KP Debate: Was the Iraq Invasion and Occupation a Strategic Success?

Seven years after the US invaded Iraq, the last of its combat troops have withdrawn across the border into Kuwait. Left behind are 50,000 troops whose mission is to continue limited counter-insurgency operations while providing security training and advice to Iraqi security forces along with helping in civilian reconstruction projects. President Obama has been cautious in his framing of the end of the combat mission, noting that the “job” in Iraq is not yet done. No “mission accomplished” banners have been unfurled, and no staged military fly-ins to congratulate the troops have been organised. For the US, the end of combat in Iraq is a transition to another phase of its occupation, one that has seen an escalation in sectarian violence in parallel with the withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from the country. The future of Iraq remains unclear.

With that in mind the question of the moment is: what is the strategic outcome of the US invasion of Iraq? Has the outcome been positive or negative from the perspective of the US, the Middle East, and the broader international community? Was US intervention in Iraq a success?

In this post two opposing views are offered. I offer the case against the US invasion as a strategic success. Sagenz from No Minister offers the case in favour. The rules we have agreed on is that we both state our basic position without rebuttal, then invite the readers to argue the merits of each case. As the host I open the debate.

Con: The US invasion and occupation of Iraq is a strategic failure.

It is an axiom of military strategy that wars are fought for political reasons. The famous Clausewitz dictum that “war is politics by other means” is a hallmark of modern strategy, because even if fought for immediate reasons such as resources, territory, access to sea lanes or diplomatic leverage, the ultimate motive for war is a strategic calculation made by government elites that political advantage can be accrued by the use of force. Be it born out of necessity or discretion, wars are measured by the political outcomes they produce.

If we accept that achievement of political objectives are the reason for war, then the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a strategic failure. Let me summarise why, starting with what the US sought to accomplish with the invasion.

Using the pretext of preventing Saddam Hussein’s use of weapons of mass destruction, the US sought to remove his regime in order to install a secular, pro-US democracy that would host forward bases for US troops drawn from obsolete commands in Europe and controversial bases in Saudi Arabia. This would reinforce Iraq’s traditional role as a buffer state between the Sunni Arab world and their traditional Persian enemies in Shiia Iran while at the same time placing a US military presence on the Syrian border. The idea was to use the post 9/11 rationale of fighting Islamicist terrorism to bring the fight to the region in which it was incubated while intimidating those like Iran and Syria who are believed to provide weapons, training and safe havens for the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. Coupled with the US military presence in Afghanistan, the installation of permanent US military bases in Iraq would act as a pincer on Iran and a check on Syria and Iranian proxies while allowing the US to more rapidly project massed force into failed states such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen where Islamicists congregate.

The invasion was also sold as bringing democracy to Iraq and as a means of re-opening Iraqi oil supplies to the world after more than a decade of embargos and sanctions. The erection of a pro-Western democracy on the ashes of the Baathist one-party authoritarian state was seen as a model for other Muslim Arab countries to emulate, and therefore a vehicle for change in the Sunni world. The re-opening of Iraq’s oil industry would help undermine the Saudi monopoly on oil pricing within OPEC, since full capacity Iraq oil production would be the third largest in the world (after Saudi Arabia and Russia). Breaking the Saudi ability to price fix the petroleum market would lead to a reduction in crude prices, thereby stimulating economic growth and consumption in the West in the measure that disposable income for corporate investment and consumer spending in non-energy related areas was freed up. With fuel costs down Western economies could push out of their post- 9/11 doldrums.  

Breaking the Saudi lock hold on oil pricing would also accelerate reform in the Kingdom as it was forced to diversify its economy and become more competitive in its core export industry. That would and encourage and reinforce incipient democratic movements as well as economic diversification throughout the Middle East, under the assumption that a move towards competitive economic diversity would promote political pluralism as well. The sum total of these repercussive effects would be to enhance US prestige and power in that part of the world while curtailing that of regional adversaries. Or so the neoconservative architects of the invasion thought.

In practice, this is what has happened: when compared to the Saddam regime, Iraq is more politically unstable, less of a buffer, virtually defenceless on its own, and just as anti-American, if less autocratic than before 2003. It may hold elections but it is by no means democratic, especially when examined at the sub-national level where traditional political hierarchies and forms of patronage still obtain. It has yet to convene a central government six months after the last parliamentary elections due to profound and often violent divisions between Sunni and Shiia parliamentary blocs. Corruption remains endemic, even worse than under Saddam due to the influx of foreign money for reconstruction and pacification projects. Compared to 2003 Iraq is more susceptible to Iranian influence in its internal politics, most visibly via Moqtada al-Sadr’s Madhi Army and other militias that dominate Shiia political representation. In fact, the US has had to court the favour of the very Baath Party members and Sunni tribal elders that were the backbone of Saddam’s regime in order to counter Shiia dominance of Iraq politics, with a Kurdish-Sunni alliance now seen as the only means of balancing the numerical advantages held by Shiia political factions (the same formula that Saddam used to bolster his regime). The goal of representative democracy has been abandoned as completely as was the search for WMD—what matters now is staving off Shiia domination of the Iraqi political process. The irony is that is exactly what Saddam was useful for in the 1980s—countering Persian and Shiia influence at home and abroad.

Although the volume of terrorist attacks has diminished from the high point of 2004-07, car bombings, assaults on mosques, markets, police stations and community centres, assassination of community leaders, kidnappings, murders and other basic measures of criminality have all increased exponentially when compared with the Hussein regime. On virtually every human security index—health (infant mortality, average life span, infectious disease rates, access to primary care), education (literacy, access to post-primary schooling), access to electricity and potable water—Iraq is worse off today than before the invasion. It is no longer a secular republic, but instead a country in which behind a facade of constitutional government religion permeates politics from the local to the national level. It is a country in which women used to populate senior positions in the health, education and diplomatic bureaucracies, but which now sees the burqa imposed on the streets of conservative neighbourhoods. In sum: the country is fundamentally broken as a result of the invasion, and this was not a case of having to break eggs in order to make an omelette. It is a case of breaking eggs with hope but without a p(l)an.

The Iraqis have refused to allow the US permanent basing rights, so thoughts about using  the country as a forward platform for US regional force projection are no longer possible. That leaves Iraq virtually defenceless, since its national army is weak, corrupt, and focused on internal security while its air force and navy are for all intents and purposes non-functional. In fact, once the remaining US troops are withdrawn by 2014, Iraq will be at the mercy of its neighbours, Iran in particular (which may be a reason why US troops may stay beyond that deadline). In order to counter that possibility, Iraq is making overtures to Syria and Turkey and the wider international community in ways that do not conform to the US preferred approach to those countries (for example, by courting Russian and Chinese investment in oil infrastructure). Rather than a beacon of pro-US democracy in an otherwise authoritarian landscape in the Middle East, Iraq looks at best—in the event that it does eventually develop a stable central government with authority over the whole country—to become a civilianised version of Saddam’s regime, with a Shiia twist.

As for the oil logic, the results have been poor. Iraq oil production is years away from pre-1990 levels and those who will benefit the most from its resumption are the Chinese and Rusisans whose contracts for infrastrructure development have been accepted by the Malaki regime. The Saudis are unmoved politically or economically by the invasion and occupation–they still dominate international oil pricing and they still play both sides of the fence when it comes to the so-called “war on terror.”  Energy prices throughout the West have not come down to anything close to pre-2003 levels, so whatever the intention, the results of the invasion have been counterproductive on both the political and economic dimensions. Saudi Arabia is still the dominant economic and political force in the Arab world, and another regional power has benefitted from the invasion in unexpected ways.

To put things bluntly, the biggest beneficiary of the US invasion is Iran. In terms of regional power balances, Iran has been strengthened by the invasion. Having US forces tied down in Iraq as well as Afghanistan made it less possible for the US to credibly threaten large-scale force against Tehran. Having borders on both Afghanistan and Iraq allows the Iranians to leverage their support for anti-US irregulars in both countries while at the same time continuing support for proxies further afield such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Its influence in Iraq has increased to the point that it is a major power broker in that country, which has allowed it to start a process of “Finlandisation” of Iraq whereby the latter no longer serves as a buffer state but instead as a forward line of defense for Iranian interests. Using great power balancing to its advantage, Iran has successfully played off Russia, China and the West on matters of common concern in Iraq and elsewhere while cultivating broader international ties with countries like Brazil and Venezuela.  

All of this gives Iran space to manoeuvre with regards to its suspected nuclear weapons development program and overall military expansion while providing it with shelter from armed response to its openly anti-Israeli, anti-American and anti-British rhetoric. That has increased Iranian prestige within the Muslim world while undermining Sunni Arab elites who are seen as appeasing of Western interests. By all measures, and despite internal dissent, Iran’s world position is stronger today than it was in 2003. It has consequently gotten bolder, expanded its range of influence and placed its Western antagonists under more pressure than ever before.

The US strategic position is weaker as a result of the invasion. Although it is true that ten years of continuous fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere has made the US military (especially its land forces) the most combat experienced in the world today, it has been stretched thin by its ongoing deployments and is therefore no longer able to mount large scale land assaults in other theatres of operation for anything other than short periods of time. Since air and sea power do not secure ground, this leaves the US unable to respond to military contingencies in the measure that it could have had it not gone into Iraq. The 2008 Ruso-Georgian War is illustrative in that regard. Moreover, the debacles of Abu Ghraib and Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo have reduced US moral authority and prestige world-wide while encouraging anti-US sentiment throughout the Muslim Diaspora. Thus, by no measure can it be said that the US is stronger today than it was on the eve of the invasion in March 2003.

Hence, when considering the outcomes of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the overall picture is one of strategic failure. The US did not achieve any of its goals other than the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Perversely, the rivals it sought to weaken have been strengthened while the position it sought to establish has been abandoned. Rather than consolidate US superpower pre-eminence it has opened it to question. It has left the Middle East geopolitical landscape less rather than more stable, and it not diminished Islamicist influence in the Muslim world or its capabilities to strike at targets outside of Iraq. What successes have been achieved in dismantling al-Qaeda’s core leadership and large scale operational abilities have occurred in spite of rather than because of the Iraq invasion.

Perhaps the longer-term picture in Iraq will turn out to be more favourable to US interests. But if that does happen, it will be due not so much to the invasion and occupation itself as it will be to the as of yet unknown actions of Iraqi and other international actors in the wake of US military withdrawal. Only then will a strategic victory be snatched from what is now a strategic defeat masquerading as a military drawdown.

Pro: Seven years after Saddam, It’s too early to tell.

The question is: what is the strategic outcome of the US invasion of Iraq? Has the outcome been positive or negative from the perspective of the US, the Middle East, and the broader international community?

Pablo has succinctly put the case for the view that the invasion of Iraq is a strategic failure.  I put the case for the invasion being a qualified strategic success.

To analyse whether the world is in a better or worse place because of the invasion we must consider three things.  Has America achieved its strategic objectives, what the alternative would have been and what was the strategic context for the invasion? 

Addressing those in reverse order the strategic context for the invasion can be traced to the US withdrawal from Lebanon after losing 200 marines, the decision to leave Saddam Hussein in place after the first gulf war, Clinton cutting and running from Somalia after losing 17 Rangers followed by the international community washing its hands in Rwanda and being too slow to protect European Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.  Aden and the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1992-3 were further indicators to Osama Bin Laden and the Islamists that the West had grown corrupt, weak and lacked the will to defend themselves.  911 was intended to cause a reaction from the US.  What Al Qaeda expected was a weak response that would kill many Muslims and bring more to the cause.  The air war on Serbia was perhaps their foremost example of an America unwilling to put boots on the ground. 

Although many will not accept the premise of Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations it is clear to any serious observer that Islamists reject Western culture and are prepared to use violent means to replace it with a caliphate.  To suggest that the invasion of Iraq caused otherwise completely peaceful Muslims to become insurgents would be fatuous.   Western mistakes have certainly provided recruits to the cause but the likes of Abu Hamza were preaching their hatred long before GW Bush took office.

Having invaded Afghanistan after 911 the US was faced with a strategic choice.  Double down and try to convert part of the Middle East to democracy or manage the situation.  Having chosen not to occupy Iraq in 1991 the US had seen the result.  A dictatorship contemptuous of American power and an enemy prepared and able to bring the war to American soil.  It is relevant that there have been no further successful attacks on US soil since September 2001.

America and their allies chose to take the fight to the enemy.  That the invasion lacked UN legitimacy was only down to a late change of mind from the perfidious French more concerned with their Iraq weapons sales than morality.  To believe that America must occupy Iraq to control its oil is to completely misunderstand the international oil market.  Even now, Venezuela supplies a large amount of crude to US refineries.

Moving on to address the likely present if the invasion had not happened.  Without the invasion of Iraq, the Islamists would have had only one front to fight on and all recruits would have headed to Afghanistan.  The difficulties faced by the coalition there from a divided enemy would have been nothing compared to the full force of an Al Qaeda not distracted and then defeated in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein would have long broken the will of the international community to keep up sanctions.  He was more able to accept the damage to his own people from them.  Iraq had the technology to reconstitute chemical weapons any time they wished to and would now be well on the way to being nuclear armed as Iran and Iraq along with other countries scared by that prospect engaged in a regional arms race.  Nuclear weapons in the hands of Qusay or Uday Hussein would certainly have required US intervention.

Iraqi leadership do not quite understand yet that the US is serious about leaving them to their own devices.  It is now apparent that Iraq is in a similar position to Pakistan with the American military providing  a stable guiding hand rather than the Pakistani military.  Both countries require a leader to emerge before they can expect genuine stability.  Does the fact that Iraq is in a similar position to Pakistan make Iraq a success or Pakistan a failure?

Has America achieved its strategic objectives?  On the face of it Pablo makes a strong case that the current situation is a strategic failure for the US on the basis of the objectives he identifies. Certainly the Islamist insurgents fought more determinedly than anybody thought likely.  Abu Ghraib and other incidents are a stain on American honour and its moral leadership.

However, the core strategic objective for the US to invade Iraq in 2003 was and remains its own security.  Islamist terrorism had challenged the status quo and American power.  The only way to ensure America had peace was to bring that peace to the rest of the world.  Hence the development of the Bush doctrine.

Can anybody now doubt that America is prepared to use force to protect its strategic interests.  Although the insurgents have developed tactical IED that cause losses to coalition forces,  the insurgents lose when they confront coalition forces directly.  By contrast, the US has highly developed drone technology that is proving highly effective at targeting and destroying enemy leadership. It’s military has learned the hard lessons of counter-insurgency doctrine.

“Peaceful” Islam must go through its own enlightenment before it ceases to treat its women so barbarically and joins the modern world.  The sight of democratic elections in Afghanistan and Iraq has de-stabilised theocratic Iran.  Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons for decades, that is not new.

America has taken the fight to the enemy and won a military victory on its enemy’s fields.  To expect nations with decades of dictatorship and conflict to easily turn into stable democracies within a decade was never more than wishful thinking.  The flow of foreign recruits to Iraq insurgency was stemmed and Iraqi insurgents chose to take a more peaceful path.  In the new world of counter insurgent warfare there is not an army to defeat on the field, but the absence of a large number of insurgent combatants is an indicator of success.

As America withdraws its combat troops it can only look forward to many more years of Islamist containment but it has demonstrated to the world in general and Islamism in particular that it has not lost its determination and ability to react when provoked.  It has left behind a country that is corrupt, poorly lead, but practicing self determination. That constitutes a qualified strategic success.

27 thoughts on “KP Debate: Was the Iraq Invasion and Occupation a Strategic Success?

  1. It’s really impossible to weigh your arguments against one another because you are effectively arguing different things. Specifically you both have different views on what the US goal was when entering Iraq, and thus different criteria for what a “success” is. Furthermore, deciding which criteria is more appropriate depends on access to the highest levels of historical decision making, which none of us have and will not get very soon. In trying to decide what motivated Bush to invade Iraq – and we have a whole slew of options, including oil, forward basing, WMD, American imperialism, revenge for 1991, suppressing terrrorism, promoting democracy and a whole bunch of other stuff, let alone all the various combinations and permutations of those – we are effectively just giving our best guesses.

    Ultimately wars are complex things and even if we can identify the goals in entering them, these goals often shift during the course of the conflict. For instance, it’s still a subject of massive debate as to whether the Korean War was an American victory or defeat, and some commentators (Chomsky) have even maintained that Vietnam was not a US defeat.

    So rather than say who I agree with I’m going to take issue with some of your specific contentions.

    Pablo I would say post-invasion Iraq is not as vulnerable to its neighbours as you say. The same irregular warfare which ruined a US occupation would probably flare to life against an invasion by another neighbour (and let’s face it, we’re talking Iran here). The only reason Iran might have an easier time of it is that it would be able to draw on the loyalty of Shi’a Iraqis where the US couldn’t. But I think that’s an oversimplification of the Shi’a position – simply because they are coreligionists doesn’t mean they would have no objection to an Iranian invasion. To assume so is to make the same mistake Hussein made during 1979 when he presumed ethnically Arab Iranians would support Iraq’s invasion of Iran.

    Phil, my argument with you is less lengthy. You say that nobody can doubt that the US will act violently to defend its strategic interests. Firstly, I don’t think anybody ever doubted that, so the idea that Iraq somehow establishes that the USA has steel balls is a non-starter. But even if it weren’t, the people who doubt American resolve also usually doubt Iraq’s strategic importance to America. So… yea

    And to both of you, the whole concept of “withdrawal of combat troops” seems farcical when troops are going to continue to engage in counter-terrorist activity. Is this non-combat based counter-terrorist activity? Or does it mean that the US is going to stop engaging in all the non-counter-terrorist combat activity that it’s been up to in Iraq since 2003? (Which was what, again?) This whole “end to combat ops” is pure semantics designed for a domestic electoral audience. Pablo, as an American, you are the target audience so I guess you can be excused for buying into it, but Sage, well, truly disappointed, particularly for somebody who prides himself in his cynicism towards empty electoral posturing.

    Ultimately I think the question we need to ask is whether a binary “did they win or did they lose” question is actually at all helpful in promoting an understanding of the Iraq situation.

  2. I agree with the 1st comment in that the goal of the Iraq invasion is far too vague to have such a debate. The stated goal, sold to Joe Public, was removal of WMDs. In this respect we have to say it was a failure since no WMDs were found.

    I would argue that the invasion was a success based on what I assume were the primary goals of invading a sovereign country without grounds (IE committing a war crime):
    1. To weaken and break up the nation of Iraq & create chaos, turning the Iraqis against each other….a weakened state is more easily manipulated in the future and Iraq is a highly strategic state based on hydro-carbon deposits. Just look at how easily the Kurds are being manipulated by the U.S. & Israelis for example (oil market access, PKK strategic partnership collaboration etc)
    2. Getting Iraqi oil flowing into the marketplace sold in US currency.
    3. Eliminating an Israeli enemy in the region. It’s no great secret that Saddam was a thorn in the Israeli’s side or that Israel manipulates US foreign policy in the Middle East. He was taken down and the Israeli PR machine was helping sell the lies that sent U.S. troops over there to commit their war crimes.

  3. I look forward to you posting in a dispassionate, for and against discussion on the success or otherwise of 9/11 for Islamic extremism.

    After all, that only killed about 3000 people, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands of victims of America’s psychopathic predilection for violence that have been discarded onto the scrapheap of dessicated academic discussion here.

  4. Sagenz: “is the world a better place” for the invasion of Iraq is pretty much a matter of opinion. The question is whether the invasion was a strategic success for the invaders – and I’ve never seen anything to indicate that the answer to that could be even a severely qualified “Yes.”

    In trying to decide what motivated Bush to invade Iraq – and we have a whole slew of options, including oil, forward basing, WMD, American imperialism, revenge for 1991, suppressing terrrorism, promoting democracy and a whole bunch of other stuff, let alone all the various combinations and permutations of those – we are effectively just giving our best guesses.

    Sure – but given all of those potential candidates (assuming W even had a coherent reason for invading Iraq, which I believe we shouldn’t assume), we can still draw conclusions. For example, we know that invading Poland wasn’t a strategic success for Germany, no matter what the motivation for it. In the case of Iraq, I can’t see any potential strategic motive for invading Iraq that would allow us to claim the war was a strategic success, with one exception – if the strategic motive was simply “remove Saddam Hussein from power.” On that measure, the invasion was an indisputable success – however, it leads to a further question about just how much of a moron the C in C would have to be to have had that as his performance measure for such a horrendous waste of human life, international goodwill and taxpayer cash.

  5. Thanks all for your comments. Neither Pablo nor myself thinks the exit of combat troops signifies anything other than a symbolic event providing opportunity to examine whether Iraq was a strategic success or not.

    Hugh – I understand your concern that we are arguing different points. Pablo takes a more narrow short term view and can thus judge more harshly.
    As regards our disagreement on whether the US was perceived as weak, that is the whole point I make in my discussion of the strategic context. America had chosen to do the bare minimum.

    Dan – It is a matter of historical fact that Saddam used chemical weapons and had the technical knowledge. Precursors and evidence were found but that did not suit the media theme of there being no WMD so the reality was given any emphasis. I am not going to further engage on that as we have had 7 years to discuss those points.

    Tom S – Yours is the most interesting. To blame America for all the deaths caused by Al Qaeda in Iraq is fatuous. I don’t expect you to be agree on that so on to your question.
    AQ has over reached themselves. As I said in my post Islam must go through its own enlightenment.
    Islamism expected bombs not troops. Bin Laden had not been martyred but hides in a cave in Pakistan’s FTA.

    Western armed forces and security services are now fully focused on protecting civilians. Islamist terrorists have caused a huge amount of destruction, but to what end? At some point moderate Islam will recognise, like the Sunni awakening that the main victims of the all terrorism has been fellow muslims. Nobody knows whether that will take years or decades, but eventually the inherent contradictions of militant Islamism will cause it to fail.

    If Gore had won the presidency and had followed the unwillingness of Clinton to commit ground troops then things might have been vastly different.

    Milt – You see the invasion in far too narrow terms. Do I believe that the Bush administration had clearly identified and communicated all of the strategic objectives I highlighted above before the invasion. No I don’t, but they intuitively understood the larger factors at work and made the correct decision.

  6. There seems to be some confusion about the US goals in the invasion/occupation. It is now clear that removing WMD was a pretext, not a real objective. The real objectives, amply documented in numerous book, articles and interviews with govt officials, was what I summarised above, although I agree with Phil that making a point about being tough could have factored into the equation post 9/11. Scenarios such as “revenge for the assasination attempt on daddy” simply do not cut it. Even W. was not that irrational, and Cheney would have over-ridden him if he was.

    More specific points:

    Hugh: you note about indigenous Iraq abilities to engage in irregular armed resistance is well taken, but I wonder if they would fare as well if the opponent was not as risk adverse as is the US? The Iranians perfected the “human wave” assault formations in the Iran-Iraq war and do not seem to care about the numbers of killed in action so long as they prevail. That may alter the strategic equation. I also agree that Iraqi Shiia loyalties would be divided in the event of another Iran-Iraq war. But it is unquestionable who the stronger military power is now.

    As for my “buying” into the withdrawal rhetoric, you (again) attribute to me, on the basis of my nationality this time, a naivetee and simple-mindedness that I do not have.

    Tom: Phil and I agreed to use the symbolic withdrawal of combat troops as the starting point of a discussion that we have had episodically on the two blogs over a period of time. The discussion is about strategic objectives, not a moral polemic. Thus bringing 9/11 moral equivalency into the mix is an unnecessary thread jack. For the record, as I have stated before, I believe that 9/11 was an initially successful sucker ploy by AQ, in that it was designed to get the US to overreact and thereby alienate the Muslim world even further. You can be the judge as to whether that has happened or not.

    Dan: I am not sure that Israel factored much into the decision to invade simply because, despite the usual anti-Israeli rhetoric, Saddam was no threat to Israel. Iran, on the other hand, is seen as a real threat so perhaps the Israelis saw the invasion along the lines I mentioned in the post–as a means of putting direct military pressure on Iran via the deployment of US troops to both its Western and Eastern borders. If so they would have supported the invasion but not been included in the decision-making that led to it.

    I do not agree that the US goals were to create chaos in order to better manipulate the Iraqi population so as to ease the oil flow. That runs counter to any reasonable logic. The Kurds were allies of the US well before the invasion and are therefore prone to cooperate with it in the aftermath. To claim that an atmosphere of sectarian violence and discord is somehow conducive to gaining more easy access to Iraqi oil not only defies basic logic but has been proven false in any event. Iraqi oil production is a long way off from having an impact on global output and prices and much of the reason for that is, well, chaos.

  7. Western armed forces and security services are now fully focused on protecting civilians. Islamist terrorists have caused a huge amount of destruction, but to what end? At some point moderate Islam will recognise, like the Sunni awakening that the main victims of the all terrorism has been fellow muslims. Nobody knows whether that will take years or decades, but eventually the inherent contradictions of militant Islamism will cause it to fail.

    Man, where do you get these types of comments from? Do you study the propaganda coming out of the CFR or what? No offense, I’d really like to know.

    How can you Americans be so convinced that Islam is somehow responsible for the violence that your war has created?

    We don’t blame Christianity for your blundering & murderous ways, we simply see them as horrible mistakes that put black marks against your name in the history books.

    Really Pablo, it seem to me you need to study the real situation from a more socio/economic/military/cultural/political stand point & just forget the religion aspect if you want to know what’s going on in the Middle East etc.

    The first thing you can do is find out how much the Sunni leaders were paid by Petreaus while they were performing their “awakening”.

    Humans the world over are motivated by much the same things. Do us all a favour & forget about that Islam propaganda you seem so keen to throw around.

  8. Dan:

    You appear to have me and Sagenz confused. He is not American and he is the author of the quote you cite. Your advice to me indicates that you know very little about my professional background, my record of professional and editorial writing, the thrust of my writing on this blog and my direct experience with the issues you so blithly pontificate about (including counter-insurgency). So, with all due respect, spare me your overwrought anti-Americanism and get your facts straight before writing. We tend to agree more than you think, so your points are best made with Sagenz, but in a less hysterical fashion.

  9. CFR is probably a bad example. More like a mild Fox News piece or a pro-Israeli PR monkey.

  10. Pablo, I’m not an expert in battlefield tactics and to be frank they kind of bore me. The question of how Iranian tactics would fare against an insurgency is basically an unknown. I agree that they might fare significantly better than the US did, but for Iran to attack Iraq on the basis of that “might” would be displaying a level of optimism at least equal to that that the Americans indulged in.

    It did occur to me today that it’s not outside the realms of possibility that an Iraqi government that obtains a modicum of stability might actually manage to serve as a trusted mediator between Washington and Teheran, since the clique that’s in control right now is friendly with both countries. Obviously that wasn’t Washington’s goal, but it might be a pleasant unintended consequence.

    As for the withdrawal point, I’m sorry you feel I’m indulging in anti-American-ness, and I may be being unfair, but I think the substance of my point stands. The idea that Americans will not indulge in combat operations but will continue with counter-terrorist operations seems ridiculous to me, since up until now combation operations in Iraq have all been counter-terrorist operations, and vice versa.

  11. Hugh:

    What bores me are people who nitpick without offering sustantive comments about the main points of argument and who attribute behaviour or impute motive without real cause. You do all three things.

    I never said that I “bought” the line that combat operations had ceased in Iraq. As has now been said repeatedly, the withdrawal of large combat units was just used as the starting point for this discussion about strategic outcomes. Yet you attribute my apparent stupidity in “buying” the line to the fact that I am American, which of itself is an incredibly stupid thing to write given that I have lived most of my adult life outside of the US and have the (very public) record to prove that I do not accept US govt intepretations of reality in an uncritical fashion. I am not one to cast aspersions in the intelligence of readers, and I know that you are not dumb, but your obstinate efforts to find negative motive behind my writing has gotten old.

    Your middle paragraph makes a valid point. You should stick to that form of reasoning less you be considered a high-minded troll.

  12. I am inclined to think the strategic goals of invasion to be an absolute failure. Especially if the political grand strategy was some form of hegemonic influence by the US in the Middle East. To this I add my reasoning:

    1. To blindly go into a country that has thousands of years of cultural and political history, by a country (US) that is only a few hundred years old, is a pure fantasy about nation-building in your own image, is a certainty you will fail.

    2. Grand strategy is a key point that Pablo makes – to aim for a long term goal in the short term. self-interest is a powerful thing in political hands. Animosity is its opposite.”resources, territory, access to sea lanes or diplomatic leverage, the ultimate motive for war is a strategic calculation made by government elites that political advantage can be accrued by the use of force…” This statement by Pablo is the core point for invasion. It would take nearly 100 years or more, in my view, to pull off such a feat. Because credibilty is at stake. The US did not have crediabilty on this occasion.

    3. I believe that the invasion lacked a credible background check on the nature of extreme islam. They think globally, not regional. Even if it means they want a Caliphate ruled Middle East, Northern Africa. I am not convinced the US truely followed the “Clausewitz dictum that “war is politics by other means”…” because it implies victory before you start, on the issue of understanding extreme Islam.

    I conclude that hubris, malice and avarice primary faults of the US invasion. And in my qualified opinion, if I were to think like a conspiracy theorist, I would say Pablo has the most convincing and accurate viewpoint on the nature of success or failure of American presence ion Iraq.

  13. Pablo

    Can I just state for the record that I’m not really interested in advice on how to avoid being seen as a troll? If you find my tone so negative I’m not worth responding to, don’t respond. If you can look past it, look past it. I’m sure you’re not interested in my advice on the tone of your writing. I am not interested in winning your approval either.

    Getting back to the combat ops vs non-combat ops thing, I may have been harsh on you and Phil at this point, but when you say “the last combat troops have left” and don’t qualify this, it does appear that you’re buying the government line.

  14. Hugh:

    For a guy angling for a guest post you clearly are clueless. You are a guest here, hence your posts appear courtesy of me, Lew and Anita. I have indulged your diversionary nitpicking in the hope that you would have something useful to contribute. As it turns out, you do, but those nuggets of occasional clarity are buried under a mound of silliness. I am inclined to indulge you no more.

    Because you are “bored” by military tactics and strategy, you are demonstrably ignorant about the difference between the withdrawal of large combat formations such as the last Stryker brigade and ongoing counter-insurgency efforts (which are small unit and intelligence intensive, rather than massed kinetic in nature–look it up). That ignorance makes your comments uninformed and largely useless. Arguing that my nationality prevents me from seeing the propaganda spin involved in the withdrawal just shows you to be an uninformed yet opinionated jerk.

    I suggest you take pause, read for at least five years on matters of strategy, and then try to engage me on equal terms. Even then, I doubt that you will.

  15. Pablo – actually the crowd is kind of hostile both ways. I guess that means my argument is more successful given the starting point ;^) I am off to bed without trying to insult or rebut anyone else.

  16. Sagenz: you seem to be suggesting that the war was a success because the US decisively defeated one of its enemies as an example to the others, and now no-one can be in any doubt that it will use force to protect its strategic interests.

    I question whether even that strategic aim has been fulfilled. No-one was really in any doubt about the ability of US regular forces to defeat any other nation’s regular forces in battle, so the Iraq invasion was only a conclusive demonstration of the glaringly obvious.

    Problem is, America’s enemies of the moment aren’t regular forces, they’re irregulars, and the Iraq war has demonstrated that American forces are little better able to make progress against irregulars than the forces of other nations. Worst of all for the supposed strategic objective of demonstrating American strength and resolve, the strain of mounting the Iraq invasion resulted in poorer performance in Afghanistan, demonstrating that division of force is as performance-sapping for Americans as it is for anyone else. I don’t see how any of that can be chalked up as a success.

  17. PM:

    Very good point. My thought is that Iraq demonstrated all of the weaknesses of the US approach, weaknesses that have been compounded in Afghanistan (a harder place to “pacify”). It also taught insurgents how to best fight irregularly against the US (especially via the use of IEDs and follow up ambushes, such as in the case of the NZDF combat death in Bamiyan). Althought the dialectic between the offense and the defense means that the US is becoming quite effective at neutralising IEDs, that focus detracts from the other things it needs to do in a counter-insurgency campaign, even if the latter is well thought out and attuned to local conditions (which is debatable).

    At a minimum I appreciate you addressing the topic of the post rather than playing the nitpicking pedant game.

  18. Hey, Pablo, I think you need to check your meanometer again. And, while you’re at it, you might want to take a look at your vainometer!

  19. Thanks for a useful and informative debate. I usually ignore Middle East politics – half the world has an uninformed opinion, they don’t need mine.

    As a mere observer I’ll say that it seems to me that the US can be considered a success in the way that someone who starts a PhD and ends up 4 years later with a post-graduate diploma could be. In a very limited sense. If you greatly narrow the terms and exclude most of the initial ones, perhaps.

  20. Many factors contribute to a US decision to go to war. Joe Public is sold a narrative which may or may not contain elements of truth.

    Eg, GW Bush and his “mushroom cloud” speech. Or Colonel Powell in front of the UNSC waving around a vile of what he alluded to as being anthrax and showing CGI pictures of “mobile chemical weapons manufacturing facilities”. All of this was based on phony baloney “intelligence”, none of which the US intelligence community supported.

    For decades now the US intelligence community has become more politicised in nature, designing their “intelligence” around predetermined political narratives. And when they won’t submit to political pressure there’s always the good ole Israelis to come through with “intelligence” that ‘links Saddam to al Qaeda’.

    The whole debate is flawed when the facts are analysed in detail. It’s a case of buying these half truths and trying to sound academic and score points.

    Or is it just that the debate subject was badly framed?
    It should state what the mission was and from who’s angle it has been successful. Weapons manufacturers are happy, this is the largest export of the US. The Israelis are happy. Saddam was paying out $10k to families of Palestinian martyrs before he was attacked. He was also getting out of US dollars so the US treasury department and certain banking interests are happy – can’t let those Arabs sell their oil in other currencies….

    Forgive my uber-cynicism. I just think this entire thing stinks, especially when the narrative is being taken seriously – people discussing “Islamic extremism” and acting like they know something about “them”.

  21. Coming from you Chris, that is quite rich. Go back to your armchair and have another glass.

  22. Just as a reference, the total word count for “Islam”, Islamism”, “Islamist” and “Islamicist” in the answer to the debate about US strategic success/failure in her military invasion of Iraq (a secular dictatorship) was 11.

    I’d say the invasion was more successful than this debate.

  23. Milt – Certainly nobody was in any doubt about the ability of the US armed forces. The doubt was about the willingness of Western leaders to use them.

    Is the US now better placed to combat irregular forces that Al Qaeda was to fight as an irregular force after Iraq. Well AQ have IED’s but were defeated in Iraq in a battleground of US choosing.

  24. Of course the invasion of Iraq was a success for the US ruling class; i.e.judged by the standard of rationality that is necessary for the US to remain the hegemonic world power. Its strategic objective is to create client states around and within the spheres of influence of its main rivals China and Russia, for control of Asia. The Great Game is a long game.

  25. Dave, I think the question regarding that point is whether the client state you might posit it has created in Iraq is in fact secure as such, or whether it’s vulnerable to Iranian capture — or provides an opportunity for Iran to assert itself more strongly.


  26. I think Phil’s right: huge success. Invading another country on demonstrably false pretences thus causing the deaths of a couple of mill-odd civilians and displacing another 5mill-odd, is bound to be quickly forgiven and forgotten by succeeding generations, their neighbours and bros in religion. You know, like it always has been, especially in that part of the world. What a pity the Keyster wasn’t in charge at the time – then we’d be on the list too for the gratitude cards that are sure to flow to the coalition of the willing in the future. (Sage, eh…any relation to George W Sage?)

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