an Iraq War retrospective

The Iraq War officially began 10 years ago. Since I began blogging 11 years ago this month, I am using the opportunity to revisit and repost key blog entries from back then that illustrate the evolution in my thinking. I was greatly influenced by so-called “war blogs” including DW and USS Clueless but I ended up disavowing the decision to go to war. I think regardless of how you came down on that decision back then, it is worth revisiting those arguments from a decade ago and seeing just how that debate unfolded. My introductory post in the series is here and my first post is here, and you can follow along with hashtag #iraq10.

I’d like to ask other bloggers like Dean who were pro-war to join this project and also repost their own arguments so we can get a fuller picture of the debate, a debate that I think we all made in good faith and which, with benefit of time, we can all learn from. This after all was the foundational event of the blogsphere itself.

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  • Dean Esmay

    I’ll think about it but I’m immediately filled with dread since it already starts with two assertions I reject outright, which feels like drinking from a poisoned well right from the get-go.

    It also brings up a lot of memories of what I still consider bitter and hateful lies from the anti-war people that I don’t know if I even want to revisit. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve forgiven, but the pain of it is still there.

    I’m also not looking forward to arguing with conservatives who conclude that it was a failure because they’ve concluded that the Muslims are just too savage and vile and backward and are, in the end, the implacable and/or deluded enemies of freedom.

    There’s a lot of pain associated with this subject for me. If we still aren’t ready to concede at least the possibility that it was the right thing to do, why do I want to go into that meatgrinder? “Yes let’s revisit this, with the starting assumption that you were all wrong.” Um…

  • Dean Esmay

    But if anyone cares about public opinion, it appears that the public is about evenly divided on whether we substantially achieved our goals (I agree with those who say we mostly did by the way) and whether it was the right thing to do (which I unequivocally believe it was).

    So do I really want to bring back the anger and hostility that comes from debates where it’s clear that we don’t even agree what the basic facts are? I still hear all the time that we were “lied into war” and “went because of WMDs” and every time I hear it… well it used to make me angry. Now I just sigh in disgust, try to forgive the person, and move on and change the subject.

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    I won’t moderate m y opinion for the sakle of balance, Dean, but nowhere did I insist that this exercise is about blame. I want to revisit the debate, with the benfit of time to cool the passions, as a retrospective, not a reignition.

    I’m asking for reposts of old content especially that serve this purpose. I will be posting an argument **FOR** the war by a liberal who has since regretted his decision, for example.

    If you have an old post to dig up that shows your rationale for support and thinking back then, I will also link.

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    overall, I have found that the people who supported the war and still think that was teh right decision, are the most reluctant to engage in any retrospection in public on the mater. That is a bias. Let’s correct it.

  • ausman

    I think we can at least honor one of those actual vets who gave his life in Iraq by including his opinion:

    I do appreciate that you are willing to be retrospective and try to examine the decision making that went into our opinions back then and see if they stand up to the scrutiny of time. And if not, what we could have done better.

    This poll says that 58% of Americans do not believe that the War in Iraq was worth fighting:

  • Dean Esmay

    Aziz: DW archives are broken, badly. It’s a source of pain for me but I have no idea how to find things back then anymore. I know what I said, I know what I thought. I can think about a post that puts it all together again. I’ll put some thought into it, but I suspect most of us who haven’t changed our minds are in the same mindset: the reasons we advocated going never changed. We expected mixed results but a net positive, and I think most of us got exactly that. I always expected it to be hard, I always expected it to be a minimum 10 year effort, more likely 20-30, I always expected there to be failures and successes, embarrassments and triumphs, which is always what enterprises of great pitch and moment give you. It’s what war looks like, and this is why it must be entered into soberly and with great deliberation, which is exactly what we did. (A whole solid year of debate, now often referred to as a “rush to war.” Whatever.)

    Ausman: Yes, veterans who opposed the conflict were and are constantly celebrated by the left and mainstream media. Iraq war veterans who never changed their minds and are proud of what they did? Routinely ignored, in my experience. And that was my immediate thought: how fucking dare this guy think he can speak on behalf of any veteran but himself? And how fucking dare anyone put him up as representative somehow, without bothering to ask others?

    I honor his service. I do not honor his opinion: he’s full of shit. On multiple levels. So to him I say thank you for your service, and you have every right to your opinion which I do not share and which I know for a fact many veterans of that same conflict, not to mention family members of the fallen, also do not share. Some don’t. Having served, even dying, does not entitle you to speak for anyone but yourself, sir.

    But I do wonder: why do veterans who changed their minds get more honor than those who are proud of their service and think it was a noble endeavor?

    Hey here’s a thought: if you join the military, you don’t get to decide when and where wars start or end. That isn’t your job. In fact, that is a recipe for fascism. There’s a reason we have civilian control of the military: so the military doesn’t get to decide when and where it gets to go into battle. Can you think of a worse idea than that?

    If you don’t like it that way, don’t join the military. So I thank this man for his contribution but I frankly think his opinion dishonors those veterans who fought for a noble cause and have nothing to be ashamed of.

    My reasons for not having changed my mind are the same reasons Colin Powell never changed his mind. The same reason Joe Lieberman never changed his mind. The same reason Condi Rice never changed her mind.

    The reasons given here, in the broad consensus Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2002, all were active and valid at the time. No one “lied” about jack shit:

    Every one of those reasons was valid. Even the WMD thing, we had every reason to believe it was true, and the fact that we didn’t find them falls on the Saddam regime, not us.

    More later I guess, but seriously, this brings up some emotions in me and it’s tiring.

  • ArnoldHarris

    The only good result of the Iraq war, in accordance with my standards and the Middle East outcomes that I favor, will be the inevitable breakup of Iraq.

    Autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is in the process of becoming the first independent Kurdish state in modern times. The now all but certain breakup of Assad’s Syria into separate statelets will mean that Syrian Kurdistan will peel itself loose and coalesce with what had been Iraqi Kurdistan.

    After that will come the natural order of progression. Independent Kurdistan will mount the same kind of pressure in Turkish Kurdistan that Serbia did in Austro-Hungarian annexed Bosna-Hercegovina that led to world war in 1914. The inevitable outcome will see the the huge Kurdish segment of Turkey breaking loose and joining with their Kurdish brothers to the south.

    The last geographic piece of Kurdistan that the new Kurdish state will eventually acquire will be Iranian Kurdistan near the northwest corner of that state.

    So when all these processes are completed, the policies of George Herbert Walker Bush and George Walker Bush will have led to the partial or complete breakup of the present map of the Middle East.

    My understanding is that Israel has been quietly providing the Kurds with weaponry. If so, that would be the smartest move the Jewish state could ever make. In the 21st century model of the Great Game of the Middle East, Israel has reason to turn away from the now-fading imperial power of the USA and line up other allies. In time, these will include China, Russia and India. But it will prove useful for Israel to have Islamic allies as well. In any case, Israel’s target for protracted conflict should not be with the Islamic civilization but with the Arab nation.

    And to a lesser degree, Israel should dump its connections with the now-faded European states that once controlled most of the world but now count for nothing.

    Ironically, Israel’s best likelihood for a permanent ally in Europe will be Germany, which, in the long run, will economically control that entire continent. All the others are becoming beggar states with dying economies.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  • Dean Esmay

    And by the way, if we’re in the business of giving special credence to what present and former members of the military think when it comes to whether or not we should have a war–which they shouldn’t, we have civilian control of the military for a reason–we ought to note that in 2004, at the height of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, George W. Bush had the support of a whopping 72% of then-serving military.

    Therefore, I am not just dismissive, I am outright sickened and appalled at the media’s tendency to trot out some aggrieved “anti-war’ veteran who thinks he has the right to speak for those who served. The overwhelming majority of those serving on active duty in 2004 voted to re-elect George W. Bush. I’ve known more than one veteran of the Iraq conflict who proudly served and thought they were doing something good over there.

    So I will repeat once again that while I honor the service of all who did serve, regardless of their political opinions, fuck ANY veteran who thinks he speaks for all his fellow veterans. No one does, and if anything, the “anti-war” veterans were and are a distinct minority among their fellow veterans. That’s a politically inconvenient fact but a fact nonetheless.

    Yeah maybe I’m going to have to write an article. Maybe. Or maybe these comments will suffice. My reasons for supporting going to Iraq were all spelled out in crystal clear fashion in the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Saddam’s regime that was written and passed by overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Congress after a solid year of debate. It was the right thing to do. My disgust at Democrats who went against everything they said and decided it was easier to call Bush a “liar” is palpable, I find them truly loathsome. I’m proud I voted to re-elect Bush precisely BECAUSE of Iraq and Afghanistan, and NOTHING that has happened since then has changed my mind.

    Only one opinion I used to have has changed: I have completely lost faith that the American people can be counted on to get behind a sustained military conflict, and completely lost my faith that they can rise above petty partisan politics when such massive enterprises are undertaken. I will likely be much more loathe to endorse large-scale military action in the future, NOT because I think military action is the wrong thing (it often is exactly the right thing, as it was in Iraq) but because I have no more faith that Americans will do what it takes to get the job done; they’ll put partisanship above patriotism and human rights any time they get the chance.

    I won’t even get into how tiny our losses were compared to any conflict of similar scope, or how we have an all-volunteer service now, although that plays into it too: our military is nothing but volunteers now, no draftees, and our military is safer, more protected, better treated, and working under better conditions than ever in history, and it’s likely less dangerous to have been a Soldier in Iraq than a cop in parts of the US. But whatever.

    It’s not the Iraq campaign I’m disappointed in. It’s my countrymen. And especially the Democratic Party, and to a lesser extent the Republican party (which I’m now disgusted with for different reasons, although some of their moves here have made me unhappy too.)

  • Paul S.

    Dean, you expressed just about all of my thoughts and feelings very well in your above posts, so I don’t have much to add on that front, but….

    From Aziz’s link:
    “War exacerbated global terrorism and likely delayed the onset of the Arab Spring by a full decade…”

    The Arab Spring really began in late 2010, what were you seeing in late 2000 (“a full decade”) that indicated a movement like this may be afoot? And do you actually believe that a Middle East with one of the most brutal, iron fisted dictators in history (who would have been the beneficiary of another 10 years of ~$100 oil and had a perfect record of brutally suppressing his challengers) was more disposed to popular uprisings than one without him? That is quite an assertion, on what basis do you make it?

    Any retrospective exercise such as this should, in addition to the well documented costs, attempt to at least answer what an alternative world with Saddam Hussein still alive and in power might look like. Would it be a better world if Iraq was still enslaved and likely condemned to at least another several decades of the Saddam Hussein and his sadistic children?

    Would a transfer of power from the Hussein clan ever have been anything but terribly violent? I would suggest the longer that this reckoning was delayed the more violent it would have become. Lots of pressures were built up there.

    Over the past 10 years, how many more would have filled Saddam’s mass grave and torture chambers had he not been toppled? Would this be a better world than we have today?

    Would the will to continue sanctions still exists? I doubt it, but would it even matter given what we now know about the oil for food program? And what resources would the regime have by now given the ~$100 price of oil over the past decade? That does not sound like a better world to me.

    What would the world look like if those thousands of jihadists were not killed by our armed forces in Iraq? Is it not better that they faced our servicemen in the Middle East rather than civilians in Manhattan?

    Would Zarqawi be dead or still orchestrating the slaughter of Shiites?

    That whole regime was a pretty efficient weapon of mass destruction itself, with or without weapons with exotic names. The world is a better place without it.

  • Eric

    On the law and the facts, the decision for Operation Iraqi Freedom was correct.

    For the record:
    1. Explanation (link) of the law and policy, fact basis for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
    2. Saddam: What We Now Know (link) by Jim Lacey* draws from the Iraq Survey Group (re WMD) and Iraqi Perspectives Project (re terrorism). * Dr. Lacey was a researcher and author for the Iraqi Perspectives Project (link).
    3. UN Recognizes ‘Major Changes’ In Iraq (link) by VP Joe Biden on behalf of the UN Security Council.
    4. Withdrawal Symptoms: The Bungling of the Iraq Exit (link) by OIF senior advisor Rick Brennan.
    5. How Obama Abandoned Democracy in Iraq (link) by OIF official and senior advisor Emma Sky.