Tag Archives: iraq

Karsten Erzinger: Defending the Iraq War

A few weeks ago Henry Srebrnik looked back at the arguments advanced by many public figures in favor of going to war with Iraq and concluded his piece by asking “how did so many get it so wrong?” Well, I would argue that they didn’t get it wrong. The case for the war was justified for many reasons, some of which were cited in Henry’s column, and poor post-war planning and execution does not refute or negate any of those reasons.

While the intelligence on Saddam’s WMD’s turned out to largely be false, many people don’t realize what Saddam did possess and how close he was to getting his hands on WMD’s. We should know this; it was Canada that disposed of 550 metric tons of Iraqi yellow cake uranium. Not only did Saddam have yellow cake uranium, but he also retained his WMD’s program and his aspirations to develop and produce WMD’s. Does anyone really think that Saddam would have sat and done nothing while Iran aggressively pursues a nuclear bomb? Because of the American intervention in Iraq, we only have to deal with one repressive dictatorship seeking nuclear arms in the region instead of two. Not only that, but the Iraq War resulted in Libya giving up its desire for WMD’s; surely a good thing given the terrorism and chaos enveloping that country.

Another thing that must be addressed is what would have happened if the US did not invade Iraq; this is something many Iraq War critics are hesitant to do. While this is purely a speculative exercise, there are a few things that can be reasonably be concluded. The withering sanctions against Iraq would have continued to crumble, allowing Saddam more freedom and flexibility to pursue whatever nefarious plans he may have had, such as developing and re-building his WMD stockpiles. If Saddam was still in power when the Arab Spring swept through the region, it’s not hard to imagine the type of crackdowns and atrocities he would have committed to maintain his hold on power.

Saddam Hussein was perceived as a threat to the United States and in a post 9/11 world, the US took every threats seriously. He was a brutal and dangerous tyrant who, had he not been removed from power, would’ve been even more dangerous today – those who argued for his removal did not get it wrong.

The Hustings


Jeffrey Collins: The Continuing Seduction of Airpower

The longing for American airpower by the Maliki regime in Iraq merits a more contextual analysis than what has been provided thus far. I contend that the thirst for an American intervention from above is the reflection of a longstanding view which posits airpower as a quick solution for winning wars.

As early as 1911, when aircraft were first used in warfare  (by Italy against Libya), a chorus of writers (often pilots) have articulated visions of planes flying over enemy territory, pulverising a variety of cities and armies until capitulation – without the use of ground forces. Given the slaughter of World War One, it is not surprising that such opinions took root.

Thus, it was an Italian General (a 1911 veteran and witness to WW1), Guilio Douhet, who first popularized the notion of airpower’s potential for quick success with his 1921 book The Command of the Air. Douhet was soon followed by other ‘practitioner-theorists’: Billy Mitchell, Hugh Tranchard, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris and most recently, John Warden and John Boyd. Each writer pushed the idea of aircraft winning wars decisively with little expense in friendly blood or treasure (at least on land).

This idea remains an attractive proposition for democratic political leaders whose publics have become rather adverse to casualties. The notion of airpower as a quick fix remains even more seductive given the emergence of precision-guided munitions, stealth technology, and digital information systems, first displayed in the 1991 Gulf War. The footage from that conflict, fostered an anti-septic view of warfare among the public. Of course, this perception conveniently ignored the fact that it took a half-​a-​million US and allied ground troops to evict Saddam’s army from Kuwait.

Next, was Kosovo in 1999 where NATO, in an attempt to avoid deploying ground forces and jeopardize public opinion, carried out an aerial bombing campaign to bring Serbia to heel. While NATO thought it could compel Belgrade in four days, it took 78, Serbia’s diplomatic isolation, and the threat of a ground force to broker a retreat. Furthermore, the quick Serb withdraw created a chaotic vacuum that thousands of NATO troops continue to fulfill to this day.

While the seduction of airpower is tempting airpower’s history remains one of great promise that, instead, masks a more complicated reality where well thought-out political and ground force decisions are required. In the case of Iraq, more is required than quick fixes from above.

The Hustings


Jeffrey Collins: Worrying about the day after in Iraq

“You pay attention to the day after, I’ll pay attention to the day of”. These words, spoken by General Tommy Franks, the chief architect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, were invoked during a conversation with his civilian counterparts in the lead-up to the war. And, in my view, they aptly sum up the failure of American strategy in Iraq.

Strategy, in the military sense of the term, is composed of two interlocking components: the military (or operational) and the political. The former deals with the actual use of force while the latter, and most important, is about the goals that one wants to achieve through the use of organized violence. The two shall never be treated separately.

But this did not happen in 2003. Instead, Franks—with the backing of the Bush administration—contented himself with the military aspects of the war. Consequently, the joint US-UK invasion force marched into Iraq with too few troops to secure the population and with practically no plan to run the country once Saddam fell.

The result was, as we know, total chaos. The political vacuum that emerged in April and May 2003 set the tone for the situation that exists on the ground today: the looting of Iraq’s public infrastructure literally crippled the state’s ability to function. Hospitals lost critical equipment, while government buildings were stripped of furnishings and wiring. Just as importantly, the looting presented an image of an uncaring America, creating a permissive environment that sectarian gangs quickly filled (once they finished robbing Saddam’s unguarded armories).

These errors, to use such a euphemism, were soon followed by more awful ad hoc decision-making: the disbanding of the Iraqi army (they could keep their AK47s); the de-Baathification policy which effectively prevented the professional classes from ever returning to work again, which disproportionately impacted the minority Sunnis; and the imposition of a democratic system on a divided, demographically uneven society, which further inflamed internal tensions (as my colleague Henry Srebrnik covered yesterday).

While the 2007-08 “surge” produced some promise of Iraqi unity through the skillful mating of counterinsurgency tactics with political goals, the Obama Administration reverted back to inept form soon after. The focus again became the military, this time building up the Iraqi army, while the political realm wavered. It is the consequences of all these mistakes that we are dealing with today.

The Hustings


Jeff Collins: Paper tigers and the failure of ‘Iraqization’

In 1969, President Richard Nixon announced the beginning of the American withdrawal from South Vietnam. In exchange for removing half-a-million military personnel the United States would funnel billions of dollars in equipment to the South Vietnamese military so that it could prosecute the war against the North, a process known as ‘Vietnamization’. In doing so, the South Vietnamese armed forces emerged as one of the world’s most formidable militaries. But yet it was a paper tiger, collapsing a mere two years after the removal of the last American military forces in 1973.

Like the South Vietnamese military before it, on paper the post-Saddam Hussein military of Iraq is impressive: 250,000 troops backed by 2500 armoured vehicles, 400 tanks, 278 aircraft, and 129 helicopters. Following an almost identical approach as that used by Nixon, both the Bush and Obama administrations focused on building up the Iraqi military so that it could take the lead in fighting the insurgency in exchange for an American withdrawal in 2011.

‘Iraqization’ saw the U.S. spend, between 2003 and September 2012, $25 billion on creating, equipping, and training the Iraqi armed forces. The Iraqi government itself spent billions more – via a U.S. aid package – on purchasing F-16 jets, Apache gunships, precision Hellfire missiles, M-16 assault rifles, ScanEagle reconnaissance drones, and M1A1 Abram tanks; essentially, the same equipment used by the U.S. military.

What remains remarkable in light of last week’s events is how none of this really mattered. Four of the country’s 14 army divisions practically folded in the face of less than 1,500 ISIS militants, who were outnumbered 15-to-one. As such, the problem of Iraqization, much like it’s South Vietnam predecessor, is that it tried to establish a unified, nation-building professional military model onto a politically unstable government.

In short, the failure of the U.S. in not accounting for, or at least ensuring prolonged stabilized communal relations on the political dimension after 2011 automatically undermined the military effectiveness of the Iraqi armed forces which have turned into, what one observer calls, a Shia army on steroids, targeting the Sunni minority.

Sadly, the failure of the Iraqization approach is not limited to Mesopotamia. The United States has seen a similar repetition of blowback in other communal, conflict-riven countries: Mali, Libya, and Afghanistan. While American airstrikes may halt the ISIS tide the absence of a serious political compromise between Iraq’s communities ensures more bloodshed and fracturing.

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J Dan Aiken: The US is right to aid Iraq

US President Barack Obama made the right choice in providing military assistance to Iraq’s troubled government. Putting aside the question of whether America should have engaged in Iraqi nation-building in the first place, the reality is that the actions of the past decade have already occurred and that America must nurture the democracy it has helped to conceive.

The insurgent group ISIS does not respect the rule of law, democracy, the conventions of war, or even human life. Iraqi soldiers and civilians captured by this repugnant group have been dehumanized for propaganda purposes and summarily executed. This group cannot exist in a democratic Iraq. And while ISIS must be stopped and brought to justice there are clear concerns that Iraq’s government cannot resolve the crisis.

Iraq’s government has not developed as quickly as many had hoped. The incumbent prime minister has been ineffective in building a unity coalition among sectarian groups. It’s now up to Iraqis to determine their own government, while it’s the responsibility of their friends and neighbors in the international community to provide counsel and assistance where it is needed. Prime Minister al-Maliki has asked for help to protect Iraqi citizens and the country’s fragile democracy. Considering the barbarism of ISIS, it would be a stunning repudiation of America’s own efforts to decline al-Maliki’s request.

For the US, providing military assistance to Iraq’s fragile government may seem unsavory, but so too is the disgraceful alternative. Nearly 4,500 Americans were killed in Iraq over the span of a decade-long fight for a free democracy with liberty for all citizens. There can be no greater insult to the sacrifices and memory of these soldiers than to allow the progress made possible by their bloodshed to be undone. At the same time, the Obama administration is embroiled in a scandal about its failures to adequately care for returned and injured veterans. Imagine veterans’ frustration in the face of a reality in which their government does not properly care for them following military service, and in which their government allows that service to be rendered all but purposeless.

Iraq’s request is reasonable: reconnaissance flights, tactical advisers, and perhaps limited air support to eradicate a barbaric horde of homicidal would-be theocrats. For a country that has already given thousands of its sons and daughters and billions of dollars, this action is a drop in the bucket to preserve all that has been gained. What is necessary to protect the innocent from the reprehensible is infrequently ideal; yet in this case, it is a necessity nonetheless.

The Hustings