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Sunday, October 5, 2003

WAS THE IRAQI WAR A BLUNDER?

If you've read the previous article --- which had a lengthy theoretical analysis of how wars start --- then you don't need to read this article . . . which is the latter half of that earlier article, focused specially on the Iraqi war and what has been unfolding there since its quick end in early April: politically, economically, and security-laden. The reason for this shorter version? Some of the vistors here might prefer to see just that Iraqi half, which was about 15 pages in Word --- a long enough article by any standard, no? First off here, you'll find an email sent to the buggy prof after his lecture in political science 121, international relations theory, that dealt with the ways wars start: it asks essentially, that email, whether our war with Iraq doesn't fit a blunder-model of war-initiation. The buggy reply follows.

That email's brief. The buggy reply is mostly what this article is about. After you read it, you should have a better working idea of a large number of key topics about the war with Iraq and the developments there over the last six months.

1) the various rationales for going to war against Saddamite Iraq,

2) the problems that have arisen since its end there,

3) the degree to which the Bush administration was over-optimistic about these problems, and how serious they are

4) the morality of the war and our occupation and goals

5) the progress or not being made in Iraq on three-tracks of change that we're in charge of in our occupying role: political, economic, and security-laden ones.

6) and the crucial stakes for our country's security in the war on terrorism that the challenge of rehabilitating Iraq and bringing pressure on the surrounding gangster regimes --- two of them active terrorist supports seeking WMD (Syria and Iran) and a third, Saudi Arabia, the main source apparently of funding for Islamo-extremist terrorism in the world and Wahhabi fanaticism --- to change their ways or else.



Sidebar Observation: The email from the student has been edited for clarity, with an observation tacked on at the end that wasn't in the original, but is commonly expressed by critics of the Iraqi war.

My name is S and I'm in your 121 class. I wanted to ask about today's lecture, specifically point 5 of the 7 that deals with how wars start and the model you used for setting it out: in particular, the polar contrast between, at one pole, wars that begin through deliberate, calculated decisions and, at the other pole, wars that might erupt as a blunder.

You stated that there have been studies that show that there has been no war that was started due to a blunder. This is a hard fact for me to accept, given all the wars over history and including the recent Iraqi war. Now I supported the war in Iraq, but I still fell that it was started due to a "blunder." Why? Let's assume the US didn't really see war as inevitable from the outset. Still, to hold significant clout in the international community, doesn't a great power need to have its deterrent and compellent threats taken seriously? From 1991 until last spring, Iraq had defied the UN and the US, including all our threats and for that matter Clinton's lobbing several hundred cruise missiles at Iraq in December 1998 --- after the UN inspectors left in disgust, lacking any cooperation with Saddam --- in order to try decapitating the Saddamite leadership.



So, my question is this: isn't Iraq's not responding to our call to disarm a "blunder" on its part which then, to save face in the International community, the US government decided to remedy by attacking Iraq this spring? And given the problems we've had since the war's end, didn't we in turn blunder as well in occupying the country?

--- S.

THE BUGGY REPLY

That's an intelligent query, S, and I thank you for it. There is, however, some confusion in how you are using blundering into war, and some contestable claims made about the war with Iraq and especially what's gone on since then.

BLUNDER WARFARE AND IRAQ?

I. First, for the studies that can't find one clear instance of a blunder-into-war --- the term to be clarified in a moment --- see the studies by Geoffrey Blainey, The Causes of War (3rd edition, around 1989) and Dan Reiter, "Exploding the Power Keg Myth: Preemptive Wars Almost Never Happen," International Security (Fall 1995), pp. 5-35. The latter deals with security-dilemmas, not blunders into war; and finds that the logical outcome of a spiral of rising mistrust and fear accompanied by arms racing --- a pre-emptive war --- is rare, something that explained only about 10% of the total wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. Even then, Reiter doubted that some of the 7 or 8 cases he found fitted the pre-emptive model unambiguously.

  II. The problem you seem to be grappling with is what "blunder" means. It's the opposite of calculated and deliberate, using the information you have at hand. It doesn't mean that the war turned out as you hoped, or the peace that followed: obviously, half the sides in a war will lose or settle for less than they wanted. Blunder would have to refer to major miscalculations and misperceptions, without any intent to go to war: for instance, the belief that the other side was about to strike and had no intent, and your side (or country) had no interest whatever in war except for this. Neither Blainey nor the British scholar --- examining hundreds of wars over the last millennium --- could find evidence of this.  

III. As for Iraq, if there's any war we've ever fought that was deliberate, calculated, and spun-out over time --- a war, essentially, of full choice --- it happens to be the Iraqi war. Whether and how much the Bush administration was over-optimistic --- not about a quick decisive win, but rather the ability to gain full control in Iraq quickly --- is another matter, and not fully clear other than that there was obviously some over-optimism.  

IV. And the WMD?

The British House of Commons committee --- Labor, Conservative, Social Liberals on it --- found no evidence that the Blair government had deliberately misled the British, even if at times, given inevitable ambiguities and puzzles in information, there was a tendency to opt for the one most congenial to its beliefs that Saddam was a threat. That Committee, by the way, also stood by the British intelligence claim that it had good information that an Iraqi official had tried to buy uranium in Niger, something about which US intelligence was more divided. Blair repeated his belief this week that WMD will be found. German intelligence reported publicly last year that Saddam would have operational nuclear weapons with missile capacity to hit Europe in 2005. Back here, in his State-of-the-Union speech, the President made completely clear that Saddam was not an imminent threat, but that in an era of terrorism, we couldn't wait until the terrorists obtained WMD to use against us, and he then went on to invoke the new pre-emptive strategy. Whether that was accurate can be questioned: obviously. Interestingly, though, NATO has generally moved to adopt something like the pre-emptive change, arguing that the European countries can't wait to be attacked either. It's not identical to US strategy, but the gap has narrowed.

 

The recent interim report by the new chief of the US-UK and other inspection teams at work in Iraq --- which came out in early October has, it should be noted, been widely misinterpreted by the media. Kay did not say that there weren't lots of WMD programs at work in Iraq that his teams have uncovered since he took over this summer: only that they haven't found the huge supplies that all intelligence agencies assumed existed there, including the UNSCOM inspectors who left Iraq in 1998. In the unclassified 10-page summary made public, the following paragraph appears:

"We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."

Then, too, Kay's report stressed how difficult it has been to get the Iraqi scientists working on the programs to cooperate. The chief reason? Their fear of being killed by pro-Saddamite terrorists. In fact, two of them were after cooperating with Kay's inspectors.

  US RATIONALES FOR GOING TO WAR

More generally, as Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary admitted in the long interview with a journalist in May after the war, there were 3 rationales always that the Bush administration had in mind. Wolfowitz said that stressing the WMD was done to create unity in the US government since, apparently, stressing the other two rationales were more decisive. He also said --- as Colin Powell and the Pentagon and the National Security Adviser and the President have repeatedly emphasized --- that they had good reliable intelligence as the basis of their stress on the WMD threat.:

1) the WMD problem, aggravated by Saddam ignoring 16 UN Security Council resolutions demanding disarmament and full cooperation (the initial one, passed in the fall of 1990 before the Gulf War, but with Saddam in Kuwait, specified immediate disarmament and envisaged a quick compliance.)

2) the links to terrorism, specifically Al Qaeda --- regarding which, again, the evidence is disputable, with the administration still claiming it has evidence of such ties and will find more (this isn't, I add, clear).

3) And human-rights violations of an egregious sort, also condemned in UN Security Council Resolutions.

A 4th rationale --- obviously important in Bush circles --- was a desire in the war on terrorism to go on the offensive and seek to change a dangerous status-quo in the Middle East, where terrorist groups abounded, aided by Iran and Syria and also Iraq (if not in the case of Al Qaeda, something no good evidence has so far been disclosed, save for the claim, still held to by the Czech government, that the Saudi leader of the 9/11 attacks had met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague a year or so before the attacks.) For what it's worth, the 4th rationale strikes me as sound, but it couldn't be vented publicly if you were trying to gain the support of the UN Security Council, which Colin Powell and the rest of the administration thought it had gained in November 2002 with resolution 1441 that called on Iraq to disarm and prove it.

 

There were and are reasoned criticisms that can be offered of all four.

When, however, Senator Ted Kennedy --- just to pick him --- claimed the Bush administration lied, that the Iraqi war was hatched by a Texas cabal (presumably meaning the oil lobby: Rice? Rumsfeld? Powell? The State Department?), that there was no imminent Iraqi threat, and that Bush did it to raise his standing in public opinion --- we are not in the realm of reasoned criticism, but rather demagogic invective. Did Blair join the Texas cabal? Where is there any evidence of deliberate lying? The House of Commons, where the charge was investigated in the Blair case, could find no clear evidence of this, despite criticisms (which may be sound here too) that the government there seized on ambiguities and gave a twist to the interpretations . . . something that happens, it seems, with almost any controversial policy, including in economics. As for the Houston oil lobby, the buggy article on the run-up to war cited the worries in Houston oil circles that the war would destabilize the Middle East and oil shipments and cause uncertainty and there was, to put it mildly, no enthusiasm for the war. What's more, the former high-level advisers to Bush Sr. are far more connected to the Houston oil lobby than anyone in the Bush team save Cheney, and yet Scowcroft (Bush Sr.'s national adviser) and James Baker (his Secretary of State from Texas) spoke out last fall against going to war. (Scowcroft later changed his mind, saying Bush Jr. had done the necessary work to get Congressional approval and work for UN Security Council Resolution 1441).

Similarly, Bush made it perfectly clear in the State of the Union address that there was no imminent threat from Iraq, but that in an era of terrorism, we couldn't wait for an outlaw state, in violation of 16 UN Security Council Resolutions --- "material breach" is the anodyne diplomatic language --- for the terrorists to get nuclear or other WMD. (German intelligence --- in a country whose government said in the UN that it wouldn't support a US-led war whatever the Security Council decided --- went public last year in Germany and said Saddam would have nuclear weapons and missiles to hit Europe in 2005.) As for public opinion, it did rise initially after the quick victory in Iraq, but since then Bush's public opinion standing has plummeted, lower than it was before 9/11.

The US government can be criticized for using some wrong intelligence --- or putting in a reference to British intelligence and Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium from Niger (which the House of Commons committee investigating Blair upheld, but which US intelligence was and remains more cautious and divided about) --- or being over-optimistic about security in post-Saddam Iraq or about the ability of Iraqi oil production to rise above the 2.5 million barrels a day it was pumping before the war. It's back to 1.9 million now, and probably will reach 2.5 million by year's end, though what it would be in the future no one can without first-hand knowledge . . . which I certainly don't. And yes, the cost of rehabilitating Iraq is much higher than the administration projected. But then, so too was the cost of rehabilitating the economies of West Germany and the rest of West Europe with the Marshall Plan after WWII (no German independent government, by the way, was established for four years, only an interim authority as in Iraq; and the same was true of Japan.)

 

MORALITY OF THE WAR Another point follows, again, open to discussion. It's the morality of what happened.

  It's a mistake --- one you yourself don't seem to make, S (it's a little hard to tell frankly) --- to dwell on motives alone or even much when it comes to evaluating the actions of individuals, let alone policymakers in foreign policy and diplomacy. Even in our private lives, our motives for doing something hard or challenging are likely to be numerous, mixed, at odds, and partly unconscious, covered frequently by self-illusion and rationalizations; and this is doubly so for political leaders, concerned with their standing and chances of re-election and with concerns for how history will see them.

What counts much more in our actions --- and those of diplomats --- are their consequences: were they on balance an improvement over the status quo, and how much compared to the costs of changing it?

Consider appeasement in the 1930s. The appeasers of Hitler in France and Britain in that decade --- or isolationists here that hampered FDR's diplomacy --- weren't evil or bad men, and were well-intentioned for the most part. They wanted to avoid war. They failed, and the result of their behavior --- as Winston Churchill would note later --- was disastrous: it encouraged Hitler and the other aggressive dictators to think the western democracies were lacking in will and resolution and emboldened them to up their demands and eventually launch a war when their relative power was far greater than it was earlier in the 1930s. In the upshot, 50-60 million people were killed in a war that finally destroyed them, and in Europe, it brought the Stalinist totalitarian regime into several countries that it communized.

  To return to Iraq and clarify the complexity of moral judgments here. The costs to the US in fighting the war to topple Iraq and reconstructing it have to be compared with the benefits of destroying Saddam's brutal mass-murdering regime, ending his defiance of the UN Security Council, and ending too his threats to other countries in the region . . . while producing, the Bush administration and its supporters hope, a better, friendlier, more moderate government in Iraq. If decent success materializes on these counts, then the rest of the Middle East's corrupt, despotic regimes will face intense pressure to reform too. Some of those regimes, it needs to be stressed, are outright terrorist-states, supporting international terrorism for their own purposes while pursuing programs of nculear or chemical or biological weaponry: Syria and Iran, whose governments are already drawing certain consequences in their support for terrorism because 140,000 American troops are on their borders.

Then, too, there's Saudi Arabia, ruled by a royalist gangster clique of 4000 cousins, which has squandered 2.5 - 3.0 trillion dollars of oil revenue (in 2002 dollars) since 1973, a fair amount of it allocated for pushing Wahhabi extremist Islam in the world, including in the US and fanning racist assaults on Jews, gays, women, liberals, democrats, and the like. We also know --- witness the administration's censorship of the joint House and Senate intelligence committee on 9/11 --- that high-level political leaders in the royalist Mafioso were actively funding terrorist movements, including Al Qaeda, led by a Saudi. Was it an accident that the leader of the 9/11 massacres in New York and Washington D.C. was Saudi, and most of the terrorists from that country too? Shortly after 9/11, as we found out later, the Saudi government carried out a secret poll of men in their country between 19 and 39 years of age, and guess what: 95% supported Al Qaeda and Bin Laden! Fortunately, all this may be changing too ("may": Saudi Arabia is one of the most censored and secretive societies in the world, with a pervasive secret police presence). In particular, American troops have withdrawn, and pressures are now being exerted on that corrupt gangster regime --- whose per capita income for 21 million Saudis is now one-third of what it was in 1980, with unemployment among men over 25%! --- to alter its support for Islamist extremist and terrorism. The reports filtering from the US government to the media indicate, for instance, far more energetic cooperation in stopping financial support for terrorist networks like Al Qaeda.

Against these, there are costs. Some harm to NATO unity, though except for France, US relations with Germany have improved noticeably again (as with Putin's Russia), and NATO seems to be functioning generally well again . . . even if we can't expect much help from them over Iraq (in part, domestic opinion even in the EU countries that supported Bush --- Italy, Spain, Denmark, Holland, and the much poorer 8-10 new East European members in the EU by the end of this year --- is still strongly opposed to their involvement, with the exception of Poland). There has been, too, some strident politicized polarization about our policies in Iraq since the end of the war: even moderates like Wesley Clark running for the Democratic Party nomination have moved more rapidly to strong criticism than their previous support indicated, never mind Howard Dean . . . whose appeal to the left-wing of the Democratic Party, with all the stimulating impact on activists, seems generally limited to it. And of course, there is the cost of rehabilitating Iraq --- $87 billion asked for the coming fiscal year (just started now) --- that the Bush administration clearly had under-estimated in its earlier over-optimistic projections. It's an important point. We'll return to it later.

I discussed the moral side of all this in a buggy prof article this summer. See the link here.

(Sidebar observation: predictably --- the prediction repeatedly made in several buggy articles about the diplomatic wrangles before and immediately after the Iraqi war --- France has ended up antagonizing and dividing the EU, leaving itself increasingly isolation . . . a result that is now being voice more and more frequently in France itself. Again and again, that's what has happened to clever French schemes to leverage its influence and prestige in the world by using the EU for that purpose, while gathering domestic support in France itself, a badly divided country on almost all other issues. See, "For French Intellectuals, France Falters" Also The Economist.

 

 

IRAQ SINCE THE WAR: HAVE WE BLUNDERED INTO A QUAGMIRE

As for Iraq, there are three tracks of changes that have to be monitored and made sense of to determine what's really going on:

  1) political, where progress is being made. Public opinion polls carried out in that country recently by expert pollsters find that two-thirds or so of Iraqis approve of the US-UK occupation and Saddam's overthrow for all the problems of law and order. Both polls showed that, yet you will see all sorts of claims made --- even in the New York Times --- by reporters who say they know what the Iraqis are feelings or thinking about the current occupation based solely on their intuition or their drinking buddies at the tony hotel in Baghdad or from a talk with a highly non-random selection of Iraqis. Be wary of this stuff.

  2) economic, including infrastructure, GDP growth, oil production. Getting good information is hard, but the US economist who headed the team overseeing the economy there said recently, about a week ago, that the economy has been stabilized. We'll return to this matter in a few moments.

  3) security problems, which divide into two sorts: terrorism launched by Saddamite remnants and by Al Qaeda and other Islamo-terrorists, a serious matter.

 

It's worth taking up these tracks, starting with security problems.

First, terrorism. Since the end of May, the number of US soldiers killed by these attacks (as opposed to accidents, some of which could be linked to evasive actions) has definitely trended downward: See this link, which the Wall St Journal then republished later. Again, though, it's not the complete story. The general in charge of US forces said yesterday that the terrorist attacks were growing more sophisticated and numerous . . . presumably, though, without as many US casualties. It's just not clear what the situation actually is; but in the near future, say within a few months, there should be an Iraqi police force, military, and anti-terrorist units in place, with their ability to get intelligence --- the key here --- far greater than our own so far. Remember here too: the inability of the US to open a northern front through Turkey with the biggest digitalized division in the US army --- which was supposed to swoop down to Baghdad in two or three days --- allowed large remnants of the elite Iraqi Republican Guards to slip away once Baghdad was occupied quickly from the South. Most likely, these remnants are the backbone of the forces attacking the US . . . along, of course, with the arrival of Islamist terrorists, including the usual fanatical suicide bombers from the rest of the Middle East.

  The second side of security problems is law-and-order, and its breakdown in a burst of criminality. It's obviously serious, this breakdown --- but not unusual in a system where repression of a ruthless sort ruled and its removal freed criminals and others to be vitalized. Again, getting good info is hard, but the problem is still serious, and it will obviously take both an effective government, police force, criminal justice system on one side and a greater willingness of a still cowed Iraqi population on the other to cooperate more actively with the reformed police and reveal what they know about criminals and terrorists. More generally, on the two sides of the security problems, the Bush administration --- as far as we can tell --- can be faulted for being over-optimistic before the war began. How much of a major lingering problem terrorist attacks turn out to be will depend, largely, on what happens in the next several months . . . especially on how quickly an Iraqi political authority, police, and military can be brought into play. As for law and order, it's hard to know what outsiders can do until a better criminal justice system emerges.

 

On point 2) the breakdown of the infrastructure has turned out to be far more serious than anyone seems to have appreciated not due to the war, but to neglect for a decade and then some sabotage. Oil production too has clearly run behind schedule, but again, we have to wait and see what happens the next year. The oil fields were seized quickly; that we know, and hence sabotage wasn't possible. As we noted earlier, oil production --- despite post-war efforts at limited sabotage --- is now around 1.9 million barrels a day compared to the pre-war level of 2.5. Ultimately, it's hoped, Iraq's very large oil reserves could lead to a tripling of that output or more, the backbone of a new economy if the right economic institutions and policies are put in place.

Is the $87 billion the Bush administration has just asked for --- three-quarters for US forces in Iraq --- worth it? People of goodwill can argue about this, and again the administration was probably over-optimistic about Iraqi ability to earn large amounts of oil revenue for economic reconstruction. that said, what's at stake now in Iraq --- our ability to show we're willing to stand in favor of democratic change, accept casualties, encourage change for the good in the area (nobody really expects Iraq to emerge as a Danish-style democracy), and our ability to pressure successfully for changes in Syria, Iran (where 90% of the people oppose the regime according to Iranian public opinion results last year), Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere seem to me to be worth while . . . especially since the encouraging signs in 1) and 2) need to be considered.

 

Further Reading

For an illuminating, crisply put argument on what's at stake in Iraq right now for us and our allies, see the impressive article by the gifted military historian, Victor Davis Hanson, that was published yesterday. What's It All About? The buggy prof himself will comment further and extensively on the developments in Iraq along all three tracks as soon as good information --- not acerbic partisan sniping from Democrats and Republicans alike, never mind incompetent journalism --- is available. And as always, he will --- even as he sees good reason to continue supporting the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq, a long-term challenge of vast proportions and crucial in the war on terrorism --- continue to handle legitimate criticisms and see if they can be replied to effectively. If not, he will say so.

Replies: 1 Comment

Just a slight point about your above arguments, some clarification on a fact/myth being disseminated across the media.

Quoting your post: "The US government can be criticized for using some wrong intelligence --- or putting in a reference to British intelligence and Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium from Niger..."

I think this "reference" is regarding the now notorious "16 word" portion of Bush's State of the Union Address...

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Note here that Bush does NOT mention Niger, but AFRICA. The British intelligence that he was talking about named Somalia, Congo AND Niger as possible uranium links. This is a point lost on almost every pundit, media outlet and critic of the administration. So What? Well, any survey of media discussing the Wilson report (The document produced by Joe Wilson after his investigation of Iraq-Nigeria uranium ties, the same Joe Wilson now involved in the CIA leak scandal) will find is used as some sort of conclusive proof that, at best, Bush was mistaken or, at worst, Bush lied. But even if the Wilson report can be considered conclusive with regard to Niger (a very questionable proposition, considering Wilson's lackadaisical research techniques) Iraqi connections to other African countries still remain a very real possibility. So far, there is no evidence to prove that the administration's reference to Africa was wrong or a lie.

THE BUGGY RESPONSE:

Josh:

Many thanks for the clarification . . . doubly important what with the way the media have also been badly misinterpreting David Kay's recent report, something the next article here deals with at length.

You'll note in that article that the British House of Commons Intelligence Committee --- after weeks of investigation --- found that there was no evidence that the Blair government had deliberately exaggerated the WMD threat of Iraq . . . even though it did find the government guilty of using ambiguous and not fully verified intelligence reports. Significiantly, regarding the statement the Blair government made about Iraqi agents trying to buy uranium from Niger, the House of Commons Committee said that there was solid reason for the British intelligence claim: Specifically, to quote the Washington Post aritcle here:

"Britain's intelligence services were justified in continuing to claim that Iraq had expressed interest in obtaining "yellow cake" uranium from Niger, despite the CIA's assessment that the claim was false. "We have questioned the Secret Intelligence Service about the basis of its judgment and conclude that it is reasonable," the report said."

Posted by Joshua Weinberg @ 10/07/2003 03:37 PM PST