For those of you living in caves (i.e, without internet service), you probably don’t know that Iraq is rapidly collapsing into a morass of sectarian violence. Of course, you probably aren’t reading this, either. But I have a perspective on the issue that I’d like to share.
I joined the Navy in 1992, and served for six years. For context, Bush the Elder was president, L.A. was melting down in riots over the Rodney King verdict, and the very first medal I got was the National Defense Service Medal. This was given for participation in an ongoing conflict, and was automatically given to service members from 1990 to 1995. I’m not sure why they stopped. Goodness knows that in 1997, my ship was in the Persian Gulf, enforcing an embargo against Iraq, and we were still maintaining no-fly zones.
The point is that although Bush the Elder declared that the war was over, nobody bothered to get Saddam to agree with that statement. He continued to fight us, through means both overt and covert. He used a lot of propaganda and PR efforts to try and discredit the United States and our ongoing mission to contain him. I remember reading about how American pilots would regularly destroy innocent shepherds in the no-fly zone, just to prove that we were still needed there.
So here is what it looked like from a military point of view: Iraq invaded Kuwait, we declared war on Iraq, kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, and then left resources in place to contain Iraq, but not to actively fight them. The only people in the world that would term this a victory are people who are so sheltered from true violence that they think that you can just stop fighting, yell “WE WON!” and be done with it.
That’s not the way the world works, and definitely not the way war works. But the American people don’t have the stomach to wage war to it’s logical conclusion, or so we’re told.
America has the largest all volunteer military in the world. There is significance in this, because the American military does a remarkable job of policing itself. We can yell and scream about the incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment that exists, and should be dealt with, but let’s face it: we have nothing like the rampant corruption and abuse that regularly occurs in other military forces. Most occupying forces rape and pillage freely; ours was chastised for humiliating prisoners. Nothing like what would happen to almost any American prisoner of war anywhere in the world. More like what people in America would endure in order to win a cash prize, or a new car.
So what we have in Iraq is a nation that we went to war against in 1990, and never signed a peace treaty with. We only had a cease fire in effect from 1991 to 2003. The biggest failure of the George W. Bush in foreign policy is not that we went to war in Iraq. It is that he never adequately explained that we never stopped being at war with Iraq, and that they were harboring known terrorists who wanted to repeat 9/11. We needed no new pretext to resume hostilities. All we needed was to show that Saddam had violated terms of the cease fire, which was easy enough to do.
And then, having renewed hostilities, our first act should have been to destroy everything connected to Saddam Hussein. Every palace, every statue, every monument, every public work, and even his childhood home. And most especially his family. Send the message first and foremost that everyone connected to the Butcher of Baghdad would have violence rained down upon their heads until even the mention of his name was considered dangerous. Anything less sends the message that we don’t have the cajones to deal with those who violate our will.
And make no mistake, all foreign policy is a game of will power.
But what about the will of the American people? Well, I think everyone knew that by leaving Saddam in power, we were risking him attacking us, or his neighbors, or his own people again. And if we needed proof of what he was doing, we could always ask the fine folks at CNN for evidence. They had plenty that they admittedly ignored and suppressed.
But what is done is done. We cannot go back and fix the mistakes of the past, nor are we in a position to help those dealing with the consequences now. There is one thing that could have been done as recently as six months ago, and that was to declare the Taliban to be enemies of the Untied States that would be hunted down and destroyed, and that we would not respect any country who gave them shelter. Had we said that, and then followed though with the necessary action, we may have instilled the proper level of fear to keep other factions in check. As it is, Al-Qaeda operates throughout the Middle East with impunity, Putin does whatever he likes, and our allies distance themselves from us.
I think that the American people would be willing to wage war effectively if we had a political class who was willing to take the heat for doing the right thing. But as it is, we have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage. And don’t think that our enemies are not preparing to take advantage of that.