Media AWOL in exposing Iraq War’s years of ineptitude

Media AWOL in exposing Iraq War’s years of ineptitude

by Edward Wasserman

The Miami Herald

The U.S. war in Iraq ended just before Christmas, and if you blinked you probably missed it. TV news coaxed some seasonal sentiment out of the troops getting home for the holidays, but the Sunday-morning talk shows — where news of consequence is usually autopsied — barely noticed. The Beltway sages had weightier matters to discuss, such as the Gingrich ascendancy and the latest congressional standoff.The silence was understandable because the topic is so awkward. The Iraq war wasn’t a defeat, like Vietnam. But it wasn’t a win either: Saddam Hussein is long gone, but the strategic menace the invasion was meant to thwart was bogus, the installation of democracy seems shaky at best, and the country seems on the verge of tearing itself apart again. Besides, the Iraq victory lap was used up back in 2003 when George W. Bush, in a supreme moment of presidential buffoonery, pranced across a carrier deck in flight regalia to declare peace just as a calamitous civil war was starting.So while the news media might like to imply that the war concluded successfully, that’s a hard case to make, especially with our Iraqi friends referring to it as a “foreign occupation.” And faced with a perplexing moment of historical ambiguity, the media did what they do whenever a clean story line eludes them — change the subject.Our country isn’t unique in making war needlessly, but we may be unique in our insouciance. Attention really should be paid. After all, destroying another country is a big deal. Between 105,000 and 130,000 Iraqi civilians died violently, and half a million more were lost to degraded infrastructure, lousy healthcare and other miseries caused by years of murderous strife uncorked by the U.S. invasion. Some two million Iraqis are now refugees, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary lives have been mutilated.You’d think some sort of examination is in order: Congressional hearings? A truth and reconciliation commission? At least, an extended segment on 60 Minutes?

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Comments

I understand the bitterness, but there just isn't anything more to say. Every time the topic comes up, I just want to shout "We shouldn't have been there in the first place!" over and over again at the top of my lungs, and I imagine those who disagree with me have similar urges with different wording. That's not really news.

An opinion piece proving yet again that living in alternate realities can be, umm, interesting...

This is a pretty unbelievable rant.

The negative consequences of the Iraq war that the author lists are common knowledge and are generally the only things that much of the public knows about our involvement in Iraq. He essentially blasts the media for not parroting conventional wisdom for one more day after they have done so for 8 years. News coverage of the war has been overwhelmingly negative, critical, and often excessively so ever since we invaded. Now, when our troops finally withdraw, he is angry that we permit ourselves a few sighs of relief?

This is a great example of the irrational discourse that characterized our 8 years in Iraq, from the initial justification to invade, to the partisan bickering that surrounded every funding supplemental, to the politicization of every major military decision, to the portrayal of every service member who so much as donned a uniform at any time since 9/11 as a victim, martyr, or superhero.

The author advocates more anger, more partisanship, and more finger-pointing. Perhaps what we need is to step back, take a deep breath, and revisit these issues when we we are capable of analyzing them with less emotion, fewer partisan motivations, and less emphasis on assigning blame for real or imagined missteps or injustices.

TM---there is an old saying....water running under the bridge...

If that discussion does not start now and is not led by those that were there then the lessons learned will forever disappear.

Many of us from the Vietnam "engagement" did not discuss anything when we returned as the society around us did not want to hear anything in fact were hostile towards us so we withdrew and went about our lives having missed a golden opportunity to "discuss".

Yes the reasons were wrong for going in---we know it now---but what were the military lessons learned, what was learned about insurgent communities and how to engage them---just what will the military maintain as a knowledge base going forward-how do we take that knowledge and move it forward--this discussion is critical and as more time ie running water goes under the brigde the less of a desire on the part of the actual participants will be to actually engage in a frank and open unemontional discussion.

JMO

I'm all for lessons learned, but that is not what the author is advocating. He calls for "ineptitude... to be exposed and explained and those responsible made to answer." It seems that he has made up his mind about what the lessons are and that he is more interested in a witch hunt.

I think the military is capable of - and conducting - the type of self-reflection and study that you and I agree must occur. And this does not require much assistance from the media or any TV show trials.

The reasons for going to Iraq weren't wrong -- though the publicly stated reason certainly was. Big difference.

Regardless, you're correct, the military lessons learned need to be absorbed. There were enough foul ups, militarily, to write several books and few of those errors need to be repeated.

The good strategic goals, plural, for going there were obscured by all the noise over the poorly chosen publicly stated reason (though I doubt Congress would have gone along with the real reasons...) and the strategic aim was partly successful but was to a great extent negated by poor military planning and performance. The Army in particular has no one to blame but itself...

Ken - thanks for your thoughts, though I'll respectfully disagree and hope to add some additional thoughts to the discussion.

While you didn't explicitly state what you believe our country's strategic goals and endstate where back in 2003, I'm making the assumption you believe they were:
1) gain a vested economic leverage on world oil reserves and
2) assert our Western ideals into a volatile Islamic region, thus effectively neutralizing/stabilizing radical anti-American sentiment.

Please correct me if these are not your thoughts - but as you state that our strategic goals were actually "good" and were simply obscured or misunderstood, I think these are most likely. On top of this, you mention this strategic aim was "partly successful" but "negated by poor military planning and performance".

The problem with this argument is that it fails to recognize that while the military certainly has made numerous mistakes, they were simply the policy tool the Executive Office chose to use to implement its policy. The decision to invade Iraq did not support our National Security Strategy of the time, and therefore it is irrational to believe our strategic goals were "good". You may have agreed with Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld's argument for intervention and regime change, but nonetheless I agree with Outlaw and TM that it is simply obtuse to believe our reasons for going into Iraq "weren't wrong" with the current knowledge we possess.

This leads to the discussion on conducting thorough and accurate after action reviews to prevent repetition of recognized mistakes. The most prominent of these seems to be for military brass to initially create and implement a plan for the post-hostility phase of the operation. GEN Shinseki recognized this and briefed its necessity to Congress (and its subsequent requirement for nearly 500,000 soldiers) before promptly being dismissed by military and civilian leaders alike. Secondly, the vast mistakes and poor decisions of Paul Bremmer set the conditions for many of the military's subsequent problems and cannot be repeated.

Lastly, I would propose to revisit the previously held notion (primarily espoused by military hawks and Conservatives) that setting a time table for withdrawal would be creating the conditions for failure and lead to unacceptable U.S. troop loss. The actions over the past few years since announcement of our withdrawal date have been anything BUT chaotic. As our troops put Iraqi forces in the lead and eventually stopped even leaving their bases, violence plummeted. al Sadr personally advised his followers to stop attacks on Americans so we would maintain or commitment to leave.
And while violence has spiked in the weeks since our withdrawal, it is difficult to argue the necessity for continuing to spend our taxpayer money on Iraqi security. This has only seemed to create continued dependence by an Iraqi government unwilling to work through the necessary challenges it must address, but will not knowing we would continue holding their hand and funding their security. In essence, I argue that setting a timeline for withdrawal was exactly what we should have done long ago. It was largely the perception on the Arab street that we were Occupiers (certainly not Liberators) which continued to fuel attacks on coalition soldiers and give support to Al Qaeda, and these attacks essentially ended when we stopped intervening in daily Iraqi life.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Joe Katz:

"I'm making the assumption you believe they were:
1) gain a vested economic leverage on world oil reserves and
2) assert our Western ideals into a volatile Islamic region, thus effectively neutralizing/stabilizing radical anti-American sentiment."

No to the first, a qualified yes to the second -- there was no real desire to assert western ideals (though like the WMD threat, that was stated). The goal was to rearrange the map of the Middle East letting chips fall where they may. The only large concern with oil was that world oil supply be only minimally disrupted -- we want China and India to have all the oil they want. There were numerous other goals; ending French, German and Russian economic hegemony in the ME, upsetting the EU Constitutional process, disrupting the shift to the Euro for world oil trading and more. Minor concerns like the WMD, removing Saddam (he wasn't quite an afterthought but his removal was way down the list) were also rolled in. Iraq was chosen because it was geographically central, could provided land for air and ground force bases long coveted by CentCom (no longer desired or require due to our economic circumstances...), had access in all dimensions, a marginal military, an unloved dictator and it was a pariah state that would arouse only slight international anger at an invasion.

"...while the military certainly has made numerous mistakes, they were simply the policy tool the Executive Office chose to use to implement its policy. The decision to invade Iraq did not support our National Security Strategy of the time, and therefore it is irrational to believe our strategic goals were "good"."

I've been accused of being irrational for years, possibly true. The major military flaw was offering those Executives only one form of tool -- and that poorly trained and ill prepared for what it was to do. That Iraq was invaded after other events shows the fallacy of a "National Security Strategy" -- such a document will always be little more than a collection of political platitudes and a massive waste of time and effort; almost as wasteful as the QDR it nominally drives...

"The most prominent of these seems to be for military brass to initially create and implement a plan for the post-hostility phase of the operation. GEN Shinseki recognized this and briefed its necessity to Congress (and its subsequent requirement for nearly 500,000 soldiers) before promptly being dismissed by military and civilian leaders alike. Secondly, the vast mistakes and poor decisions of Paul Bremmer set the conditions for many of the military's subsequent problems and cannot be repeated."

In reverse order, Bremer was an idiot and his employment was a bad decision. My personal belief is that Bush had an attack of conscience and decided in May 2003 to ameliorate some of the damage to both Afghanistan and Iraq and decided to stay and 'fix it' in both nations. A bad mistake IMO but in character for a committed Christian. You are however, correct that Bremer's follies dis great harm and made the military effort much more difficult.

General Shinseki probably understated the number required and while his numbers and statement were dismissed, he was not, he retired at the programed time -- he was more nearly right than many and wastreated quite shoddily, no question. The intent, though was to invade, topple and not stay. Condi got called out of football game to change that...

You are correct that the senior military folks were totally clueless about the aftermath of their successful invasion and move north. That's because in BCTP and other games, the US wins, we turned out the lights and left the room -- the force and its leader were simply untrained for what they had to do. Had the the 325 not gotten trigger happy in March '03 in Fallujah, things would've been a little different but not much. Saddam and his Russian Generals outsmarted us -- they even told us what they were going to do; release the prisoners, arm everyone etc. -- and our egos insisted on ignoring it. We paid for that.

I disagree on the timeline but you are totally correct about ceasing to interfere with the daily life of the Iraqis -- so-called COIN theory is as fallacious as was the WMD ploy.

We are often our own worst enemy and our egos are very much responsible for a great deal of that...

Have to run, taking my wife out to dinner.

Ken,

I appreciate you taking the time to respond. You arguments are well laid out. I enjoyed your perspective and analysis of our true political goals, the fallacy of our NSS, and Bush's 2003 mindset that drove his decision-making. While I believe we assess the political and military decision making processes/goals in an opposing manner, I nonetheless enjoyed hearing your perspective. Ultimately, there are a variety of lessons to be learned from this war - politically, economically, militarily and diplomatically - and I think conversations such as the one were having are helpful in driving those lessons.

On a personal note - I hope you and your wife had a nice dinner last night!

Joe

Joe:

I agree -- and Thank you...