bent from the start on war with Saddam Hussein.

    I got the book for Father’s Day and highly recommend it and the treasure trove of documents at Feith’s site.
    As for the 100 years, I can’t help but think that too many folks on the left wish that we’d repeat the Viet Nam surrender and just pull out with no thought of the future. When our forces stick around like we have in the Balkans, in Germany, Japan, and Korea, we give hope and time for change. Heck, it looks like even Obama’s coming around to that view.

  7. Mike Cakora

    Herb –
    Cumming’s piece is a straightforward expression of how religious folks can and should try to influence a secular government as he argues that the war should not have been started. Thanks for linking to it.
    But an executive can’t let a possible or even probably reaction prevent him from taking actions he considers necessary. Planning should incorporate whatever degree of mitigation may be possible, but when the boss says “Go,” you go.
    You have to admit that Islamic extremists of both stripes do engage in killing their opponents just because they are Shia, Sunni, Hindu, Jew, Christian, or just non-Muslim. Extremists need no other reason even while they cite the presence of US troops in Arabia or the occupation of Andalusia as the cause of a particular attack. Moreover, the frequency of Jihadi attacks in Thailand or on Hindus in India has nothing to do with the Christian Crusade the US is allegedly waging in Iraq.
    As for attacks on Christians, with the current shortage of Jews in majority Muslim nations, from the Jihadi viewpoint Christians are a good substitute, no? They are infidels even though they don’t belong to the old-time religion.
    Finally, doesn’t seem that the Iraqis are starting to get this politics thing? They don’t have a US-style system — they went metric with a parliament and all — but even the Sunnis have found Maliki to be a reasonable guy. I have no doubt that they’ll soon be as corrupt and autocratic as their fellow parliamentarians in the EU.

  8. Herb Brasher

    The subject is huge, and I don’t have much time, so just some brief considerations from my point of view, as I understand it:
    1) I would have thought that after Vietnam and the loss of 58,000 soldiers for –what purpose? — that our executive would be very, very careful before committing the military to battle, and clear about its purposes, and clear about what a military force can do, and what it can’t.
    2) Even if we believe that a military force can do nation building, the cost of that and the sacrifice involved needs to be carefully considered and communicated.
    3) I might add the cost involved in terms of local population. We scoff at the Europeans for being reluctant to go to war. I have lived among and talked with these Europeans for three decades, and I know that you know that when you have seen war first hand, and your own country has been leveled to the ground, and most of your male relatives either did not return home, or came back after ten years in a prison camp–you look at war differently after that. We seem to go to war rather quickly, and are even impressed with our ability to wage it–shock and awe–but for those whose home are blasted to smithereens, well, the shock is a bit different. Europeans have reasons for not being enamored with the military’s ability to blast people into eternity.
    3) Saddam, as evil as he was, provided a secular “plug” that stopped the various religious forces in the region. Saddam cared nothing for religion, he cared only for himself. But for that reason, Iraqi Christians enjoyed a measure of religious freedom, because extremist Muslim forces were held in check. We did not remove Stalin from power, as evil as he was. Why do we always have to want to create the happy Hollywood ending?
    I wish we had ministers of state now with the wisdom of a George Marshall or a John Foster Dulles; instead we seem to have John Wayne shooting up the corral.
    4) Muslims all over the world are affected by what is perceived as our Christian “crusade.” I’m not sure what you mean by referring to “substitutes.” We aren’t substitutes–we started a war with an Islamic leader, and that is perceived as a war against Islam all over the globe. Granted, it might sometimes be necessary to do what we did–I’m not advocating isolationism, but could we not just be a little more patient before doing it, especially with regard to the global cost involved?

  9. Mike Cakora

    Herb –
    We wuz contenders, we could have supported the South Vietnamese in securing their nation — the army was doing quite well, but Congress cut off the funds, withdrew remaining forces, and all we got was a T-shirt with this picture and the caption “SouthEast Asia Games, 1963 – 1975, Second Place!”.
    The Europeans are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They are committing cultural suicide through low birth rates. Their overregulated economies cannot generate enough jobs to provide work for even their native-born, never mind the streams of immigrants who subsist through the generosity of a public dole funded through the growing theft from those who work hard and succeed. Church attendance is way down and the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that Sharia would be a good thing in the UK. As the cultures crumble and the lessons of the Enlightenment darken, what occupies the political class and society elites is the dream of a a politically united Europe, even though voters reject it every time it’s on the ballot. By 2025 Notre Dame de Paris will be a mosque, to the applause of the nation.
    I frankly don’t much care what Muslims all over the world think as long as they respect our nation’s sovereignty and our citizens’ rights. Anti-Americanism is not only overstated, it’s a disease of the demented, usually elites, who don’t understand that liberty is more important than the security of a sinecure. Our law and customs don’t recognize hereditary castes, class, or royalty except in the northeast. Folks from all over the world want to become Americans, are enthralled by the notion of this noble experiment, even though many of us seem to have forgotten how unique in the world we are. Sadly, as the globo-warmists drive us to the dark ages, the presumed presidential nominee of one of our two great political parties gets applause for his plan to introduce serfdom in America.
    Have a happy Fourth while I enjoy a well-aged fifth.

  10. Michael Rodgers

    First, as described in slate, Doug Feith gets the blame for a lot of problems, and General Tommy Franks doesn’t think too highly of Doug Feith’s intelligence.
    Second, you wrote, “We’ve seen what doing nothing gets us — Sept. 11.” That’s exactly the problem described by Richard Clarke. We didn’t try hard enough to stop 9/11.
    In fact, Doug Feith confirms this fact in his WSJ piece. He said, “On July 27, 2001, Mr. Rumsfeld sent a memo to Mr. Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney that reviewed U.S. options [on Iraq].” They’re too busy focusing on Saddam Hussein that they’re ignoring Osama bin Laden!
    Third, one way people have talked about getting out of Iraq is to set up three semi-autonomous zones (The Biden-Brownback Partition Plan). Feith wrote in his WSJ piece that prior to 9/11, “Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz asked if the U.S. might create an autonomous area in southern Iraq similar to the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, with the goal of making Saddam little more than the ‘mayor of Baghdad.’
    Rumsfeld and Bush rejected that three zone (north, south, Baghdad) plan and decided to invade instead. So, when we invaded, we went into Iraq after Bush and Rumsfeld threw out the only exit plan we ever came up with. (Note: Bush also rejected the second exit plan, the Baker-Hamilton plan, which was delivered to him in Dec 2006).
    Fourth, after 9/11, the world was on our side and ready to strenghten the United Nations actions against Saddam Hussein. Doug Feith’s comment that “the U.N. Security Council had no stomach to sustain its own resolutions, let alone compel Saddam’s compliance” reflects a pre- 9/11 mindset!
    Fifth, Doug Feith wrote, “The CIA was wrong in saying just before the war that his nuclear program was active; but Iraq appears to have been in a position to make a nuclear weapon in less than a year if it purchased fissile material from a supplier such as North Korea.” That’s why Bush should have stepped up negotiation with North Korea then, in 2003, instead of going to war with Iraq. If North Korea is the place to obtain nuclear material, then we need to stop shipments at their source.
    Supposedly, Syria obtained some nuclear material from North Korea and Israel blew it up. My point is that if North Korea wants to give away nuclear material, then they can easily find someone who wants it. Invading Iraq in no way stopped North Korea from giving nuclear material to dangerous persons.
    Finally, Doug Feith wrote, in italics, “America after 9/11 had a lower tolerance for such dangers.” This is just too rich. Because Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and Feith failed to protect us from terrorism, they should get permission and approval to invade Iraq, since, they argue, invading Iraq will make us less likely to be attacked again by terrorists? Ridiculous.
    They failed at protecting us, and so they should bring in some new people, change their ways, and redouble their efforts on protecting us from terrorism. They should not use the same people and the same ways and completely change the focus from terrorism to Iraq. Fighting terrorism makes us safer. Making war in Iraq does not.
    In conclusion, the Iraq war was a war of choice, and we chose to invade with no plan whatsoever about what we could reasonably accomplish and about when we would know if we had accomplished it. Everything that we could reasonably accomplish in Iraq could have been done better by working through the UN, with the world on our side. And we could and should have used all our efforts to fight Osama bin Laden and the terrorists and to stop North Korea from shipping any nuclear material.

  11. Herb Brasher

    As long as Americans have a world role, they might as well learn to build relationships. One can save oneself a whole lot of trouble by taking the time and effort to understand other people–honor & shame cultures are a good place to start. Alternatively, we can just walk into the saloon and start shooting it up. . . .
    Have a happy 4th and 5th, but don’t overdo the fifth.

  12. Phillip

    Well, I didn’t think Brad would open this can of worms up one more time, knowing as he had to that all of us “usual suspects” (Bud, me, Mike C, Lee, Herb, et al) would have to find yet another way to say what we’ve all said all along.
    All right, I’ll play. Folks, let me just point your attention to a couple of phrases that have appeared above, let’s all read these very carefully and think about their implications:
    “But 9/11 taught us that the status quo in the region was unacceptably dangerous, and we needed to start toppling some dominoes” said Brad. (Interesting choice of words for someone who still supports a generally discredited war that was supposed to STOP another ideology from “toppling dominoes.”) But the main point is that Brad, like Bush and others, were looking at the wrong dominoes. Or rather, they succumbed to the Americo-centric myopia that said, all these Arab-types are basically alike in that they are a pain in America’s side, ergo, Al-Qaeda=Baathists=Iran, etc. etc. Few stopped to realize that Iran was a greater threat than Saddam OR Al-Qaeda and that invading Iraq would strengthen their hand.
    Did anybody that NOT ONCE in Brad’s post, or anywhere in his old column he quoted, did the words “Israel” or “Palestinians” appear?
    Finally, Mike defends the American experiment and reminds us “many of us seem to have forgotten how unique in the world we are.” Well, “WE” in the sense of the American national concept, yes I’d agree with that. But this phrase has often become dangerously twisted to mean, “we” Americans as individual human beings are unique and perhaps more worthy humans than others in the world. This is the viewpoint that leads to American arrogance and belief that other peoples of the world exist for us to toy around with in order to set up the world to our greatest benefit.
    Thanks Bud, Herb, Michael Rodgers, etc., for your thoughtful words on this subject. And in the end…Iraq is still way up in the air, Iran is more powerful than ever, there’s been little progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and, oh yeah, Osama Bin Laden is still out there.
    With foreign policy “successes” like this, who needs enemies?

  13. Phillip

    Well, I didn’t think Brad would open this can of worms up one more time, knowing as he had to that all of us “usual suspects” (Bud, me, Mike C, Lee, Herb, et al) would have to find yet another way to say what we’ve all said all along.
    All right, I’ll play. Folks, let me just point your attention to a couple of phrases that have appeared above, let’s all read these very carefully and think about their implications:
    “But 9/11 taught us that the status quo in the region was unacceptably dangerous, and we needed to start toppling some dominoes” said Brad. (Interesting choice of words for someone who still supports a generally discredited war that was supposed to STOP another ideology from “toppling dominoes.”) But the main point is that Brad, like Bush and others, were looking at the wrong dominoes. Or rather, they succumbed to the Americo-centric myopia that said, all these Arab-types are basically alike in that they are a pain in America’s side, ergo, Al-Qaeda=Baathists=Iran, etc. etc. Few stopped to realize that Iran was a greater threat than Saddam OR Al-Qaeda and that invading Iraq would strengthen their hand.
    Did anybody that NOT ONCE in Brad’s post, or anywhere in his old column he quoted, did the words “Israel” or “Palestinians” appear?
    Finally, Mike defends the American experiment and reminds us “many of us seem to have forgotten how unique in the world we are.” Well, “WE” in the sense of the American national concept, yes I’d agree with that. But this phrase has often become dangerously twisted to mean, “we” Americans as individual human beings are unique and perhaps more worthy humans than others in the world. This is the viewpoint that leads to American arrogance and belief that other peoples of the world exist for us to toy around with in order to set up the world to our greatest benefit.
    Thanks Bud, Herb, Michael Rodgers, etc., for your thoughtful words on this subject. And in the end…Iraq is still way up in the air, Iran is more powerful than ever, there’s been little progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and, oh yeah, Osama Bin Laden is still out there.
    With foreign policy “successes” like this, who needs enemies?

  14. Michael Rodgers

    Bush doesn’t understand that some things are hard. And so, his demands and plans that he thinks can happen — that he can accomplish — are so completely unrealistic.
    For example, he wanted Congress to solve our energy problems before July 4. Here’s what Tom Friedman said,
    “He [a real president who leads, unlike Mr. Bush] certainly wouldn’t be using his last days in office to threaten Congressional Democrats that if they don’t approve offshore drilling by the Fourth of July recess, they will be blamed for $4-a-gallon gas. That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.”
    For another example, he wants to solve the Israel-Palestine problem before he leaves office. Joel Greenberg, the Chicago Tribune’s Israel correspondent, said in January 2008, “There is a disconnect between Bush’s public remarks and the mood on the street in Jerusalem or Ramallah. There is deep skepticism that the problems dividing the Israelis and Palestinians can be resolved in the year. The question is whether Bush appreciates the extent of the issues.”
    We need a president who can appreciate the extent of the issues that face him. We need a president who can lead and who has good judgment. We need Barack Obama in the White House. January 2009 will come not a moment too soon.

  15. Brad's Mother

    Bush Administration officials said 10,000 times that we had to invade Iraq to secure the vast collection of WMD’s that Saddam possessed (which did not exist).
    Don’t be cute Brad and try to cloud the issue. Remember the cakewalk, being greeted with flowers and candy, shock and awe, and “Mission Accomplished.”
    Go back to your race-baiting Brad, put on your hood, and write another article about Obama’s Christian preacher.

  16. bud

    As for the 100 years, I can’t help but think that too many folks on the left wish that we’d repeat the Viet Nam surrender and just pull out with no thought of the future.
    Talk about your revisionist history. Come on Mike, at least try to get it halfway right. We didn’t surrender in Vietnam so much as we decided the continued carnage just wasn’t worth the price. AND IT WASN’T. We lost the war but won the peace. Vietnam is not threat to us. There were not dominos. So spare us this revised veiw of historical events. Vietnam was a disaster, just as Iraq is. We may flounder around in Iraq for 20 years or more and then come home. And the world will not have been better a better place because of our meddling. It’s a shame when people can’t acknowledge the obvious cost of this misadventure. As our indebtiness grows and our economy sinks under the weight of this mess it would be nice for someone to say enough is enough. Hopefully Obama will be that man.

  17. Mike Cakora

    Few apparently appreciate all the activities our foreign policy establishment is capable of managing simultaneously and engage in wanton sharp-shooting at alleged oversights and omissions.
    Our activities with the NorKs have of good examples on how Bush corralled enough countries to put pressure on Mr. Ronrey. The unilateral Bush announced the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in May, 2003, a joint effort aimed at stopping the proliferation of WMD. The evil John Bolton, then the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, cobbled together a ragged starting team of second-rate powers like Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK. Within months this gang was seizing equipment and materials that fed the NorKs’ WMD programs.
    It was a PSI task force in October 2003 that intercepted of a ship bound for Libya with a cargo of Pakistani-designed centrifuge parts manufactured in Malaysia too. One result was that Qadhdhafi decided to dismantle his nuke program. There are more, but my point is that the hated Bush used diplomacy with other nations to assemble multinational task forces to take on bad guys. For greater insight into what our folks are up to in over sixty nations around the world, I highly recommend Robert D. Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts
    Try to find someone other than the Flat-Earther Friedman to support your point. Unlike Robert Samuelson, he’s shown no familiarity with economics over the years and does not display sound analytic skills.
    Here’s a good critique of the column cited, but I will go further.
    Friedman’s wrong on the big stuff as well as the little. While Saudi Arabia is the chief oil pusher, it is not ours. We get most of our oil from Canada. The Saudis come in at number two, but that’s only since last year when the state-owned Mexican oil company’s output began its decline thanks to a lack of investment over the years. (And no, it’s not a peak oil thing with Mexico, it’s the incentive to spend the profits on the taxpayers instead of reinvesting in plant and capacity; Hugo Chavez is learning this the hard way too.)
    Friedman’s biggest blind spot is the failure to recognize that wind and solar generators meet stationary energy needs, but don’t help mobility much because of thorny battery issues: they are heavy, composed of dangerous materials, and don’t last very long. Oil is and will remain the primary fuel for transportation for years to come for no better reason than what’s out there on the roads and in the air today will still be on the road five and ten years hence.

  18. Michael Rodgers

    Are you saying that Bush’s timetables on the oil drilling legislation (July 4th deadline to Congress), the Iraq war (no timetable whatsoever — 100 years?), and peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians (within 2 years from Bush’s first announcement of taking a renewed interest) are all reasonable? Because I was suggesting that they were not.
    And I liked Tom Friedman’s choice of the word, “lame.” I was not suggesting that everyone should worship Tom Friedman. But thanks for the diatribe against him. It was interesting. By the way, once a commodity gets to the market, it doesn’t matter where it came from.
    I said that Bush’s team should have spent more time working on North Korea and on Afghanistan and less time on Iraq. Thank you for pointing out that Bush’s team spent some time on North Korea. That’s nice that they didn’t drop the ball completely on North Korea. By the way, I’m sure everyone at the UN loved working with John Bolton and miss him terribly.
    Michael Rodgers
    Columbia, SC

  19. Mike Cakora

    Michael –
    All are reasonable in context.
    Bush has been an energy guy from the beginning, but most Dems and some Republicans have been fighting (and legislating against) domestic exploration and extraction. Remember the brouhaha about Cheney’s energy task force? I think what caught the world by surprise is the sudden spike in demand from China and India; it was on nobody’s radar. Bush is giving the Dems fair warning: ease restrictions now or face voter peril at the polls. To put it another way, If the Dems are concerned that Republicans will make an issue of it, they should remove it from the table and then hammer Republicans on corruption, health care, and whatever. Jeb is no longer governor, so there’s no family issues to deal with either.
    The 100 years bandied about is not about the war — that’s about over and political reconciliation is better there than it is here. It is about having the US military in a troublesome area. We’ve had troops on bases in Germany and Japan for 63 years thanks to the Cold War. The Middle East is a hot area, our presence would eventually permit a greater degree of stability to set in after a few more people get killed.
    And the killing will certainly be along the Mediterranean coast. Bush is dreaming, as was Carter and Clinton. Iran has two potent proxies: Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. These folks are as ruthless and committed as any al Qaeda member is. Here’s a really disturbing but unfortunately probably pretty accurate assessment from a gal who makes Cheney look like Edwards.
    Over the past several years the US has tried to get the Saudis, Egyptians, and Jordanians to step up to the plate and take a few swings, but these Sunnis also think that all the Palestinians are crazy and refused to engage even if they could whack some Shia in the process. Look what happened when the Palestinians blew holes in the Gaza wall into Egypt; the Egyptians did everything they could to round up the shoppers and seal them back in Gaza ASAP. That was instructive.

  20. Phillip

    Michael R, let me just point out that Caroline Glick, who Mike C links to, is closely allied to Netanyahu, in fact a former foreign policy advisor to his previous Government. Mike C, you are right in that she makes even Cheney seem reasonable by comparison. She basically would like US policy to reflect the most right-wing hawkish elements within Israel today.
    Mike C, I realize we see this stuff differently, but even so I really just can’t believe that after the festering terrorism of the last 30 years, you actually can say the sentence “our presence would eventually permit a greater degree of stability” in the Middle East, with a straight face.
    I think the evidence is clear that precisely the opposite is true. Our presence would be in fact a guarantee of continued unrest, on into perpetuity.

  21. Mike Cakora

    bud –
    In the aftermath of Watergate the Democratic-controlled US Congress slashed all funding and support for the war, forcing the accelerated withdrawal of US forces and materiel from South Viet Nam. You can read about it here. Here are some extracts:

    – During his confirmation hearings in June 1973, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. On June 4, 1973, the U.S. Senate passed the Case-Church Amendment to prohibit such intervention
    – Gerald Ford took over as U.S. president on August 9, 1974 after President Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. At this time, Congress cut financial aid to South Vietnam from $1 billion a year to $700 million. The U.S. midterm elections in 1974 brought in a new Congress dominated by Democrats who were even more determined to confront the president on the war. Congress immediately voted in restrictions on funding and military activities to be phased in through 1975 and to culminate in a total cutoff of funding in 1976.
    – On December 13, 1974, North Vietnamese forces attacked Route 14 in Phouc Long Province. Phouc Binh, the provincial capital, fell on January 6, 1975. Ford desperately asked Congress for funds to assist and re-supply the South before it was overrun. Congress refused. The fall of Phouc Binh and the lack of an American response left the South Vietnamese elite demoralized and corruption grew rampant.

    There’s more, but you get the point. Congress stopped the war by eliminating funding.
    What was the impact? This previous link lists these effects on Southeast Asia of the US defeat: Mayagüez Incident, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Democratic Kampuchea, Third Indochina War, Reeducation camp, and boat people. I’ll highlight just a few:
    Democratic Kampuchea – Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975. The country got a new name and proceeded to murder 2-3 million citizens. Does the name “Pol Pot” ring a bell?
    The victorious commies established “reeducation camps” for South Vietnamese government officials, military officers, and soldiers. Torture, disease and malnutrition were widespread; 165,000 died in the camps. They also had the notion that suburban sprawl was good, Saigon was too big, so within two years of the capture of the city one million people had left Saigon, and the state had a target of 500,000 further departures. The relocation arrangements were, er, crude.
    Do you remember hearing about boat people, the folks leaving Vietnam in small craft to face a big ocean to escape? About one million made it to the west, who knows how many died en route.
    The Pathet Lao overthrew the royalist government of Laos in December 1975 and established the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Some folks got killed.
    About the only good thing that happened was that the Taidam people of Vietnam and Laos relocated en mass to Iowa, escaping several millennia of persecution in SE Asia.
    That’s why I say that two to four million people died because of the US withdrawal forced by the US Congress during the years 1973-1975. I’d call that pretty significant dominos, but then again, I have low standards.

  22. Mike Cakora

    bud –
    As for the surrender part, lots of folks thought we did. Not just the North Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the like, but also some of my friends and colleagues. This is long, so I apologize to Brad for the excess.
    I was defending the frontiers of freedom, on active duty in West Berlin at a place the Germans called the Devil’s Mountain. These was the days before CNN and 24 hour news, but at work we had access to real-time reports of what was happening, and it was not pleasant, especially during the fall of Saigon.
    I remember most of all the remarks of two folks. One was a Brit NCO I’d worked with on a special project. As the picture of the helicopter taking off from the US Embassy was splashed across every newspaper in every nation and Mick and I were talking about it, Mick asked, “But Mike, why didn’t you guys finish what you started?” He later served with distinction in the Falklands. Perhaps you’ve heard of that too; it had a better ending.
    The other remark was just as painful, yet plaintive, but first too much background. Ziggy was a sixtyish Berlin native who’d served as a tank mechanic on the Russian front during the early days of WWII, then was transferred to Italy where he was captured late in the war by US forces. As a POW he drove tractor trailers loaded with supplies up the Italian coast, then when the war ended, over the Alps into Germany and back again. After his release he returned to the devastated Berlin and got a job as a driving instructor with US forces. I got to know him when he qualified a small group of us for tactical vehicles.
    Ziggy’s mission was not only to drive with us through the city, but to take us to cafes, sights of interest, and special places in Berlin that many Americans didn’t bother to see. His English was good, but with his accent and mannerisms, he sounded like Ludwig von Drake. I was the only one of the group that spoke German and knew more about Germany and Berlin than most, so we hit it off, thought I can’t imagine anyone not liking the old guy. During my remaining time in Berlin, I would look him up every now and then, buy him a kaennchen of coffee, and talk a bit. His accounts of machinery in the Russian winter were amazing.
    A final bit of context. When Ziggy was first captured, the US Army was outrunning its supply lines in Italy and there was barely enough food for our troops. The POWs were kept in circular barbed wire enclosures exposed to the elements and with little food. Some GIs would approach the barriers and dump food on the ground and grind it with their boots to torment the prisoners. It did.
    Few folks realize how grim life was throughout northern Europe after the war; even a victor, England, kept food rationing until 1947 or so. Germany did not have enough food for its populace, children were sent out of the country to spare them from famine and the threat of disease. As the food become plentiful in 1948, the Soviets began the Berlin Blockade with the aim of expelling Brit, French, and US forces from their sectors, a/k/a West Berlin.
    The US achievement of beating the blockade with its airlift was singular. Berliners to this day fondly recall our commitment to keep the city free. Ziggy told every American he met what the airlift did for his city, his home, and offered each his thanks.
    So when I met him shortly after the fall of Saigon, Ziggy brought it up, saying he’d been keeping track of the politics and such, and had spoken at length with GIs who’d served in Vietnam, some hated it, others didn’t seem to mind. After I told him that I’d never been there, he asked if I thought that Berlin would share the same fate that Saigon did; he wondered if we would soon leave, if that’s how the wall would come down.
    I had no answer, but he wasn’t expecting one, at least not from me.
    So, bud, I don’t like losing, I didn’t like getting second place in the SouthEast Asian Conflict, and I’m not for cutting and running out of Iraq. Fortunately, Senator Obama seems to have come over to my way of thinking, so I really hope we can see this through,

  23. Mike Cakora

    Ooops! Sorry, I inadvertently accidentally assumed that Obama had decided not to cut and run from Iraq. Not only did I read this last Thursday:

    “[W]hen I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies….”
    “My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything that I’ve said, was always premised on making sure that our troops were safe,” he said. “I said that based on the information that we had received from our commanders that one to two brigades a month could be pulled out safely, from a logistical perspective. My guiding approach continues to be that we’ve got to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable.”
    He added, “I’m going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold.”

    But I made the mistake of reading too many right-wingers interpreting this, folks like Tom Hayden and The New Republic’s Michael Crowley who wrote:

    Not sure what to make of this: If Obama is laying the groundwork for a more gradual withdrawal, the safety of the troops wouldn’t seem to be best emphasis. If anything withdrawal has presumably become easier as the insurgency has tapered off, not harder.
    Also curious is the line Obama throws in about a “stable” Iraq. Correct me if I’m wrong but I immersed myself in Obama’s Iraq plan for a recent story and don’t recall him making withdrawal contingent on stability. If he really means this, it strikes me as a pretty significant new principle.

    But today this report appeared:

    Earlier in the day as he flew from Montana to Missouri, Obama told reporters he was surprised at how the media has “finely calibrated” his recent words on Iraq, and reaffirmed his commitment to ending the war if elected.
    “I was a little puzzled by the frenzy that I set off by what I thought was a pretty innocuous statement,” he said. “I am absolutely committed to ending the war.”
    On Thursday in North Dakota, Obama said that “I’ll … continue to refine my policy” on Iraq after an upcoming trip there. With a promise to end the war the central premise of his candidacy, the Obama campaign has struggled over the past two days to push back against Republicans and others who say his recent statement could be a softening or change in policy.
    Obama has always said his promise to end the war would require consultations with military commanders and, possibly, flexibility.
    “The tactics of how we ensure our troops are safe as we pull out, how we execute the withdrawal, those are things that are all based on facts and conditions,” he said. “I am not somebody — unlike George Bush — who is willing to ignore facts on the basis of my preconceived notions.”

    So I sincerely regret misleading anyone about Obama’s position, whatever it may be.

  24. Phillip

    Mike, your lengthy justification for the our Vietnam presence and criticism of our decision to finally get out, is in most of the world’s thinking refutable today by very simple points:
    Our response with the Berlin airlift, etc. was motivated by hostile actions by a superpower (USSR), consolidating its direct control over foreign territory (Eastern Europe including East Germany). Russia directly threatening West Berlin and West Germany vs. the internal conflicts in Vietnam post-French occupation…there’s no parallel at all, and drawing such misguided parallels is what got 55,000 Americans and countless thousands of Vietnamese killed—for what? (One hopes…for the cause of no nation ever making such a mistake again).
    Without harboring any illusions about the nature of the Communist North Vietnamese government, the entire Vietnam war (including the French and American episodes) was an inter-Vietnamese conflict. We misunderstood or mischaracterized it as a proxy conflict with other superpowers. As General Giap and others have indicated, because the North and the Viet Cong retained much popular support (due to most Vietnamese seeing the war as one for Vietnamese autonomy), if we’d stayed the fight would have gone on for ten, twenty, thirty years. Maybe still! Talk about your 100-year presence!
    Maybe dropping nukes and total 100% police-state occupation would have done the trick for us. And dropping nukes would have probably started WW III. But nothing short of that. Still sorry we “finished second”?
    With all due respect, Mike, I fear that you fail to understand that people all over the world will fight for national autonomy (even on behalf of a noxious regime) if they feel the alternative is foreign occupation or influence. (I’m afraid Brad doesn’t get this one either). In this sense, Americans are by NO means unique or special on the planet.
    The abuses, genocides that you write of post-1973 are real, but again we have to look back to the origins of the entire problem. The settling of scores is a common thread in post-war scenarios; would these crimes have occurred on this scale had the US taken the opportunity to embrace free elections in Vietnam in 1955, even had they resulted in a government we were not enthralled with? Doesn’t this all sound sickeningly familiar?
    Missed opportunities and the failure to see the unfolding of world events except from our own myopic perspective…In the case of Vietnam it goes all the way back to Brad’s hero Woodrow Wilson, the so-called champion of democracy and national self-determination, who turned his back on a young Ho Chi Minh and possibly set the wheels in motion for all that was to follow in Indochina for the next 70-plus years.

  25. Mike Cakora

    Phillip –
    Vietnam like the defense of the West in Europe was part of the Cold War, part of the fight against the stinking totalitarian Commies.
    While I hope that “people all over the world will fight for national autonomy (even on behalf of a noxious regime) if they feel the alternative is foreign occupation or influence,” they often don’t have the chance because forces within deprive the citizens of making the choice. That’s how the commies worked, that was at the heart of Lenin’s plan, that’s what Mao did. Just look at the experience of those in Eastern Europe and pay attention to what the two Vaclavs, Havel and Klaus, have to say.
    Besides, that’s not what all of the commotion in Iraq is about. Sure there was an element of fear of occupation by the US, and outside forces, Iran and al Qaeda, integrated that fear into their approach. But that’s over. Political reconciliation is a reality, the Iraqi army is professional and it is waging what’s probably its last battle against foreign forces:

    American and Iraqi forces are driving Al-Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country in the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror.
    After being forced from its strongholds in the west and centre of Iraq in the past two years, Al-Qaeda’s dwindling band of fighters has made a defiant “last stand” in the northern city of Mosul.
    A huge operation to crush the 1,200 fighters who remained from a terrorist force once estimated at more than 12,000 began on May 10.
    Operation Lion’s Roar, in which the Iraqi army combined forces with the Americans’ 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, has already resulted in the death of Abu Khalaf, the Al-Qaeda leader, and the capture of more than 1,000 suspects.

    It’s nice to be able to finish a job and it looks like we will. That we have to get the details from the foreign press.
    Go ahead and News Google “Mosul” and contrast the tone, perspective, and information value of the London Times report with any from the US, like CNN’s Civilian, Police Officer Killed In Northern Iraq Violence wherein we learn that Mosul is “restive.” News Google “Lion’s roar” for a real hoot for the results from US media and you’ll see that Aussie, Lebanese, and other papers worldwide carry the Times story, but we don’t.

  26. Phillip

    Mike, I’ll check on those Iraq links. My last word on Vietnam…Re your first sentence, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I don’t believe the ferocity and tenacity with which North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fought us in the 1960’s was inspired by heroic images they kept in their minds of Moscow or Beijing, or Lenin, or even Mao. For us, maybe it was part of the Cold War. For the Vietnamese themselves, they did not see it that way.

  27. Lee Muller

    Saddam’s funding of the 9/11 hijackers was real. We captured the records.
    Saddam’s funding of kamikaze bombers was real.
    He bragged about it.
    Saddam’s terrorist training camps were real. We captured the camps intact.
    Saddam’s WMD were real, just as Hans Blix said. We captured 650,000 tons of WMD.
    Democrats were all for Vietnam when it was their war, then suddenly against it when Nixon defeated them in 1968.
    Democrats were all for war on Iraq in 1998, 2001, and 2002, but soon started lying about how they always opposed it, for no other reason than President Bush was succeeding where they failed.

  28. Phillip

    Mike, it’s good to see Al-Qaeda in Iraq pushed back, which in essence will just get us back to square one, but I would caution against getting ahead of yourself with celebration. Keep your eye on the larger picture. If we attempt to turn Iraq into a permanent US military base, we can be assured of ongoing unrest in the region and a permanent recruiting tool for terrorism. Iran continues to be the primary beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq.
    I should know better than to respond to Lee, but I can’t resist a big, slow, softball pitch:
    Democrats all for Vietnam until Nixon won? Lee…Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy and all their followers, the plunge in support (within his own party!) that drove an incumbent Democratic President from the race after one primary, the turn against Vietnam policy by the Vice President during the general election campaign…did you sleep through all that?

  29. bud

    Bill Kristol certainly was enjoying himself gloating over the alledged success of the (Iraq) “surge” on Fox News Sunday yesterday. Granted Iraq is a more peaceful place now than it was a year ago. Yet, this really misses the point I’ve been trying to make. Sure we can subdue the place given enough resources but at what cost? We still face decades of hostility from people that are not culturally like us and will resent our continued occupation. I don’t see any long-term benefit to our security. And certainly with gasoline prices what they are it’s hard to imagine how our economic well-being has been served.
    Our foreign policy should not consist entirely of some obsession with “winning”. What we should be concerned with is building strong, long term diplomatic relations with the countries in the middle-east. With our squandered resources accomplishing just the opposite this whole Iraq adventure is really a genuine calamity. The current lull in violence doesn’t change that.

  30. Lee Muller

    During the entire 1960s and 1970s, Democrats owned the House and Senate, and chaired all the military committees. They joined the War in Vietnam, and supported it. A minority, led by Eugene McCarthy, was against it.
    White students and faculty were not against it as long as working class whites and blacks were being drafted, and the war was being commanded by volunteers from West Point and ROTC. It was only when Lyndon Johnson took away the draft deferments for graduate students that they suddenly started ACTING “anti-war”.
    Eugene McCarthy had almost no popular support. His campaign was funded by a few millionaires. Hubert Humphrey was a genuine social liberal, not a socialist. He was patriotic, a life member of the NRA, etc.

  31. Lee Muller

    Today, Obama is telling Iran that he can think of nothing the US should DO in response to their test launch of 11 missiles towards Israel. Iran tested Obama, and he came up short.
    Ironically, the cowards and naive peacenik supporters of Obama are setting up a major escalation of war with Iran. Obama, by being weak, forces Israel into a corner, and they will have to strike Iran.

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