Part III in our series takes a look at some of the major events of the war trying to assess how they look now that some time has passed. Be sure to check back in later this week as we conclude are series on the Iraq War trying to answer the question of was it worth it?
The Rationale For War
This to me is critical because the rest of the long, drawn out war is justified by the original rationale for war. The idea that Saddam was a threat because he had large stock piles of wmd was absurd. To believe that a man who was singularly focused on one thing, the survival of his regime, would endanger that regime by trying obtain wmd was beyond dumb. Couple this with the fact that most people are convinced that the administration lied about the evidence before the war and you have a serious problem. The real tragedy about this was that there were legitimate reasons to get rid of Saddam. Chief among those were that the West felt so insecure about Saddam and the threat of wmd that they killed more in Iraq by sanctions after the first Gulf War than were ever killed in the entire 2nd Gulf War. Read this disturbing quote below from 2003 right before the invasion to get an idea of how bad sanctions made life in Iraq.
“More than 3000 children are dying every week in Iraq as a result of the decade long embargo that was enforced on the country after its invasion of Kuwait, a new report says.
It puts the total increase in the number of children who have died as a result of the embargo at around 1.6 million since 1990, with year on year increases.”
I tried to find an official body count from the sanctions but of course that was pretty hard to do. The numbers I saw ranged from 1-2 million people killed by the sanctions. The number of civilians killed during entire 2nd war in Iraq ranged from a little over 100,000 to up to 600,000 (by far left groups). With this in mind it is clear that the sanctions were far more deadly to Iraqis than the actual war itself (not that it was any less horrific). To me in the final analysis the better rationale for war was to have been based on the idea that the sanctions had to end to save Iraqi lives.
Heralded at the time as one of the great feats of military prowess with a full 10 years to reflect on the event I would imagine most unbiased observers would be less impressed. The pros were that ground units did rapidly advance (supposedly faster and farther than any before) from Kuwait to the capital of Baghdad, but the to be honest most Iraqi army units decided not to fight, although some irregular units chose to engage and there were some intense fights they were almost all small in size. The point is that yes the invasion forces may have advanced at unprecedented speed but it’s not as if they fought massive battles with tens of thousands of soldiers squaring off against each other (having said that I have no doubt that for individual soldiers facing even small unit engagements that the intensity, fear, and yes probably some exhilaration of the fights were extremely real). Cons are fairly numerous. The small size of the invasion force made it difficult to properly secure even areas that had been supposedly liberated. This had the effect of leaving the impression to some Iraqis that they had survived the worst the Americans could throw at them, in other words they had not been defeated and still had plenty of fight left in them. This also had another consequence for the occupation because there were so few troops they could not secure critical infrastructure (most probably remember Iraqis looting government buildings) and also they couldn’t secure the many weapons caches, depots, army bases etc. etc.. All of those mentioned would later go on to help fuel the insurgency. When Gen. Shinseki testified before the invasion to congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq he didn’t just pull the number out of the air. He came up with the number based on the US Army’s extensive peacekeeping operations in the Balkans during the 90’s. Rumsfeld famously lashed out at Shinseki replying that of course it would not take more troops to secure the peace than it did to win the war. This statement by Rumsfeld showed to all his lack of understanding of modern war, unfortunately both Iraq and America paid for his ignorance.
To say the American effort in Iraq was on life support in late 2006 is an understatement. The American people were tired of the war and fed up with the administration’s oft-repeated line that the media only reported the bad things in Iraq (as if they were missing the real story of progress). With democrats sweeping to power in congress things were definitely going to change in Iraq. To most people’s surprise that change was an increase in troops and a change in strategy that called for securing the civilian population instead of remaining on base to avoid casualties. This change in strategy called for new leadership so Gen. Casey was out as Multi-National Forces Commander Iraq to be replaced by Gen. Odierno. Gen. Abizaid was also replaced by Gen. Petraeus as the CentCom Commander. Finally Rumsfeld was replaced by Robert Gates as Sec. Def.. The results were dramatic and a situation that looked hopeless now showed some promise that Iraq might actually have a chance. The US has only been out of Iraq for only a few short years so its hard to say whether the Iraqi government will continue to progress. We do know that violence still occurs regularly in Iraq. In looking at the surge and trying to assess its impact knowing that the final chapter about Iraq still is yet to be written I think its fair to say that the surge did not win the war in Iraq but it did prevent the US from losing it for the time being.
It was my hope to talk about other important events in Iraq like Fallujah, the Mahdi Militia and so on but for the sake of time I limited it to the invasion and the surge. Tune in later this week as I finish the series as the question of whether the war was worth it is explored.