(Page 5 of 7)
“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” Condoleezza Rice unrealistically warned. But there was also an opportunity cost—losing the chance to unleash creative destruction on the Islamic world. The time may have come, mused First Things editor Richard John Neuhaus, for “thinking about military action in terms not of the last resort but of the best resort.”
The “best resort” meant more than 4,400 Americans dead, a toll that grows with every postwar veteran suicide. Cashiering Saddam proved well within U.S. capabilities. Creating a liberal democracy was not. Iraq plunged into civil war: Shiite fought Sunni as foreign jihadists flocked to the country to promote their own model of regional transformation. Over 110,000 civilians died—probably many more, but who was counting? Two million Iraqis fled the country; a similar number who remained were displaced. Eventually Sunni tribal leader rose to eject the outside Islamists. That, and not the vaunted “Surge,” defeated Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia—which didn’t exist before the war.
Regime change came home. The war did to the Republican Party and conservatism what Vietnam had done to Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic Party and Cold War liberalism. Disgust with the war contributed to two GOP presidential defeats and gave Barack Obama an edge against Hillary Clinton among Democrats in the 2008. Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006: the seat that decided the Senate was that of Virginia’s George Allen, whose opponent, former Reagan administration Navy secretary Jim Webb, ran as a Democrat (and won) because of the war.
Civil war has come home as well. The GOP is now a battleground between neoconservatives and other adherents of the cult of rollback, on the one hand, and, on the other, Ron Paul-inspired libertarians and newly emboldened realists. It’s a bloodless, metaphorical war—but its outcome may determine whether there are more Iraqs.
Daniel McCarthy is editor of The American Conservative.
When the United States launched its first strikes on Iraq, I was the city editor at a small community daily newspaper in Barstow, California. The town is the closest to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, an Army post in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
We immediately contacted the post to try to determine how this strike on Iraq would affect what the Army was doing in the desert. The spokesman for Fort Irwin was insistent that the military actions in Iraq would have absolutely no impact on the Army post. They were going to continue their training as usual. And because they were a training post, there shouldn’t be any concerns about soldiers deploying from Fort Irwin. The soldiers were there to help teach other soldiers, not to go to war.
He ended up being terribly wrong on all counts. When the Iraq war began, Fort Irwin was training soldiers in tank battles and other tactics that weren’t entirely applicable to the current conflict. The training center underwent major changes over the course of the decade, after the war had started. The tank wars were replaced with mock Iraqi villages (and later Afghan villages). The Army built a facility there to study improvised explosive devices to help train troops fight this new threat.
The soldiers there were deployed as well. Soldiers from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which typically serves as the mock enemy forces for training rotations that come to the post, were sent to Iraq, as were some additional specialists. The post suffered its first casualty of war almost exactly two years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
After the post’s transformation, Fort Irwin played a great media game, inviting outlets across the country and the world to visit, witness, and report on the way the training center now prepared soldiers for rotations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
But those who were in the area in 2003 know that when the war began, the Army really had little idea what they were getting into and the length of time they would be in action in military theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Scott Shackford is associate editor of Reason 24/7.
Ten years after the start of the Iraq war, we are still far from reaching consensus on its lessons. Both the critics and the defenders of the war make some valid points. It is undeniable that the Bush Administration erred in believing that Saddam Hussein had a large stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. The administration similarly overstated his support for terrorism and possible ties to Al Qaeda. Much less excusably, they also badly mishandled the occupation of Iraq, thereby greatly increasing the human and financial cost of the war. The war also did severe damage to America’s public image in much of the world, and harmed relations with key allies.