Which Mistake Was the Worst?

I am talking about Iraq of course.  The current candidates are –

1- Invasion of the "Iraq of Our Dreams" rather than the Iraq of objective reality.  Chas Freeman cites this formulation of mine on occasion.  What this refers to is that before the war as well as now, the US government abandoned the standard of objective reality in making judgments concerning the nature of Iraqi society in favor of making judgments "relevant to policy" as a neocon yuppy recently expressed the phenomenon to me.  This kid was in OSD in the "great days of high adventure" when intelligence analysts’ opinions were dismissed as worthless by professors and their "familiars" from among their favorite graduate students.  "Just give us the data," was the refrain in those days.  We went to Ivy League colleges and our daddies have money, and so we must be smarter than you civil servants and soldiers.  What was the result?  The USG conceived of Iraq as a "nation" of wogs, each of whom contained in his/her breast an American yearning to be set free as part of the upward and inevitable progress of mankind toward Westernization and latte for all.  The neocons, the oil men, Chalabi and behind him probably the Iranians all played a role, but as the president said yesterday, he is the "decider."  Astonishingly, the Americans involved still do not seem to understand the enormity of their folly.

2 – P–s poor planning for OIC.  Planning conducted under the supervision of men like General Keane, former Vice-Chief of Staff who yesterday admitted on the Newshour that the army that he had supervised threw away everything it knew about counter-insurgency after Vietnam or the lackeys who ran CENTCOM before and during OIC and who allowed Rummy to intimidate them.  Pathetic.

3- Disbanding the Iraqi Army.  This requires no comment at this point.

I vote for #1.

Pat Lang

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41 Responses to Which Mistake Was the Worst?

  1. taters says:

    I was absolutely aghast that Paul Bremer passed on Larry Johnson’s invite to arrange a meeting with you. I guess that only affirms my vote for number one, too.

  2. Chris Bray says:

    I’ll also take the first choice, in large part because Americans have also fought centuries of wars with the Pequot and Seminoles and Sioux of our dreams, the Filipinos of our dreams, the Vietnamese of our dreams…
    For a knowledge of history, substitute the ability to chant, “Lesson of Munich! Lesson of Munich!”
    We keep passing up our chances to know better.

  3. b says:

    I’ll vote for 0 (zero). The idea to Iraq at all instead of making peace with them.

  4. michael Singer says:

    Dear Pat, I see in #1 a vague reference to a role Iran may have played in the run up to the war in Iraq. I begin to think of all the friendly Iraqis who were sitting in Iran, being fed whatever
    while wating for Saddam’s fall; they started feeding the US the intel that said Iraq could be easily overthrown, scores of them beside Mr. Chalabi. That intel transformed into the gossipal according to Paul (W.)–the genius who humiliated Gen. Shenseki in public. Then think about Chalabi’s relationship to the Iranians and to Iranian intelligence. Remember that little scandal that never got resolved?Remember for all his ups and downs he was last seen as Minister of Oil. Then think of how well the Iranians are making out in Iraq. The Iranians surely wanted Saddam out. Could they have thought it would be a brilliant idea to feed the US the intel it wanted to hear and help get the American beast roused enough to attack Saddam? And then would it be possible for the Iranians to know or guess that the post battle occupation would turn into a guerilla war? And couldn’t the Iranians have helped form and arm the Shia militias in case of sectarian war or Shite control of the “post war” government?
    Could Iranian agents now be all over Iraq getting prepared and preparing for a change in power? Call me crazy but it sounds like a plan. If it was it may be one of the most incredible inteligence operations in history that the public knows about.
    Michael Singer

  5. Curious says:

    I vote for No. 2.
    No.1 a delusional reasoning can still be saved with perfect execution. (okay so maybe, the softening up of Iraqis people will take different tact, had we not see them as primitive nomads. Probably we’ll give more consideration of existing political dynamic and social view.)
    but with good execution and reasonable back up plans, Iraq could still have positive outcome, if not a gracefull exit if all fails. (IMO. The point of no return was before Fallujah)
    No.2 is deadly. It’s the difference between a gigantic frat house prank and a misguided policy. A misguided policy can be corrected, because there is structure that can be worked on. But a prank cannot. It’s one ad hoc to another ad hoc decission.
    Observe how Bushco keeps reassigning who is in charge of Iraq international diplomatic/civilian efforts of the operation. The DoD vs the State dept.
    The whole thing is just one damage control after another. There is no bigger plan. We’ll suffacte out of money and resource.
    No. 3 is just an outgrowth of No. 2. (because there was no analysis/plan, it was just another ad hoc decission that looks good momentarily.)
    the diplomatic situation with Iran is another thing.
    These people don’t think that a diplomatic row with Iran will magnify Iraq problem. Because Iran will feel threatened and forced to consider pre-emptive/aggressive counter move.
    But it’s too late now. We are already in low level conflict with Iran.
    But then, there is the neocon game plan. Which could be the most brilliant gambit a small country EVER pull in history of the world.

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The major mistake is the hubris that a country of 300 million can decide the destiny of a country of 27 million half way across the world without committing major resources; be they human and financial.

  7. wcw says:

    I vote “0” as well, though I see it as a superset of “1” (a cold calculation of reality agitated for no invasion at all, no matter your partisan opinions or grand strategic goals) as well as of “2” (recognition of the planning system’s incompetence similarly agitated for no invasion at all; you go to war with the plans you’re making, not those you wish you were making), and indeed of “3” as well (an accurate assessment of the competence of those doing the hiring and firing and signing off on the big decisions again agitates for no invasion at all).
    Full disclosure: “no invasion” tends to align with my ideological preferences. Still, you can’t make this style of “0” argument about, say, Grenada. I wouldn’t have invaded Grenada either, but I can’t fault the execution.

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    My assumption in writing the post was that the administration had decided upon intervention and that this was not a variable.
    On second thought, I, too, would vote for Zero on the basis that the containment was successful as were the UN inspections. pl

  9. zanzibar says:

    What I’d really like to understand are the motivations that led to the decision making? Why was the political judgement for “Iraq of our Dreams?
    That could shed some light on what transpired as a result – the planning, the execution of the occupation, etc.
    And now like a gambler in Vegas who has lost a lot of chips are they doubling down with a bet on Iran?

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    My belief is that the principal motivation was a political philosophy of messianic utopianism that did not think existing customs, culture or history were relevant to the future. This notion further held that the whole structure of Islamic culture was rotten like a rotted wall and would come crashing down if knocked hard enough. The “Day of Jubilo” would then ensue with maybe even a little rapture along the way. In other words I think the neocons and their akky, “the decider in chief” did it with encouragement from the VP and the oilies.
    A lot of greed played into the opportunity provided by the idelogical BS, but i do not think it was the essential thing pl

  11. dan says:

    Every time I try to understand why the fuck the Bush administration launched on this course, I find myself returning to two basic observations – the principals were all motivated by vanity, narcissism and a compelling need to overcompensate for their emasculation on 9/11.

  12. Josh Smith says:

    I’ll have to go with #1, as well, Pat. Although I was tempted to take the same route as Curious and select #2 (I do agree, to some extent, that piss poor ideas can work out with perfect excecution), but the underlying reality is that we did not have the kind of basic cultural capital we needed in Iraq.
    There is no doubt that Iraq is just another example of an imperial reality, but let’s compare it to European imperialism across the Southern hemisphere. In many areas, the Europeans had laid the groundwork with centuries of intermingling with the various cultures, creating mulatto races that integrated with the emergent imperial leadership. This was not a three-year long nation-building process. That is and always has been a myth. We simply could not have, no matter how “perfect” the execution, marched into Baghdad and expected a democratic, secular society to appear out of nowhere. Besides, we could look inward for a minute at ourselves. The United States still hasn’t managed to become the post-Enlightenment society it claims to be. Why should we have ever expected the same of the Iraqis?

  13. MarcLord says:

    #1, of course. Well said, Zanji. There’s an excellent article, Baghdad Year Zero, that proves your point about neocon philosophy trumping all occupational sanity in Iraq:
    Excerpt One:
    ‘…I was also reminded of the most common explanation for what has gone wrong in Iraq, a complaint echoed by everyone from John Kerry to Pat Buchanan: Iraq is mired in blood and deprivation because George W. Bush didn’t have “a postwar plan.” The only problem with this theory is that it isn’t true. The Bush Administration did have a plan for what it would do after the war; put simply, it was to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies.’
    Excerpt Two:
    ‘At the end of our meeting, I asked Mahmud what would happen if the plant was sold despite the workers’ objections. “There are two choices,” he said, looking me in the eye and smiling kindly. “Either we will set the factory on fire and let the flames devour it to the ground, or we will blow ourselves up inside of it. But it will not be privatized.”‘

  14. MarcLord says:

    er, that should’ve read, “Well said, Pat.” Sorry Pat, the old astygmatism must be getting to me.
    And Zanzibar, doubling down with a bigger bet on the next hand is all the necons, or Dubya, have ever done.
    In strategy this trait has been called the “Flucht nach Vorne,” which in colluquial translation means “bug out forward.” It’s a fairly common reaction to stalemate as a means of trying to take a lost original objective by opening a larger front. Offhand, I can’t think of an example when it has worked.

  15. zanzibar says:

    PL, that is so scary!!
    Your analysis of their motivation is very plausible. In fact at some level that is the only one that makes any sense.
    I just find it so hard to believe that in the 21st century when we have the most technologically advanced society, we have elected leaders that really should belong in the middle ages. What have we as citizens done wrong that we can’t see through this insanity? Why has our constitutional political system that has prevented absolute power for over 2 centuries failing us now? I am worried for the next generation. What is our legacy to them?
    I don’t want my country to go over the cliff with a “David Koresh” like cultist or like the other guy in San Diego that led his followers to meet up with the Hale Bopp comet!!

  16. zanzibar says:

    Marc, researching “Flucht nach Vorne” I ran into this very contextual piece that if you have not yet read should find interesting. Another analysis in a similar vein to PL’s “messianic utopianism”.
    The Flight Forward

  17. James Pratt says:

    There is a class of people at or near the center of power in all empires (including the late Soviet one)who were raised by parents priveleged, generous and supportive but also vulnerable to flattery, averse to being told bad news
    and ruthless in their ambition. Those are the kind of folks who still welcome the Iranian agent Ahmad Chalabi to the American Enterprise Institute, the State Department and Pentagon.
    If they had more real patriots in their number and fewer globalized class loyalists then they could recognize the formidable
    force that patriotism can be.

  18. Eranmus says:

    Once upon a time a very unpleasant man who was much smarter than George Bush or Dick Cheney told his generals to invade a country that was being viciously mismanaged by a crazed dictator. “Just kick the door in and the whole rotten edifice will crumble,” was what he told his generals. Most of the world agreed with him and, less than 5 months into the war, Luce’s Time magazine was explaining to one and all how the Nazis were able to completely defeat Stalin and his Red hordes in just 4 months. Didn’t quite work out the way the chattering classes thought it would, did it?
    A big part of attacking Iraq was that the neocons thought it would be easy. “Its do-able,” Cheney is reported to have said. No thought was given to what the Iraqis could or would do; they were the inert clay, the lesser breeds that knew not the law, that would be guided forcibly to better things. Whatever resistance they might offer would be ineffective at best and probably laughable for were we not the new Romans? Everyone knew we had the greatest army since Rome, greater than the Wehrmacht, greater than the Grande Armee, greater than Gustav Adolphus regiments, greater than Spain’s Tercios during their Golden Age. Yep, we were all that and a bag of chips. I’d bet my bottom dollar that not one of these fools thought even for one moment that the Sunni tribesmen of Al Anbar would be able to mount a resistance 1/100 as lethal, savage, and intelligent as they did. I’m sure it never occurred to this collection of the world’s greatest geniuses that the turbaned Shia clerics would prove to be as intelligent, subtle, and devious as they have been. The neocons have been out-thought, out-fought, and out-politicked by Iraqis of all sects and opinions. (The latest piece of idiocy I suspect we’ve been maneuvered into is our planned operation to disarm the Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad. We’ll end up ethnically cleansing the city for Muqtada Sadr and the Badr thugs.)
    Sun Tzu wrote 2500 years ago that the first key to victory is “Know thyself and know thine enemy and you will be victorious in 10,000 battles.” The neocons went into this war with no knowledge of the Iraqis and with a level of self-knowledge that is all but nonexistent. They believed in their own propaganda from the get-go and despised the Arabs in Iraqi with a breathtaking racism that would be considered a bit over the top in a Klan meeting. I’m not surprised that it ended disastrously. I am surprised by just how ignorant, ill-read, and just plain vulgar most of the neocons have turned out to be. How is it possible for a group of men with advanced degrees from our best schools to know so little about history? To be so openly contemptuous of one of the world’s great civilizations? The reason we even have a civilization is the Arabs preserved Greek learning, Roman technology, and Persian art and architecture.
    There was never any chance of this little project ending any way but badly. From the beginning, it was a colonialist, imperialist, racist, and remarkably stupid attempt to reduce the Arabs in Iraq to compliant helotry. I advise anyone who doubts this to research our original plans for restructuring Iraq. The Iraqis were going to be left with the shirts on their backs, if they cooperated; the world hasn’t seen an attempted corporate gang rape like this since Leopold of Belgium invaded the Congo. But then it all went wrong. Who knew the Iraqi people were armed to the teeth? (Anyone who knew anything about Arab tribes for one. But they weren’t consulted.)
    The new neocon plan seems to be to double down their bet and attack the Iranians; this will, they think, make everything come out right in the end. Right. Yale is going to spend the next 100 years living down George Bush and Dick Cheney.
    One last thought: Does everybody now understand why the Founding Fathers put that Second Amendment in the Constitution? We were a weak little country at the mercy of much bigger and much badder polities that used highly trained and very expensive armies to enforce their will, but we knew, from our experience in the war of the Revolution, that a well armed militia could slowly grind those European armies to powder. The next time some fool politician starts talking about gun control to appeal to the soccer moms, remember the real reason we have guns. (By the way, I don’t own a gun nor have I ever owned one. I’m just glad that a large number of responsible and patriotic people do. )

  19. zanzibar says:

    “I am surprised by just how ignorant, ill-read, and just plain vulgar most of the neocons have turned out to be. How is it possible for a group of men with advanced degrees from our best schools to know so little about history?”
    “From the beginning, it was a colonialist, imperialist, racist, and remarkably stupid attempt to reduce the Arabs in Iraq to compliant helotry.”
    – Erasmus
    Now I understand many neocons such as Cheney & Rummy were brought together under Nixon and believed his rhetoric. Others like Wolfowitz were part of the Likud cabal. How were they brought together with a philosophy, ideology and purpose?
    It seems that prior to 9/11 they were unable to have as much of an impact but that fateful day allowed them to manipulate a shaken public, including me, to support a lashing out. I never got the urgency for Iraq when Afghanistan was not done yet. But they have been very successful with political campaigns and information ops (aka propaganda).
    I am really disturbed that in this day and age we elect and then give “messianic” leaders carte blanche. Its time to get more rational and sane politicians who can actually get something positive done. There is no reason why we can’t be a positive influence in creating a more peaceful Middle East where people can go on with rebuilding lives and societies.

  20. Norbert Schulz says:

    I found an interesting article dealing with revisions that need to be revised, namely U.S. war critique atm. It argues that, even if the U.S. had employed ‘enough troops’ (where to take the needed 300.000 from, and sustain them to begin with?), or secured allies willing to hoin the noble cause (well, didn’t America have the full support of El Salvador and the Marshall Islands?) and to provide additional companies of troops and so on and so forth.
    An excerpt, arguing about the troop levels:
    “Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was, in basic respects, a test of the theory that civilians must intervene in the military planning process and force their perspectives down the chain of command. Secretary Rumsfeld did this in the first instance by starting the bidding for the forces committed to the invasion at 75,000 troops and intimating that a smaller number would be entirely adequate. Events have shown that the number was ludicrously small in relation to the tasks given to U.S. forces, and that Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was right in seeing the need for much larger numbers. On this crucial question, certainly, the record of Iraq war planning does nothing to advance the case for civilian activism. Even if the indictment of Secretary Rumsfeld is accepted, however, the case of the critics is not thereby confirmed.
    Taken at face value, that case amounts to the proposition that there was a smart and a dumb way of going about the demolition and reconstruction of the Iraqi state, and that the Bush administration, blinded by ideology, chose the latter course. A more appropriate lesson is that there are certain intrinsic limits to what military power can accomplish that both defenders and critics of the administration’s course of action have ignored. “Policy must know the instrument it is to employ,” says Clausewtiz in one of his enduring formulations. For certain purposes, like the creation of a liberal democratic society that will be a model for others, it seems fair to conclude that military power is a blunt instrument, destined by its very nature to give rise to unintended and unwelcome consequences…
    … Had the United States invaded with the 400,000 forces initially foreseen at the beginning of the military planning process, U.S. forces would have been placed under severe strain, and it is not evident how the challenge would have been met. The severe pressures placed on Army Reserve and National Guard forces by the Iraq campaign—including the odious expedient of the
    “backdoor draft”—necessitate a rethinking of the entire system for the recruitment and retention of ground forces.”
    The greatest lesson learned should be IMO not to engage in this sort of wars of choice at all. If Saddam was contained, there was no need to attack Iraq. So why attack?

  21. Norbert Schulz says:

    The paper makes a second point, that can be summed up in the saying ‘opportunity makes thieves’.
    Just like Madeleine Albright said so well: If you have such a mighty global military as the U.S. evidently enjoys having, there is an overwhelming temptation to use it to reap some political benefits from all the investment in hardware and personnel.

  22. Some Guy says:

    I vote for #1 as well. The part about Ivy league elites pushing aside experienced foreign policy and military experts raises a question about the class-based delusions of this administration. In this case, a highly privileged and insular class of groomed experts stew in their own speculation and reject seasoned commentary on the limits of such speculation.
    A classic split of theoreticians who have contempt for applied knowledge and experience. But given the pedigree of the theoreticians, it also spells out a class difference.
    And it fits a pattern of self-justification I think the world has seen before. A set of intellectuals who lend academic sophistication to the blunt end of an ideology grow up in hothouses of privilege, then are feted for their vision and used as rationalizing agents. Please correct me, Colonel, but was this not a pattern in colonial contexts? Were not scholarly justifications of colonialism continually providing a veneer of “sound thinking” to exploitative and often ruinous adventures?

  23. Eric says:

    MARK TWAIN’S kind of fun to read, sometimes.

  24. RJJ says:

    CIRCUMFLATION: the html link codes work here. Can’t figure out how to get it to open link in new window, tho.

  25. Eric says:

    @Colonel Lang:
    Just read the Cordesman analysis. Best I’ve seen Cordesman write and analyze.
    Generally agrees with the Gordon and Trainor analysis, but in a very tight, well argued 10 pages.
    Think the article should have its own thread.
    So the irascible one and others here can take a full swing at this pinata.

  26. Eric says:

    And thank you Teq for finding it.

  27. canuck says:

    Altering Jus ad Bellum
    ”altering international law to include anticipatory self-defense is against both their individual and collective interests. The current laws regarding jus ad bellum offer predictability to an anarchic international system. To circumvent international law through unilateral action only serves to undermine the centuries of laborious work of past statesmen. International law must apply equally to all states, even a superpower such as the United States.
    Finally, preventive wars are unjust for a practical reason: It is unrealistic to believe that anyone can judge what actions a state might undertake in one or five years into the future. As Bismarck said, “I cannot look in Providence’s cards in such a manner that I would know things beforehand.” I doubt anyone in the Bush administration has this power either.
    President Bush argues the world is changing and the nature of threats is changing. It is difficult to find anyone to argue against this in the post-September 11th world. However, to allow anticipatory self-defense as a just military option would result in an international system closely resembling the system of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. States could go to war whenever they felt it necessary and do it under the guise of promoting peace. Destroying a nation that might be a threat in the future for the sake of preserving another nation is no way to secure peace. It is merely a way of allowing history to repeat itself.

  28. McGee says:

    My quick vote is also #0, then #1 and #2 in that order. Great thread – am in the middle of work deadline and won’t get to all the linked articles ’til the wee hours. Would love to hear other opinions of the linked Billmon piece on Flucht nach Vorne – read it a few days ago and thought he nailed the Bushco Iran ‘strategy’ (irony alert here) as well as anyone in recent memory. Thank you as always, Colonel Lang.

  29. canuck says:

    It is my humble opinion there hasn’t been a just war since WWII.
    Some American historians to further back and say there hasn’t been a just war since the American Revolution and the Civil War…I’m a bit more generous.

  30. W. Patrick Lang says:

    opinion is not uniform as to whether or not CW1 was all that just. pl

  31. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Some Guy
    The really amusing thing about the “class” attitude you write of is that many of the people who have acquired this attitude are beneficiaries of very “new money” or scholarships designed to advantage the very bright but socially deprived. pl

  32. ali says:

    After 9-11 you’d have thought terrorism would have become as big a priority for DC as it was for Paris.
    Instead they fight a war that was bound to worsen the problem.

  33. canuck says:

    Colonel, I do myself ponder whether the Northern Aggression
    War/Civil War/War Between the States, was just. Brother against brother–it was a dark period of history. A tremendous loss of life, the wounds of which never healed.
    I’ve visited many civil war sites, but the one most poignant for me was a guided tour by a southerner in Savannah, Georgia. He repeated a folklore story that someone in his family must have told him…that the reason the south had pointed tombstones was so the yanks couldn’t sit on them. He retains great pride in the Confederate flag which now signifies rebellion, racism or treason, and not allowed to be flown in many parts of the United States. He was close to tears that his flag would be regarded as such after more than 140 years.
    Great topic by the way.

  34. ali says:

    Hendrickson and Tucker vote 0:
    The basic problems the United States
    has confronted flowed from the enterprise itself and not primarily
    from mistakes in execution along the way. “The war itself was the
    original sin,” as one senior diplomat from the region observed.
    “When you commit a sin as cardinal as that, you are bound to get
    a lot of things wrong.” He illustrated the point, aptly, as follows:
    “When you enter a one-way street in the wrong direction, no matter
    which way you turn, you will be entering all the other streets in the
    wrong way.”

  35. ErrinF says:

    If the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech on the air carrier counts as part of #1, I vote for #1.

  36. ErrinF says:

    What I’d love to know is why any of these mistakes were made, besides the obvious of course that people make mistakes.
    As Iraq goes, so does the conservative movement. Didn’t Bush know he was putting all his eggs into one basket when he went to war? The conservatives are so proud of their electoral victories in recent years (some of which was accomplished by rattling their sabers at Iraq in 2002), yet all that will be washed away and reversed if Iraq doesn’t end well. I don’t particularly care this way or that for the conservative movement, but it seems like Bush has given them a raw deal by tying in their future so closely with that of Iraq. All the Rush Limbaughs and FOXnewses of the world have less say in the future of American conservatism than the Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites do right now.

  37. Rider says:

    I’ve been looking for the exact citation ever since this thread was posted but can’t find it. I’m pretty sure this was in The Assassin’s Gate. What it said was that the Bush administration did have a post-war plan for Iraq…or the State Dept. did, to be exact. In fact the plan for the reconstruction of Iraq comprised some eight or twelve volumes (binders?) and was ready to go. But the White House had put Douglas “Stupidest…on Earth” Feith and the Office of Special Plans in charge of postwar planning, and they rejected State’s plan and dismissed it. In other words, it was worse than simply failing to plan. Out of sheer arrogance they rejected a detailed plan that had been made by “the wrong people” and the Feith-based OSP never worked up one of their own to replace it, evidently because they thought Iraq would rebuild itself as if by magic. Now if I could only find the page number.

  38. Happy Jack says:

    Rider – I believe you’re looking for this.

  39. ali says:

    What I recall from The Assassin’s Gate is the pre-Invasion Powerpoint slide for Phase IV: “To be provided”.

  40. Rider says:

    Thank you Happy Jack!
    Holy Simoley. Amazing.

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