It's hard to argue with this one
Readers are all over the board in response to today's column (hence the stuffed e-mail box). I'm too car sick to respond in detail to very much of it (lots of stop-and-go traffic on the Turnpike/95). But I do think some folks misunderstood the column's point, in part.
First, if we get the job done in Iraq, it won't be a mistake in the historic scheme of things. I do believe that.But I just think it's very, very, very hard to believe that if Bush could do it all over again, he would say "let's do it anyway." Too many assumptions have been undermined by reality for me not to believe that in hindsight we shouldn't have opted for different way.
I think the regime change policy established under Bill Clinton was the right policy. I think taking Saddam seriously after 9/11 was the right policy. But, of the many arguments in favor of toppling Saddam in 2001-2002 one of the most important — in my mind and, I believe, in the mind of many others — was that toppling the Iraq domino and standing-up a stable, democratically inclined government was supposed to be comparatively easy. The demonstration-effect argument has not panned out.
I believe we're in for a long war on terror. I believe the Iraq war was — and is — part of the war on terror. But resources — political, economic, military, diplomatic etc — are finite. And, I find it hard to believe that if we knew everything we know now back then we would have agreed to allocate them in the same way. Of course you can pile counter-factual upon counter-factual. If we had that sort of perfect knowledge back then we would have handled the initial looting differently. We would have done all sorts of things differently. Fine, fine. But that's basically my point. I'm all for being on offense. But I think in retrospect we called the wrong play. But simply because you called the wrong play doesn't mean you walk off the field. Posted at 4:55 PM
Emphasis mine. I do have one quibble. I don't know where he got the idea that this would be comparatively easy. While I was concerned with the fighting we'd have to do, I was more concerned about the aftermath. That's always more difficult. In fact, three years ago yesterday Rumsfeld coined the phrase "long hard slog" vis a vis the war on terror broadly and Iraq and Afghanistan specifically.
I think the key difference is that we expected Iraq to coalesce more rapidly as they have experience with a market economy and we didn't count on the deep sectarian divisions with decades old scores to settle. I think there was an expectation that they'd be fighting us but not that they'd be fighting each other. We expected the terrorists to flock to Iraq (flypaper strategy) but not that they'd be aided either tacitly or actively by the locals. To be sure, we miscalculated. Badly, in fact but that does not belie our current state. We know that jihadists were emboldened when we retreated under fire in Somalia. Bin Laden speaks of it often (or at least, he used to). He tells us that single incident shattered the myth of the American superpower. We took what they perceived to be a small hit and ran home. If we do the same thing again in Iraq it would be the same thing on a much greater scale. Iraq would collapse into a failed state ruled by jihadists militias and gangsters. I don't think that's anything anyone wants. Likewise It would likely fracture Iraq into Kurdistan in the north and some sort of Shia-stan in the south with the center a total mess.