Now that the first round of Iraqi elections are over, the time has come for a review of our military strategy for the last two years. Were we clever and strategic? Were we inept and bumbling? Something in-between? My position is simple: A combination of intelligence failure, military mismanagement, and a lack of perspective all contributed to delaying these first elections by at least one year.
Am I going to rant about the "missing" Weapons of Mass Destruction? No. We have ample testimony that Saddam had a working centrifuge plant in 2002, which is used to refine fissionable material for atomic weapons. We found whole platoons of dead Iraqi soldiers wearing full chemical gear as we trampled the ring of defenses surrounding Baghdad. We have testimony from Baath party officials that Saddam moved out truckloads of chemical weapons in the days before the invasion.
Simply put, there can be no reasonable doubt that Iraq did possess WMDs. This was not an intelligence failure. Rather, our failure was twofold. We did not find the WMDs, and we did not remotely predict the behavior of the Iraqis after their army was defeated in Baghdad.
Mousaad agents were and are quite clear about the the current location of the WMDs: Syria. This is the only reasonable destination that would have made sense in the days leading up to Saddam's fall. It's a fellow Baath party regime, a ruthless and oppressive dictatorship, and one that supports Islamic terrorism on an unparalleled scale. Since its occupation, the western part of Iraq has been consistently attacked by Jihadists who cross over the border from Syria.
So assuming that the WMD are in Syria, where is the intelligence failure? The failure was in allowing them to make it across the border, into another sovereign (albeit brutal) country. It is a well-known fact that Special Forces teams were operating in Iraq long before the regular troops arrived on the ground. They clearly should have been charged with finding and stopping those trucks at all costs. That would have justified the entire Iraqi venture in the eyes of the entire world, not to mention the practical benefits of keeping those weapons out of Syrian hands.
But the horse has left the barn, and with our troops stretched razor-thin, the chances of a Coalition attack on Syria to secure the WMDs is zero. The damage is done, damage created by an intelligence failure on the singularly important issue of the war.
Nonetheless, the war was quickly and super-efficiently prosecuted, with overwhelming air power and the awesome professionalism of our all-volunteer army. With some notable exceptions (including Feydaheen fanatics and the Jihadists), the basic, conscripted Iraqi army, along with the Republican Guard, simply failed to show up. When they did, they were crushed.
This is where our "intelligence" defeated us. We operated under four very, very wrong assumptions:
Every one of these "intelligence" assumptions turned out to be fundamentally flawed.
When suddenly and forcefully released from thirty-five years of oppression, the Iraqi people did something that was extremely predictable, if not extremely admirable. They murdered their long-standing enemies and stole anything that could be stolen. This is a natural reaction (though again, not a moral one) to having been deprived of justice against those same enemies, and of being deprived of an opportunity to amass wealth.
It also reflects the Arab culture to a great degree. This might be branded as "racist" by modern, progressive Arabs who have experience in the Western world, but it is realistic nonetheless. The religion and culture of these Arabs has a millenia-long tradition of looting and revenge. It is part of their heritage. A Western observer might view these basic values as a fundamental reason for the stagnation of Arab civilization, but that's the subject of another essay.
Instead of planning for this disaster, the entire intelligence community either ignored it, or was itself ignored by military planners. There was no provision made to avert the revenge killings or the looting.
Supporters of the planning and intelligence after the victory are left with apologetics like "The looting wasn't that bad." That is small consolation for a lengthy period of anarchy and destruction.
The parades for our soldiers, the flowers cast upon them, never happened. They were viewed as an occupying army, the ground representatives of the same army that had been bombing their capital for weeks. No one in our "intelligence" community appeared to have any contingency plan for this reaction. Anyone who did was ignored by our military planners. So we were left with a population who knew they had been occupied, while we were simultaneously assuring them that we were not occupiers. Nothing good could have come from this denial of reality on our part. And it didn't.
The Iraqi people were under a tyrannic and authoritarian regime for more than three decades. The working-age population had no memory of any other life. Their dictator viewed Joseph Stalin as the pinnacle of leadership in practice. Under these conditions, the belief that Iraqis would raise one finger to start rebuilding their country or embracing their freedom was foolish. They had no experience in such efforts. They needed to be taught the most basic kinds of civic responsibility, the most basic efforts at self-organization. Soldiers on the ground complained daily about Iraqis who "Will not do one thing to help themselves."
This learned and enforced lethargy placed an incredible burden on the occupying forces. Already short of personnel on the ground, they were now being asked to provide every service that the former regime had supplied, far beyond even the normal service of a socialist democracy like Denmark or France. Who would tell the people what their next job would be? Who would provide them with food, clothing, and shelter? The idea of a "social safety net" does not begin to describe the situation. It was an "absolute societal authority" that was expected, just as if Stalin and the Politburo had been overthrown at the height of their power.
None of this was anticipated by our "intelligence". And if it was, it was ignored by military planners. We quickly dismissed our first civilian governor, who was followed by Mr. Bremer, who was flayed daily in the press for his failures. It was an impossible job, because no resources or planning had been allocated to the transition from a centralized tyranny to a nation of free people.
It's a well-known fact that, using cell phones and messengers, the Coalition made numerous attempts to negotiate with Iraqi generals in the days before the Baghdad assault. Despite this willingness to make deals, one of the first acts of the occupying forces was to officially disband the Iraqi army.
The impact, in terms of simple unemployment alone, was devastating. Literally millions of Iraqi family heads found themselves without a salary. A second impact was on internal security, where the army had served a fundamental role in preserving order. Yes, they were brutal and unacceptable. But rather than trying to cull the army while maintaining its structure and form; rather than trying to find the tribal units and individuals within the army that could support a liberal society based on law; we simply dismissed them all.
The looting, the revenge killings, the insurgency, the resentment of our occupation, all these things could have been eliminated or greatly ameliorated by simply maintaining at least a shell of the standing Iraqi army. Our failure to do so was an "intelligence" failure of an unprecedented scale in the history of the United States.
Without good intelligence information, and without a realistic perspective on the conduct of war by our Defense Department, military planning was impossible. How did we manage to score such an overwhelming and total victory in such a short time, while not making the native population even understand that they had been defeated? The most lop-sided victory in the history of war did nothing to change the hearts and minds of most Iraqis.
Our bombing campaign specifically targeted elements of infrastructure. Civilian casualties were scrupulously avoided. The end was result was leaving a nearly untouched population without heat, light, communications, transportation and food. Human beings will go to great lengths to acquire these things. Sabotage, war usury, and looting ensued immediately. Gas prices skyrocketed in one of the world's top oil-producing countries. Pipelines were repeatedly destroyed. Trucks full of relief food were mobbed.
This humanitarian unrest (while not precisely a "disaster" or "crisis") was completely avoidable. Military planners made no allowances and ignored any warnings. Public support for the "liberating army" was naturally and logically destroyed by the sudden loss of basic resources.
Technology is an amazing thing. It keeps people alive, year after year. It makes those lives so much more comfortable and pleasant. It even allows me to write this essay in a way that was unthinkable a century ago.
What technology cannot do is change the objective and execution of the fundamental goal of war. That goal, simply put, is to crush the resolve of the enemy to fight. This was a fundamental failing in the philosophy of our military planners. Buoyed by bad intelligence, they assumed that the Iraqi people would have no resolve to fight us from the moment we arrived, that even our mistakes would be embraced because we "liberated" them.
The actual effect of our military strategy was to remove almost all negative effects of traditional war and simply subject the Iraqi people to intense peacetime deprivation. Rather than fear us, they (naturally and logically) simply saw us as people who had made their lives very, very unpleasant. That fear was abandoned as the ultimate weapon of war, was a fundamental philosophical mistake.
Yes, I know about "Shock and Awe". The Iraqis in Baghdad were certainly aware that we could drop a lot of bombs on telephone towers and TV stations. With incredible and admirable precision, in fact. What was made far too obvious, though, is that we did not have the will to use that same precision bombing to hurt any Iraqis. This did not inspire thanks and gratitude, it inspired laughing and mockery, as if we missed the whole method of winning a war, which we did.
The whole method of winning a war, American-style, is this: Apply a totally ridiculous amount of force, in a way calculated to do nothing more or less than crush the resolve of your enemies. There are certain limits which are proscribed in the Geneva conventions, perhaps also internal limits agreed on by the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs. Anything else goes. Anything that crushes the determination of your enemy country to resist you is to be done without hesitation.
Then, the moment your enemy surrenders, the moment they lose their last bit of resolve to resist you, then, and only then, is the unmatched American mercy released. It pours out with all the force and power that the previous assault did. Unparalleled destruction is followed by unparalleled compassion and unparalleled giving.
It's simply an unbeatable formula. Unbeatable ethically and unbeatable in practice. Simple logic indicates that no agent can dispense mercy and charity until the target recognizes its need. The Iraqis were never made to recognize that need. They never felt conquered, they never lost their resolve to fight. We skipped directly to the "mercy" phase while skipping the unpleasant and unsightly "destruction" phase.
And that is why it took so many additional American deaths, so many months of bumbling and chaos, to finally get to this first round of elections. Make no mistake, these elections are a blessed thing, a holy thing. But they happened in spite of all our bumbling and ineptitude and short-sightedness and weakness. That, in itself, is a tribute to how powerful we are today. But we could do so much more, so much faster, and so much more cheaply.
Let us not forget Dresden and the Marshall Plan. Let us not forget the Enola Gay and the Japanese constitution. Let us not forget Sherman's March and Jefferson Davis retiring to his estate (uncharged by any UN Tribunal).
Let us remember that war is a life-or-death struggle, and we must do all we can to end it as quickly as possible. Mercy is a holy struggle, a life-and-life struggle, and we must let it flow as quickly as possible after securing the victory.May God bless the United States of America,