Thursday, March 21, 2013

What the Iraq War's Critics Choose to Ignore 10 Years Later

From the editors at the Wall Street Journal, "Iraq in Retrospect":
It was 1998, and Iraq and the U.S. were edging toward war.

The Iraqi dictator, President Clinton warned that February, "threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal." In October, the Iraq Liberation Act, which made regime change in Iraq official U.S. policy, passed 360-38 in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate. In December, Mr. Clinton ordered Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombardment of Iraq with the declared purpose of degrading Saddam's WMD capability.

"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, justifying the case for military action on the eve of Mr. Clinton's impeachment.

Whatever else might be said about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which began 10 years ago, its origins, motives and justifications did not lie in the Administration of George W. Bush. On the contrary, when Mr. Bush came to office in January 2001 he inherited an Iraq that amounted to a simmering and endless crisis for the U.S.—one that Saddam appeared to be winning.

American and British warplanes enforced a no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq at a cost of $1 billion a year. The U.N.'s Oil for Food sanctions designed to "contain" Saddam were crumbling amid international opposition to its effects on the Iraqi people, even as the regime used the sanctions as a propaganda tool and as a vehicle to bribe foreign officials. Iraqi Kurds were in perpetual jeopardy, as Saddam demonstrated in 1996 when his Republican Guard took the city of Irbil and shot 700 Kurdish partisans.

Most seriously, after 1998 Iraq rid itself of weapons inspectors, meaning there wasn't even a small check on Saddam's ambitions to rebuild a WMD capability he had already proved willing to use. When the weapons inspectors finally returned to Iraq in the run-up to the invasion, they found Saddam playing the same cat-and-mouse games that had defeated them in the 1990s.

"No confidence can arise that proscribed programs or items have been eliminated," chief U.N. weapons inspector (and avowed war opponent) Hans Blix reported to the Security Council in January 2003, adding that "the Iraqi regime had allegedly misplaced 1,000 tons of VX nerve agent—one of the most toxic ever developed."

It was on these bases, and in the wake of the deadly 9/11 attacks, that Mr. Bush ordered the invasion. If he had lied about the intelligence—as was so widely alleged after the failure to find WMD—then so had Mr. Clinton in 1998, and so had the intelligence services of every Western intelligence service, including those of countries like Germany that opposed the war. Similarly, if Mr. Bush is to be blamed for going to war "illegally" because the U.S. failed to obtain explicit Security Council authorization, then so must Mr. Clinton for going to war with Serbia over Kosovo without U.N. blessing.

So much for the usual canards about the war. As for the failure to find WMD, what the postwar Iraq Survey Group concluded was that Saddam had the intention of restarting his weapons programs as soon as sanctions were lifted. "It was reasonable to conclude that Iraq posed an imminent threat," David Kay, the ISG's first head, testified to Congress in January 2004. "What we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war."

The larger intelligence (and military) failure was not anticipating the kind of war the U.S. would wind up waging in Iraq. General Tommy Franks planned a conventional military thrust to Baghdad while Saddam was laying the groundwork for the insurgency that would follow. The result was that U.S. commanders thought the war was effectively finished before it had really begun.

That mistake was compounded by General John Abizaid's "light footprint" strategy, which effectively ceded cities such as Fallujah to the insurgents while U.S. forces stayed on secure bases or conducted search-and-destroy operations. By the time Mr. Bush finally ordered Fallujah taken, late in 2004, the insurgency was full-blown and increasingly difficult to contain.

Those weren't Mr. Bush's only mistakes. He agreed to Paul Bremer's over-long regency in Iraq. He allowed Colin Powell to try diplomacy with Syria even as Bashar Assad was turning Damascus into a safe haven for Saddam loyalists and a transit center for al Qaeda jihadists. He did little to stop Iran from supplying both Shiite and Sunni insurgents with armor-busting munitions that killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers. He deferred for too long to mediocre commanders who thought it wasn't their business to defeat an insurgency they believed could only be solved through political means.

Above all, the Administration proved amazingly inept at rebutting its critics, particularly the politicians and pundits (you know who you are) who supported the war when it was popular and opposed it when it was not. Joe Wilson was proved a liar by a bipartisan Senate report, yet the myth persists that President Bush misled the public in his 2003 State of the Union address by claiming that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa, largely because Administration officials needlessly conceded a point on which they were right...

Plus, more lies right here, at the faux Conservative Heritage Times.