Ten years ago. The Iraq War in retrospect.

One of Philadelphia's Gold Star Mothers, Celeste Zappala, was interviewed by WHYY on Tuesday, the 19th of March and the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Zappala lost her son Sherwood Baker in 2004. He was the first National Guard member to lose his life in Iraq. During the Vietnam War, the National Guard was so safe a place to be that the future president George W. Bush signed up for a six-year tour (Notthat he even served the full six years), but in Iraq, the National Guard was a vital supplement to the regular armed forces. Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry (D-MA) charged in 2004 that by keeping National Guard troops in their billets longer than they had planned and by using them as regular forces, the Bush Administration didn't have to impose a draft or to increase the size of the regular armed forces, and thus that using the National Guard in that way amounted to a “back-door draft.” Recruitment for the military to keep enough troops fighting in Iraq was a problem. In 2007, the Army had to spend $1 billion in bonuses to recruit and retain the soldiers it had. The economic collapse at the end of 2007 made it a good deal easier to do keep the military fully staffed.

Why did the Bush Administration depend so heavily on the National Guard during the occupation of Iraq?

Much of the planning for the occupation of Iraq was improvised, last-minute and inadequate. The Bush Administration didn't appear to think that many forces or much money would be needed after Baghdad had fallen. The problem then was very ably sketched out by Colonel Harry G. Summers, who built upon the theories of Carl von Clausewitz concerning war and national determination. Colonel Summers' book was entitled “On Strategy: The Vietnam War in context” and it was written in response to the failure of the US to win over the Vietnamese people to the cause of America. The military in both Iraq and Vietnam did everything that was asked of it and it carried out its assigned task with enthusiasm and professionalism. In neither case can America assign any significant blame to the military for the inability of the US to win hearts and minds in the occupied country. The Iraqi insurgents certainly deserve a great deal of credit for making an American victory after the fall of Baghdad impossible. Had all gone according to the plans made by the Bush Administration and had Iraqis quietly accepted the American occupation, there would have been no need for Bush and his people to whip up American enthusiasm and support for the war.

As it was, the left wing was proven correct by the failure to find any WMDs and was thus completely uninterested in supporting the war and the right wing was perfectly happy to keep their activities in support of the war very sharply limited. The right-wing columnist Jonah Goldberg was asked why he didn't join up and go to Iraq in uniform (Goldberg was at the very upper age limit for joining the military). He later apologized for this response, but it's worthwhile to remember what he said:

As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

The point here is that Goldberg's attitude was quite typical for right-wingers. People who supported the war didn't feel the need to actually go over to Iraq and spend years in a foreign land actually getting themselves involved in learning a foreign language and dealing with a very different culture. Patriotism only demanded so much.

According to Summers, yes, any military or any country's political leadership can carry out short, brief military actions without getting broad-based buy-in from the country's civilian population, but any war that costs significant time and resources must get the civilian population emotionally involved. People must be absolutely convinced that the war is of immense significance and that it's worth great sacrifice to win it. Bush failed to get civilians from the right wing to go to Iraq as civilian reconstruction personnel, which explains why $8 billion of the money allocated to Iraqi reconstruction was lost. Without on-the-ground personnel overseeing projects and with Americans attempting to supervise projects from desks inside the “Green Zone” in Baghdad or from the US, it wasn't at all surprising that the US reconstruction effort was a complete flop.

Getting Americans motivated

The first step to getting Americans enthusiastically involved in the conquest/occupation of Iraq wassupervised by Madeleine Albright in February 1998. Albright brought several fellow war hawks to a town meeting in Ohio. It was a PR disaster as citizens vigorously questioned why Iraq was considered to be a threat and why that threat had to be neutralized via a war. Albright and her people were unable to answer these objections and the Clinton Administration didn't make any further attempts to whip up the public to supporting a war against Saddam Hussein and his country.

It's generally accepted among many former skeptics that no, President George W. Bush and VP Dick Cheney didn't arrange for 9-11 to happen, but the belief was based on solid facts. Bush and Cheney both had oil industry roots, there was good reason to believe that the US oil industry would profit enormously via an American occupation of Iraq and 9-11 occurred just a few years after Albright's failed attempt to get American citizen buy-in for a war against Iraq. Al Jazeera points out that safeguarding civilians was certainly not on the agenda of the invading Americans:

The Iraq invasion cannot be reasonably described as a case of "humanitarian intervention" for three reasons. The means used in the war - a "shock and awe" bombing campaign, including the use of cluster munitions in populated areas - were clearly not designed with the objective of safeguarding Iraqi civilians. Secondly, there was no evidence of the triggering mechanism for a humanitarian intervention, such as mass slaughter or crimes that shock humanity. Saddam had a terrible track record but, during the run-up to war, no such crimes were ongoing or imminent. Third, humanitarian motives were clearly not dominant, as the war would probably not have occurred in the absence of the issues of WMD and/or the al-Qaeda connection. During his February 2003 presentation to the UN, even Colin Powell's slides related to Saddam's human rights violations were labelled, "Iraq: Failing to Disarm". 

Even if regular people didn't buy that Iraq had something to do with 9-11, the Washington DC press corps certainly did. What we do know for certain is that Bush & Cheney manipulated the information suppled by America's intelligence agencies to make it appear that Hussein had something to do with 9-11. 

The deleted paragraphs in the summary called "Key Judgements" read:

"Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger cause for making war.
Iraq probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US Homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge."

Many on the right wing have made their defense of the Bush Administration center around the allegation that Democratic Senators had access to the same intel that Bush had and that they reached the same conclusion. No, Democrats had access to the intel that Bush edited to make it look as though Iraq was a threat.

As documented below, by the most scientifically respected measures available, Iraq lost 1.4 million lives as a result of OIL [Operation Iraqi Liberation], saw 4.2 million additional people injured, and 4.5 million people become refugees. The 1.4 million dead was 5% of the population. That compares to 2.5% lost in the U.S. Civil War, or 3 to 4% in Japan in World War II, 1% in France and Italy in
World War II, less than 1% in the U.K. and 0.3% in the United States in World War II. The 1.4 million dead is higher as an absolute number as well as a percentage of population than these other horrific losses.

The US absolutely must prevent anything like the Iraq War from ever occurring again. How are we doing on that? Unfortunately, not very well. The US leadership appears to greatly overestimate the effectiveness of sanctions, underestimates the usefulness of diplomacy and has far too much faith in our intelligence agencies. Also, people in Washington DC, both government officials and the press corps, appear to be talking about the deficit in much the same manner that they discussed Iraq in late 2002-early 2003. The good news is that US troops are very highly unlikely to go back into Iraq, no matter how badly the situation there deteriorates. The US couldn't do much there the first time and it seems our leadership knows that it couldn't do much on a return engagement. Could the US invade Iran? Certainly, elements want very badly to do so, but I think the public would be very highly likely to resist.

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