June 22, 2014

The Horror: Iraq Class of '03 Mounts Rerun

In an orgy of public preening, the Iraq ‘Class of '03’ flooded print and television media post Mosul’s capture by ISIS forces in Iraq last week. If one had hoped for the merest dose of humility given the calamitous missteps this hearty band of adventurers had presided over, manifold disappointment was instead in the offing.

Here was Jerry Bremer--he of the Timberland boots dutifully donned for the neo-colonial rigors (and whose De-Ba’athification campaign was a signal contributing factor to the disaster that is today’s Iraq)--breezily stating: “I’m not in favor of sending combat forces into Iraq at the moment…but I can well imagine that we would have to have some troops on the ground [my emphasis].” Meantime, an uncommonly robust Erin Burnett interview had Mr. Bremer parroting electricity production statistics like an obstinate, defensive school-boy.

Elsewhere, Fouad Ajami, Hoover Institute lyricist and Paul Wolfowitz confrere, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to remonstrate President Obama for having insufficiently expressed appreciation for the travails of Bush 43: “(n)or did he [Obama] possess the generosity of spirit to give his predecessors the credit they deserved for what they had done in that treacherous landscape.” Cursed ingrates! [Update: At the time of writing Sunday 22nd Hong Kong time, news of Mr. Ajami's death to cancer was not yet made public. B.D. extends condolences to his family.]

Still in the Journal, Dick Cheney along with chère fille Liz unfurled their Wyoming BB Gun to write: “(r)arely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” Alas, Mr. Cheney and his failed Senate candidate Wyoming carpet-bagger daughter were writing about the current President, not the predecessor dauphin that Tricky Dick V. 2 (first as tragedy, then farce…) had too often gamed as manipulative courtier. The Cheneys--after the obligatory Ronald Reagan quote—go on to conclude: “President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.”

This from the man who was critical in implementing torture as an instrument of American national security policy, a taboo akin to slavery and piracy that should be wholly banished from any respectable Enlightenment society. Cheney was once a talented man with an uncommon degree of Washington instincts and skill-sets, he is now a despicable blight best kept under tight supervision during his faux-brio infused hunting escapades.

But this was perhaps not quite the worst of it. As revelatory capstone, Paul Wolfowitz (indulged with an interview by Chuck Todd for reasons that mystify), took chutzpah to new extremes of execrable gall effectively stating that the U.S. people were too dim to comprehend ISIS was effectively al-Qaeda (incidentally, untrue), or to understand the convoluted vagaries of the Sunni-Shi’a conflict, and so on. Andrew Sullivan well noted the key and most mendacious verbiage: “We should say al Qaeda. ISIS sounds like some obscure thing; it’s even more obscure when you say Shia and Sunni … It means nothing to Americans whereas al Qaeda means everything to Americans”.

Yes, just like we should ‘settle’ on WMD for the ’03 vintage casus belli as this engendered the most support across the policy-making spectrum. Meantime Wolfowitz, for good measure en passant, essentially threw ‘ruthless little bastard’ Rummy (Richard Nixon’s spot-on descriptor, not mine) under the bus—intimating if he’d been the “architect” of the Iraq War--things would have gone quite swimmingly.

There are quite a few other examples (see Kristol et al.) but you get the noxious picture, this is a coterie that cannot muster the merest smidgen of shame, and Stephen Walt is instructive in explaining why they get to perennially subject us to this parade of recycled claptrap ad nauseam.

Of course, the facts that will be borne out by history are these: The Iraq War was an epic bungle premised on lies that cost ~$2 trillion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, almost 5,000 U.S. fatalities, many hundreds more from the ‘coalition of the willing’ (such as it was), not to mention tens of thousands of horrific injuries and myriad PTSD legacy conditions.

Iraqi society was torn asunder, with De-Ba’athification and the disbanding of the Iraqi Army titanic errors. Let us not forget that despite legions of civil servants in the Ba'ath party with no blood on their hands, Bremer and Co. relied on Ahmad Chalabi (who argued that allowing Ba’athists to stay in power would be equivalent to “allowing Nazis into the German government after WWII”) to actually lead a large-scale, revanchist-style De-Ba’athification effort. While spiritedly sacking the Mesopotamian ‘Nazis’, Chalabi was sure to steer some large-scale reconstruction contracts to entities where he had interests. Just one more local schemer who played us for suckers.

Yes, yes, there was the much ballyhooed ‘surge’ and 'Anbar Awakening', where effectively Sunni tribes were paid-off to play nice and keep their Shi'a-facing powder-dry for another day. The reality is while violence materially abated amidst the surge there were many other factors at play beyond an uptick in U.S. forces, whether Moktada al-Sadr’s unilateral cease-fire (probably at the Iranian’s urging to hasten a U.S. exit), the ample ethnic cleansing which had already occurred in parts of Baghdad and beyond, or better use of intelligence for covert operations against radical terror groups operating at the time. Most important, the surge was meant to buy time to force broad-based, sustainable political conciliation, manifestly this failed, and not because Obama didn’t leave a gaggle of troops behind several years back.

Is any of this meant to embellish Obama, whose foreign policy is hapless, reactive and underwhelming in the extreme? Not in the least. However, compared to the alternative, whom but for the empty tired recitation ‘no boots on the ground’ would be seeking to reinstitute maximalist goals through Iraq--all the while pouring more innocent lives and money down the drain--we should be grateful for Obama’s presence as lesser evil. Better someone without any geopolitical panache and a lackluster foreign policy team, than a band of arrogant interventionists insouciantly detached from the gross risks their adventurism continues to portend. Enough, already.

A solution for Iraq will ultimately have to take root locally, likely via serial conflict exhaustion among varied parties, among other factors. There is also space for intrepid diplomacy trying to forge understandings among Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and others re: containing the spiraling crisis. But the solution does not reside with more ignorant American swashbuckling through Iraq. Been there, done that.

Nor with the empty incantations that a better Maliki (or Karzai in nearby Afghanistan) needs to take the reins. There is no Iraqi Mandela waiting in the wings, I'm afraid. And the torrent of Shi'a-Sunni tensions--as well as Kurdish tensions exemplified by Kirkuk--will not be solved by 300 military advisors, or indeed, 300,000. The solution is not Washington's to proffer, midwife or dictate. It is beyond our control, unless we plan a Korea-like troop presence for half a century. We don't, so let's stop playing pretend.

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Posted by Gregory at June 22, 2014 05:46 AM | TrackBack (0)

Great post Greg. However, I am dubious they have "returned", since I think they never left. They are in the DNA of the Foreign Policy 'establishment'. Few have ever lost career momentum arguing for an aggressive policy on anything towards anyone. But get the label 'soft', and you are Carterized forever.

Posted by: jonst at June 27, 2014 05:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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