Why I was wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan

Back in 2003, I thought the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.  Saddam Hussein was a manifestly evil tyrant, and it was obvious that the world would be better off without him.  Just as one detail, he issued a decree a couple of years before that anyone who spoke disrespectfully of him or his two sons would have their tongues cut out; Amnesty International found someone who had been subject to that punishment.

I felt shame that President George H.W. Bush after the 1991 Kuwait war had called upon the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam Hussein and then permitted him to slaughter the rebels with helicopter gunships.  I felt that the prolonged low-level war waged under President Clinton, consisting of blockade plus intermittent bombing, caused as much suffering as a short full-scale war would have, but without threatening Saddam’s power. I further felt that the blockade was unsustainable, and would sooner or later fade away.

So I thought it a good idea to take advantage of the fact that Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, and get rid of him for once and for all.  Even after the United Nations debates, when it became apparent that the evidence against Saddam was fraudulent, I still had mixed feelings.  The Mexican War and the Spanish-American were launched on faked evidence, and nobody today cares (except Mexicans and Spaniards).  If the United States liberated Iraq, there would a major oil-producing nation in the heart of the Middle East with a democratic government in which Americans were popular.  Or so I thought.

It only took a couple of weeks to show how wrong such thinking was.  But sometimes I think that if only the U.S. government had acted more wisely, if it hadn’t reduced the country to a state of anarchy, if it hadn’t disbanded the Iraqi army while allowing soldiers to keep their weapons, if it hadn’t allowed the arsenals to be looted, if it had recognized the spontaneous elections held in different Iraqi cities, if it had employed Iraqis in rebuilding their country rather than turning it into a bonanza for American contractors, if it hadn’t made so transparent a grab for control of Iraqi oil, if only a lot of other things … then things might have been different, but probably not.

In 2004, like Senator John Kerry, I thought the real fight was in Afghanistan, whose government harbored the al Qaeda conspirators who planned the 9/11 attacks.  I thought our troops belonged in Afghanistan tracking down Osama bin Laden, not in Iraq.  By 2008, President Bush announced the start of a phased withdrawal from Iraq, which is being continued by President Obama.

President Obama  inherited the situation, as President Nixon inherited the Vietnam War in 1969. What Obama appears to want in Afghanistan, like Nixon in Vietnam, is a way to withdraw from the situation without suffering a humiliating defeat and leaving the country in chaos.  To accomplish this, he is like Nixon and Kissinger, escalating  the war while offering negotiations; without the escalation, there is nothing to negotiate with.  I’m not sure this will work any better in Afghanistan than it did in Vietnam.

You may ask why you should take my opinion seriously, when I’ve admitted I been wrong so many times in the past.  I hope I am wrong.  I would have been happy if President Bush had proved me wrong about Iraq. I will be pleased if President Obama proves me wrong about Afghanistan.

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