The Iraq War: 10 Years Later

A libertarian forum on the lessons of the Second Gulf War.


This week marks the 10th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. To mark the anniversary, Reason asked a group of leading policy analysts, scholars, and journalists to consider the lessons and legacies of the war, a decade after the launch of hostilities. What follows is a critical look at both the war abroad and its impact at home.—Matthew Feeney

Ronald Bailey

On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. liberation of Iraq (how ironic "liberation" now sounds), I admit that I was wrong to support that war. In a March 17, 2003 article, "Liberators or Invaders?," I speculated on how the Iraqi people would respond to American troops landing in their country to topple the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. I noted in that column that the Azores summit meeting in of the "coalition of the willing" had issued a declaration:

"The Iraqi people deserve to be lifted from insecurity and tyranny, and freed to determine for themselves the future of their country. We envisage a unified Iraq with its territorial integrity respected. All the Iraqi people—its rich mix of Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and all others—should enjoy freedom, prosperity, and equality in a united country. We will support the Iraqi people's aspirations for a representative government that upholds human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of democracy."

Thousand of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars later, how naïve those good intentions and goals now seem. Yes, the Iraqi people "should enjoy freedom, prosperity, and equality" and a "government that upholds human rights and the rule of law," but too late I realize that it is not possible to force freedom on others.

My hope/assumption that people, given the chance, would choose to loosen the fetters of tribal loyalty and embrace the ideal of individual liberty has been proven decisively wrong. The institutions that underpin a liberal capitalist society cannot be built in just a few months or years. Meanwhile, at home, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were used to justify the construction of an ever more intrusive national security state. Henceforth, I will do what I can to dismantle it. 

Ronald Bailey is science correspondent for Reason magazine and

Matthew Feeney

The decision to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom was one of the most disastrous American foreign policy decisions in recent history. Thousands of people were killed during the war, and many continue to be killed, thanks to the American-led invasion of Iraq that failed to uncover Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which were cited as one of the main reasons for the invasion. As well as resulting in unnecessary deaths, the war also damaged America's reputation abroad and destabilized an important geopolitical region. However, while the war was an unnecessary tragedy it has impacted American foreign policy in a way that now makes the sort of direct intervention seen during the war in Iraq anathema to contemporary American foreign policy.

This is not to say that the American military has not intervened abroad during the Obama administration. However, the interventions are more hands-off than the interventions that began under the Bush administration. No-fly zones and drone strikes, while still unnecessary and unjustified interventions, are different to the invasion and occupation of a country.

Some have argued correctly that the legacy of the war in Iraq has been one of the considerations made by the Obama administration that has kept America out of direct involvement in Syria. While the U.K. and France have both recently said that they are open to the possibility of arming Syrian rebels, the U.S. remains comparatively removed from the conflict.

While the Obama administration seems to be wary of repeating some of the Bush administration's disastrous foreign policy mistakes, it is important to remember that despite the deaths, the lack of weapons of mass destruction, the worsened reputation abroad, and the cost of the war in Iraq, there are still some who argue that America's foreign policy should employ more direct intervention. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have both argued that the U.S. should be more involved in the Syrian conflict.

That the war in Iraq has made the Obama administration wary of direct military intervention is the only silver lining of a vast and very dark cloud. But the war has also allowed Obama's foreign policy to seem more accurate, considered, humane, and modern than Bush's adventure in Iraq. In isolation, the killing of hundreds of people in countries we have never declared war on with drones would be met with far more justified outrage than it currently is. However, with Iraq still fresh in our memories many of us are too quick to overlook the serious moral, political, and diplomatic concerns raised by Obama's own interventionist and unconstitutional foreign policy.  

Matthew Feeney is assistant editor of Reason 24/7.

Nick Gillespie

Back in August 2002, I wrote about what I called a "Baghdad Bait and Switch": Invading and occupying Iraq was a non sequitur in the "global war on terror." There was no pressing military or foreign policy goal involved. The move on Iraq was a political response to the failure to capture Osama bin Laden. When you can't lash out at an actual problem, why not take a swing at a country—especially one ruled by an absolutely unredeemable figure such as Saddam Hussein—that you've already effectively contained?

That's why the Bush administration sold the war not simply as a necessary step in stemming the supposedly existential threat of radical Islam but as an affordable exercise in nation- and region-building. Remember when Bush adviser Larry Lindsey got canned for suggesting that the war might be as much as $200 billion? We're now looking at a $6 trillion price tag, a total that pales in comparison to the human toll, which is somewhere north of 176,000 people. It's worth constantly recounting the cost and stupidity of the Iraq war because we've already started to forget it.

Indeed, we started to forget just how ill conceived and poorly executed the whole thing was even before we kinda sorta left Iraq. Recall how former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tried to keep U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as possible—and beyond nominally appointed withdrawal dates. Panetta failed, but not for lack of trying.

Barack Obama was elected not because he was critical of the generally interventionist foreign policy that has prevailed in post-Cold War America (Bill Clinton ordered 25 major troop deployments in eight years, double the number than Ronnie Ray-Gun did). Obama bravely came out against dumb wars but has had nothing to say about forging a foreign policy for the 21st century that might lead to a safer and more peaceful world. 

A decade after the Iraq war started, the one positive sign on the foreign policy front comes not from the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House but from a senator who has been attacked by members of his party as a "wacko bird" flying high on "isolationism." Rand Paul's February 6 speech at the hawkish Heritage Foundation (of all places) is the most promising step forward on a national conversation that should have been started even before George H.W. Bush put together the first Gulf War in 1991. Whether you agree with Paul's ideas of containing U.S. enemies through a mix of economic, cultural, and military engagement, he is at least starting the sort of discussion that might avoid another decade of dumb war and tens of thousands of dead people in an elective war. We should have been ready to have that conversation without ever having invaded Iraq and it's a point of national shame that only now do most of us seem ready to start talking.

Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of and Reason TV.

Anthony Gregory

The Iraq war qualifies as the worst U.S. government project in my lifetime. It has devastated millions, killed tens of thousands directly and hundreds of thousands indirectly, spawned mass displacement, and abused thousands of captives, many guilty at most of defending their country. 

The propaganda and promises of a fast, cheap liberation were transparently absurd. Neocons warned against balsa-wood drones, mushroom clouds in New York, anthrax and radiation attacks against which we could shield ourselves with duct tape. The absurdity made Cold War duck-and-cover drills appear comparatively rational. Iraqis had no plausible responsibility for anti-American terrorism. Saddam's genuine brutality never justified killing people who happened to live in Iraq. Yet the establishment and most Americans ignored millions of protesters' pleas. They cheered as Bush inflicted the moral equivalent of 9/11 on a defenseless country. The hysteria of 2003 gave hints of how fascists rise to power.

Operation Iraqi Freedom unleashed terrorism, draconian Shariah law, and the systematic persecution of women and religious minorities. Bush's gang established martial law, deadly checkpoints, and torture chambers; used white phosphorous, flooded the country with sewage and disease, destroyed infrastructure that twelve previous years of U.S. war and sanctions had yet left standing, confiscated Iraqis' guns, and implemented central taxation and economic planning. 

Wilson's WWI bungling helped lead to communism, Nazism, and WWII; Bush's bungling has exacerbated jihadism and will reverberate for decades. Scholars will never forget this attack on civilization's cradle, including the ravaging of ancient Sumerian relics and the earliest known writing, which Chalmers Johnson compared to the Mongol destruction of Baghdad's libraries in 1258.

Year after year, many of us demanded withdrawal, and "realists" told us that "we" must fix what "we" broke. The full-scale civil war, predictably sparked by U.S. intervention, only subsided when the Sunnis essentially lost and the U.S. military bribed many of its adversaries.

One good resulted: Global disrespect for American empire. Indeed, the war on terror should delegitimize the U.S. government for everyone.

Thousands of Americans were killed, maimed, and psychologically wounded. Many thousands more, deprived of the basic right to quit their jobs, endured numerous deployments, only to return home to an aggrandized government and weaker economy. The connection is inextricable. For any chance at liberty, Americans must reject war. Libertarians should lead the opposition to militarism as the core statist evil, responsible for expanding corporate socialism and abusive police power.

Those who were wrong should fess up and commit themselves to peace. Those who excuse or downplay this atrocity will always suffer in credibility.

A year into the bloodbath, Bill Buckley said, "With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn't the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration…. If I knew then what I know now… I would have opposed the war."

Too little, too late, but he did concede error. The least we can do is learn: Never, ever—ever—trust the war party again.

Anthony Gregory is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the forthcoming The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King's Prerogative to the War on Terror (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Robert Higgs

Ten years after the U.S. government launched its second war against Iraq, we may draw many conclusions about its having done so and about the actions and events that followed. The chief conclusion I draw is nothing new; indeed, it is the oldest axiom of statecraft: crime pays.

In 1945, the jurists that the U.S. government and its wartime allies sent to compose the Nuremburg Tribunal spelled out the nature of crimes against peace in considerable detail, including "(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i)." The chief American prosecutor at Nuremburg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, said: "To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Although certain lawyers might concoct a variety of avowedly "legal" justifications for the war launched in 2003, any fair-minded person must see that if this war does not qualify as a war of aggression, it is difficult to identify one that does. The United Nations Charter obliges all member states to "refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Every disinterested observer must see that this war was not waged in self-defense: Iraq did not and had not threatened the U.S.; it had neither the means nor the intention of attacking this country or otherwise harming U.S. national security. The war was plainly one of choice and aggression, thinly disguised as preemption.

Among the war's countless consequences are more than a hundred thousand deaths, innumerable physical and psychic injuries, vast destruction of property, and displacement of millions of people from their homes. By comparison, any conceivable good that came of the war was relatively insignificant. The war has (or eventually will have) squandered more than a trillion dollars of U.S. wealth.

If waging aggressive war was the crime, the criminals who perpetrated it are obvious because they made no attempt to conceal their culpability; indeed, they took public credit for the crime. Heading the list are George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice, followed by a large number of subordinates and co-conspirators, including Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, and virtually every other prominent neoconservative in the country.

Notwithstanding their crimes, they have prospered. Bush and Cheney were reelected. All of the others have gone on to live as seemingly respectable members of society. They occupy prestigious positions and move about freely; they receive public honors; many people treat them as praiseworthy figures. None of them were ever indicted by a U.S. court. In short, they have got off scot-free. Crime pays.

Robert Higgs is senior fellow in political economy for The Independent Institute.

Malou Innocent

Prominent (neo)conservatives who promoted the war, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, have blamed the U.S. military drawdown from Iraq for a rise in Iranian influence. That popular contention willfully ignores that Iran became a beneficiary of the war as a result of Saddam Hussein's removal, not that of American troops.

Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq war proponents were so focused on removing Saddam from power that they largely overlooked how it would enable Tehran to back its political allies in Baghdad with far greater impunity. Take Iraq's current Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki, head of the Shiite (Dawa) political party. From 1982 until the U.S.-led invasion, Maliki found refuge in Iran while other Dawa members found refuge in Syria. Why Iran and Syria? According to Dawa, "These two countries were most sympathetic to the cause against Saddam's regime at the time."

That was also when top officials in Washington were assisting Baghdad's secular Ba'athist regime in its ongoing conflict against Iran and refused to punish Saddam for gassing Iraqi Kurds. The Iran-Iraq War (1980–88) ultimately devolved into a protracted stalemate, allowing the rivals to weaken each other. Because the region remained divided, neither side could achieve hegemony and shut out American influence. As Henry Kissinger reportedly quipped, "It's a pity they both can't lose."

In August 1988, after the bloody Iran-Iraq War finally ended with a U.N.-mandated ceasefire, Saddam did not intend to preserve the status quo: His forces invaded

Kuwait in August 1990. The immediate objective of the resulting U.S.-led international coalition was to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and to avoid what President George H.W. Bush's Secretary of State James Baker warned, "something that would result in the fragmentation of Iraq because we didn't think that would be in our national interests."

Washington's larger aim was to prevent Iraq from dominating the Persian Gulf. For the next 12 years, no-fly zones and a sanctions regime contained Saddam's expansionist tendencies. Iran's strength grew, Iraq's strength receded, and the balance of power in the Gulf remained reasonably intact. That all changed dramatically after March 2003. 

Bush administration officials, and their Democratic and Republican supporters on Capitol Hill, underappreciated the wider geopolitical ramifications of dethroning Iran's principal regional counterweight. Realist scholars pointed out at the time that no amount of prewar planning or "boots on the ground" could have prevented the Islamic Republic's push into a neighboring country with a 60 percent Shiite majority. By 2010, leaders in Tehran helped create Prime Minister Maliki's Shiite-led government, and according to reports, began "calling in favors among its allied factions in Iraq."

It is useful to keep in mind that many prominent politicians and pundits who originally promoted the war have now seized on expanded Iranian power to press for action against its regime. These proponents of perpetual aggression convincingly illustrate what Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises described as the deception of government intervention: When the government perceives a problem, it intervenes to solve it, but instead of solving the initial problem, the intervention creates two or three further problems.

Those who blame America's troop withdrawal for increased Iranian influence have their causation wrong. The preventive war of choice they were so confident would yield a positive outcome helped strengthen Iran's geopolitical assertiveness and limit U.S. policy options across the region. 

Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Ed Krayewski

The war in Iraq started 10 years ago, on March 20, 2003, pursuant, according to the Bush Administration, to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, as well as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq, which actually cited enforcement of Resolution 1441 and prior Iraq-related Security Council resolutions as a reason for the president to deploy the armed forces. Most international opinion viewed the invasion of Iraq as illegal, but the UN Security Council (of which the U.S. is a veto-wielding member) never repudiated the war and no decision in any federal or international court has ruled on the matter one way or the other. But the Iraq war, a.k.a. the Second Gulf War, is the U.N.'s baby even absent Resolution 1441. After all, nearly 800 resolutions earlier, in 1990, the U.N. Security Council authorized military action by the U.S. and its coalition of allies to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The 1991 (First) Gulf War was followed by a decade of UN weapons inspectors, tasked with ensuring Saddam Hussein did not continue to develop nuclear, chemical, and even biological weapons of mass destruction. Before democracy-building became the policy du jour in the Bush White House, WMDs were the modus operandi for war. Those WMDs were never found. It was later revealed Saddam Hussein was bluffing; he didn't want Iraq's regional enemies (and namely Iran, whom he considered a greater threat to Iraq than the U.S.) to know he didn't have WMDs.

Iraq was put on the fast track to war in 2002, when George Bush identified it, along with Iran (that archnemesis of Iraq) and North Korea (4000 miles away), as an axis of evil. The intelligence community's speculated on Iran going nuclear since the 1990s. By 2002, North Korea had been dabbling with nuclear weapons for years. In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in 2009 it announced it had nuclear weapons. It has performed at least three tests in the last 16 months. North Korea, too, is the U.N.'s baby. The participation of U.S. forces in the Korean War in 1950 came as a result of U.N. Security Council Resolution 83. The war ended (?) in an armistice and stalemate along a boundary close to the one that existed at the beginning of the conflict. That armistice called for a "peaceful settlement of the Korean question," which hasn't happened yet. 

U.N. Security Council resolutions were also used to support the U.S. pursuing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan (Resolution 1368, passed on September 11, 2001) and, most recently, to authorize NATO-led intervention in Libya (Resolution 1973, passed March 17, 2011, just two days before NATO entered the civil war). That intervention, and the expansion of the drone war to as far as Yemen and Somalia, and the deployment of U.S. troops in Africa, from Uganda to Niger (in support of the French-led intervention in Mali), and the increased agitation for intervention in Syria suggest few real lessons were learned in Iraq. 

Ed Krayewski is associate editor of Reason 24/7.

Daniel McCarthy

Peter Beinart was wrong about the Iraq war in 2003, when he was a leading liberal hawk. But today he's right about the idea behind it: "The real Bush doctrine was neither about democracy nor terrorism; it was about containment and deterrence. Throughout the Cold War, hawks had repeatedly questioned both strategies." Neoconservatives and other hardliners hated the realpolitik of Nixon, Ford, and even Reagan. They demanded direct confrontation with America's enemies: regime-change by covert action or pre-emptive war. At last, after 9/11, they got to put the theory into practice.

Afghanistan wasn't enough—that war was a reaction. Iraq would be a revolution, the first domino in a chain that would remake the Middle East. Saddam Hussein's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction supplied grounds for war. But its planners and promoters, from Dick Cheney to Christopher Hitchens, always imagined neutralizing a fictitious nuclear program as only the beginning of great things. The war would liberalize Islam, destroy Al Qaeda, bracket Iran, and create a hospitable environment for Israel. Advocates dismissed any question about the costs. They turned it around: What would be the cost of not intervening?

 "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.

Scott Shackford

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.

Ilya Somin

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.

On the other hand, The Kay and Duelfer investigations of Iraq's weapons programs found that Saddam Hussein did have a WMD research program, and that he was increasingly finding ways to circumvent UN sanctions. Small amounts of WMDs were actually found, including artillery shells filled with deadly sarin gas. The 9/11 Commission found that Saddam Hussein had offered assistance to Al Qaeda in the late 1990s. Saddam's record showed that he was a dangerous risk-taker. Such incidents as his invasions of Iran and Kuwait, and his ordering of an assassination attempt on former President George H.W. Bush in 1993 attest to that. Given this propensity for risk-taking, it would have been difficult to contain him indefinitely. Since he was likely to "break out" of the sanctions regime sooner or later, allowing his regime to continue its efforts to stockpile WMDs and develop relationships with terrorists was hardly a safe proposition. Finally, today's Iraqi government, for all its flaws, is far more liberal and democratic than Saddam's dictatorship. Most importantly, it does not engage in periodic bouts of mass murder and genocide, as Saddam did.

On balance, I think that both America and Iraq are, overall, better off for having removed Saddam than either would be if the U.S. had left his regime in power. But this judgment rests on difficult-to-assess counterfactuals about what the world would be like had the U.S. and its allies acted differently in 2003. The same is true of the opposite position, which implicitly rests on the assumption that a world in which the US did not invade Iraq would have turned out better. Neither side in the debate has an airtight case. 

Given that reality, we should be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions about the proper future policy for the United States. Libertarians, in particular, should resist concluding that the failures of the Iraq war prove that we should never go to war except in response to an actual or imminent attack. As I have explained more fully elsewhere, there is a serious libertarian case for a more active military policy. The Iraq war actually strengthens that case in one sense. The 2006 and 2008 elections showed that the voters notice military failure and punish it at the ballot box. This contrasts with many less-visible forms of government failure that are often ignored because of widespread political ignorance. Although far from ideal, democratic leaders' incentives to avoid failure in war are much stronger than in most other areas of public policy.

We may ultimately conclude that the Iraq war was a failure. But any general prescriptions for American foreign policy must be based on a much broader assessment of relevant history and political economy. 

Ilya Somin is a professor at George Mason University School of Law.

Jesse Walker

The good news about the Iraq war's legacy is that it has made ordinary Americans far more skeptical about intervening abroad. Like World War I and Vietnam, Iraq showed Americans just how destructive an ill-conceived military adventure can be. This lesson may need to be re-learned every few decades, as the generation that saw the effects of a war dies off and a new crisis (or apparent crisis) prompts a new set of leaders to overreach in their reaction. But for now the skepticism is in place.

Unfortunately, this skepticism is much scarcer in the governing class. A president carried into office in part because of his antiwar reputation has already fought a small war in Libya and may soon try to enter another conflict in Syria or, worse yet, Iran. And for all the recent influence of Sen. Rand Paul's small band of Republican doves and quasi-doves, the leadership of the GOP is still filled with unreconstructed hawks. In Washington, interventionism is still the default position, even in a time of public reluctance and even in the face of fiscal crisis.

Jesse Walker is books editor at Reason magazine and

Matt Welch

The occupational curse of generals actual and armchair alike is fighting the last war. World War I hero Maurice Gamelin prepared France to defend against Hitler's panzers with cavalry and a glorified trench. Critics of U.S. interventions spent a generation comparing each and every one, inaccurately if cautionarily, to Vietnam.

The Iraq war deserves its place in the Hall of Interventionist Shame right alongside that JFK/LBJ folly, even though the death toll and political failure, mercifully, do not come close. Not only did Gulf War II lead to a decade-long quagmire of misery, massive expenditure, and a series of unplanned contingencies (characteristics it shares with our dual nation-building sinkhole in Afghanistan), Iraq was a war not of retaliation but of "choice."

We could have chosen to avoid it. So we're compelled to explore why we did not.

One key factor in America's disastrous discretion was that the overriding lesson we thought we learned from the Gulf War, Bosnia, and Kosovo—hooray, we don't have to worry about the lessons of Vietnam anymore!—turned out to be false.

In February 1991, flush with the stunningly rapid liberation of Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush declared, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all." As Bush's secretary of state, James Baker, recalled in his memoir, "Emotionally, the success of the war was powerful tonic for the American psyche. In six short weeks, the bitter legacy of Vietnam had been swept away by Desert Storm. Euphoria permeated the country to a degree not seen since World War II."

It was a euphoria that had no time for limning important analogical differences between the two wars. Vietnam was about the United States choosing sides in a civil war as a buttress against regional communism; the Gulf War was about a genuine international coalition reversing naked state-on-state aggression. Wars are easier to conclude in 100 hours (as opposed to 100+ months) when the objective is limited and clear.

The Vietnam Syndrome had taken a body blow, but was not quite dead. Draft-dodger Bill Clinton spent most of his first term drifting in and out of minor conflicts while the bodies piled up in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, while congressional Republicans sounded reliable warnings against American interventions just about anywhere. "The aspect of the future of this nation that bothers me more than anything else," said one GOP senator in January 1993, "is the prospect of sending American troops on the ground into Bosnia." That senator's name was John McCain.

The success in finally bombing Serbian authoritarian Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table in 1995, after four years of frustrating diplomatic impotence in the face of Milosevic's gruesome ethnic slaughter, converted many peacenik lefty types into Munich-invoking liberal hawks. By the time American warplanes started bombing Serb forces in Kosovo in March 1999, many Republicans had lost their gun-shyness as well. "For a while we made our way in the world less sure of ourselves than we had been before Vietnam," McCain wrote at the conclusion of his September 1999 Vietnam memoir, Faith of My Fathers. "That was a pity, and I am relieved today that America's period of self-doubt has ended."

As we gear up to learn what one hopes are the right lessons from the Iraq war, let us volunteer as an underrated if unsatisfying virtue a little of that ol' self-doubt. And let us recognize that any American president, of any party, who acts without restraint from either Congress, international opinion, or the long-degraded principle of sovereignty, will inevitably lower the bar for our next great self-inflicted calamity.

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason magazine.

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  1. “Thousands of people were killed during the war”

    This grossly understates the cost of the Iraq war — by at least an order of magnitude.

    1. People got killed in a war? Alert the presses.

      1. Saddam Hussein was killing his own citizens at the rate of 100K/year before the war. Any summary of the costs of the Iraq War needs to credit the million Iraqis that lived because Saddam was no longer in power, or else it’s overstating the costs radically.

        1. “Saddam Hussein was killing his own citizens at the rate of 100K/year before the war.”

          Citation needed.

          1. 2.5 million of his own citizens killed in 25 years of rule. Look it up.

        2. 100k a year? Yea, sure buddy.

          1. It’s easier to be a scoff than it is to do two friggin’ seconds’ worth of research.

            “According to The New York Times, “he [Saddam] murdered as many as a million of his people, many with poison gas. He tortured, maimed and imprisoned countless more. His unprovoked invasion of Iran is estimated to have left another million people dead. His seizure of Kuwait threw the Middle East into crisis.
            Other estimates as to the number of Iraqis killed by Saddam’s regime vary from roughly a quarter to half a million,[10][11] including 50,000 to 182,000 Kurds and 25,000 to 280,000 killed during the repression of the 1991 rebellion.[12][13] Estimates for the number of dead in the Iran-Iraq war range upwards from 300,000.[14]”


            “Kill tally: Approaching two million, including between 150,000 and 340,000 Iraqi and between 450,000 and 730,000 Iranian combatants killed during the Iran-Iraq War. An estimated 1,000 Kuwaiti nationals killed following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. No conclusive figures for the number of Iraqis killed during the Gulf War, with estimates varying from as few as 1,500 to as many as 200,000. Over 100,000 Kurds killed or “disappeared”.”


        3. Sure, if you average over a period including the Gulf War and the most bloody armed conflict of the 1980s, you can get that figure. But Saddam Hussein was not killing 100,000 Iraqis a year in 2001 or 2002.

          So if you’re going to compare body counts to figure out who the good guy is (which is crass and morally bankrupt already), at least do it right.

    2. Just as an FYI, I don’t consider the violence in the aftermath to be a cost of the war. That was coming whether Saddam fell by the outside or internal to the country.

      1. Perhaps. I mean, maybe you’re right, but there have been other cases of tyrannical regimes falling without widespread bloodshed.

        1. that is usually because another tyrant rises up to fill the vacuum left behind.

      2. Your powers of clairvoyance astonish.

  2. I believe that 10-20 years from now, we’ll look back on Iraq as less of a mistake than Afghanistan. Now, obviously we had valid reason for going into Afghanistan, reasons we did not have in Iraq. But since we’ve transformed both into nation building exercises, it’s worth noting that our efforts in Afghanistan will be completely wasted whereas Iraq will end up something better than it was, even if it doesn’t exactly turn into a Jeffersonian republic.

    1. I should elaborate that none of this justifies the war in Iraq. The cost of it, the shaky rationale for it, and all of the aspects of it that can be considered (downstream effects and all) still don’t provide sufficient support for having done it. But recognizing that whatever results a decade or two hence is still better than a brutal Baathist tyranny I think is being reasonable about it. Doesn’t mean we should’ve wasted our efforts, blood, and treasure doing so, but it needs to be recognized in the interest of honesty.

    2. Less of a mistake than staying in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has no value beyond providing a place for the US and Al Quada to settle their differences.

      1. Two nations enter, one nation leaves.

        Maybe, or maybe not, hard to say when it will end considering Top Men will keep drawing big paychecks in the military-industrial complex as long as as there is a place to dispose of aging inventory.

      2. Poppy, brother. Poppy. When I go on the Silk Road, it seems that 90% of the heroin is supposedly from Afghanistan. And they still need poppy to manufacture opiate meds like hydrocodone.

        And wasn’t there something about possible mining for rare earths, or something. I think it was covered here at reason.

  3. In planning and execution, the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq was an exercise in freedomization, an overseas colonial project to sow the seeds for a model society based on neoliberal economic theory and inspired by an evangelizing mission to promote values that many Americans consider universal, such as personal freedoms and democracy. Our presumption that the strength of our country puts us at the top of the idea chain, that all peoples should learn from us and that all human beings are really Americans under the skin, combined with our particular self-reliant optimism, tricked us into thinking we could remake the world in our image.

    An Arabic speaker, I was hired as a translator/interpreter to support the CPA. Those were heady days, drunk with freedom. Unfortunately, liberty without responsibility is license. Iraq’s rundown infrastructure had been smashed and its institutions vanished overnight as people linked to the former government stopped working and sought anonymity. With no competent or legitimate security force, there was no way to protect people’s investment in society. In the anarchy that prevailed, freedomization, the legacy of the war, became the freedom to aggressively promote one’s individual or group interests.

    Dustin Langan, author of Freedomization

  4. Chemical weapons (likely) used in Syria.…..ns-attack/

    Where’s your “red line” now, Obama?

    1. Oh, goodie. So much of a pre-WWI feeling around these days.

      1. You are not kidding. Doesn’t Syria feel a lot like Spain 1938?

        1. It’s actually a little scary. When you read the histories of both world wars, the weird inevitability of the wars despite numerous opportunities to avoid them is sickening. Just like the situation now. While there’s no specific major conflict on the horizon, tensions are definitely increasing, and the extended economic downturn is making people more aggressive.

          1. And the wars in the Gulf over the last ten years are a bit like the Balkan wars that proceeded World War I. Some days I think Tolstoy was right. Great men are just the names we give to great events. We really do seem to be along for the ride sometimes.

            1. Inertia is hard to overcome. It would be nice if the U.S. got its act together, because without us falling apart first, a world war seems unlikely.

    2. Have you seen Damascus lately?…..deo-russia

      This is what Baghdad would’ve looked like had we not removed Saddam.

      I’ve argued before that the war in Iraq was justified without relying on WMD’s, and I remain convinced that the vast majority of Iraqi’s are much better off without Saddam alive. Watching the waning days of the Assad dictatorship only further reinforces that opinion. Syria is a complete and total disaster. The capital is completely destroyed. The resulting vacuum that will sweep in when Assad finally falls will most likely be filled with whomever carries the biggest fist, and it is highly unlikely this will be anything even remotely pro-western.

      I’m not arguing for intervention in Syria because it’s a completely different time and place than Iraq in 2003, but if you want to know what Iraq would’ve looked like in 20 years without our involvement, click the link above.

      1. Yeah. We never get the counter factual. The peaceniks just pretend everything would have been wonderful had we not invaded and that there is no way invasion could ever have been the best of a set of bad options.

        1. No, John, we “peaceniks” never said “everything would be wonderful” had we not invaded.

          And the “best” of a bad set of options was still not invading. Invading Iraq was not in our self-interest.

          1. No, John, we “peaceniks” never said “everything would be wonderful” had we not invaded.

            Bullshit. Don’t you remember Fahrenheit 9-11 where it showed how peaceful and wonderful Baghdad was pre-war? That is exactly what they said. And indeed, since Iraq sits on a good chunk of the world’s oil and is about a thousand times more important to the world than Syria it is hard to imagine how it turning into what Syria is now being anything but really bad for the US and the World at large.

            Of course the biggest lie of them all was the “we could have just contained Iraq”. This argument was made by the same people who spent the decade of the 1990s talking about how the UN sanctions amounted to genocide. Yet, after the invasion, the sanctions and the constant state of low intensity war with Iraq that had been going on since 1991 was now this wonderful option.

            In 2003, the containment regime had completely fallen apart. Oil for food was a joke that was starving Iraq while getting Saddam, the French and the Russians rich. It couldn’t go on as it was. The only other choice was to drop the sanctions and welcome Saddam back into the world community, something no one was willing to do, or invade.

            1. Well hell john I guess if the world community says jump we’re supposed to go on neoliberal nation-building adventures!

            2. “Don’t you remember Fahrenheit 9-11 where it showed how peaceful and wonderful Baghdad was pre-war?”

              Just because one person says something stupid doesn’t render invalid the argument for non-intervention, nor does it mean that everyone who argues for non-intervention believes that everything will be wonderful.

              1. Nevertheless, there was no pushback to the lies of Michael Moore’s screed except from the pro-war Right. If you don’t make yourself heard cleaning up the wrong arguments on your side, why should people listen to you about the wrong arguments on the other side?

                1. I personally was only 15 years old when the Iraq war started and hadn’t developed any sort of world view yet, but I would’ve never defended Michael Moore on a statement like that. If non-interventionist libertarians did defend it, then that’s unfortunate. At any rate, I don’t consider the likes of Michael Moore to be “my side” anyway.

            3. “In 2003, the containment regime had completely fallen apart.”

              Really? In 2003, U.N. inspectors reentered Iraq for the first time in five years (thanks in no small part to the Bush administration’s cajoling). Isn’t that the opposite of the containment regime “falling apart”?

              Was the no-fly zone revoked by some resolution or decision in 2003 that I’m not aware of?

              And what exactly was this containment regime, in your view, failing to adequately contain? A tin-pot military dictator with no air force and no international allies. Who exercised no control over the north third of his country. This was the fearsome gathering threat that was slipping the bonds of a (strengthened, your bullshit notwithstanding) containment regime and necessitated an immediate ground invasion? Please.

              As for the sanctions, yes, from what I’ve read, they were unduly punishing toward innocent Iraqis while sparing the klatch of murderers around Saddam. Without defending every single leftist who opposed both the sanctions and the war, I can say that there’s no contradiction in decrying the unnecessary brutality of a sanctions regime against a civilian population, and maintaining that elements of that containment effort – the prohibition on military and dual-use exports, the gigantic no-fly zone, the blanket prying authority of U.N. inspectors – could’ve been kept in place and, with some tweaking, both spared the Iraqis undue suffering and kept Saddam tightly bound up in his box.

              1. Oil-for-food? Saddam giving $25K to the families of every suicide bomber in Israel? Yeah, that ‘containment’ that ‘kept Saddam tightly bound up in his box’ was just working so well.

                That argument was rejected and rightly so 10 years ago. The Iraqis had been undergoing ‘undue suffering’ for 25 years already, and you’re arguing that they should still be suffering today under the rule of Saddam.

      2. I’m not arguing for intervention in Syria because it’s a completely different time and place than Iraq in 2003, but if you want to know what Iraq would’ve looked like in 20 years without our involvement, click the link above.

        There is no way to refute this because it’s total fantasy. You have no idea what would have happened.

        1. There is no way to refute this because it’s total fantasy.

          But this

          And the “best” of a bad set of options was still not invading

          isn’t? You are fantasizing about what would have happened had we not invaded? But some fantasies are okay I guess.

          1. Yes, I am having a hard time imaging a policy that would have cost more lives and money than Iraq that would naturally result from our refraining from invading.

            We can play Harry Turtledove all day, but 4,000 American soldiers and a few trillion for something that is kinda sorta maybe better than Saddam is not a very good investment, IMO.

            1. Cost more lives?

              Saddam Hussein was killing, on average, 100K of his own people every year.

              No one can credibly claim that anywhere near a million people have died in Iraq in the last 10 years, even if you’re counting American soldiers, Iraqi soldiers, Baathists that continued to fight after the fall of Saddam, and al Qaeda in Iraq all combined.

              How many soldiers did we lose in World War II? How much did that cost us? Was that worth it, using the same analysis you apply to Iraq?

              1. Then why stop at Iraq? If war is so beneficial and effective, let’s liberate every country. That’s right, because wars only destroy wealth, not create it.

              2. You have no citations and you aren’t credible. WWII was a defensive war.

              3. Fuck off, nimrod

        2. I don’t think it’s total fantasy to say that Saddam eventually would’ve gone out similar to the way Assad is now, without knowing “exactly” what would’ve happened.

          Saddam was not going to simply step down, and much like Assad he controlled a vast stockpile of military assets that he would’ve unleashed on the civilian populations.

        3. That is not a fantasy at all. The country was complete broken down. The Shia and the Sunis were dying to kill each other. If nothing else Saddam was going to die eventually. Everyone hated his sons. Once Saddam died the place would have immediately split apart into civil war, with the Shi and the Kurds probably murdering every Suni in Iraq.

          1. And how do either of you know that this destabiliization is not as a direct or indirect result of the invasion of Iraq?

            In other words, the Arab Spring and Syria today may be a result of the invasion, not a reason to support an invasion.

            And I have to wonder why you guys don’t support a Syrian invasion if what you are saying is true.

            1. And how do either of you know that this destabiliization is not as a direct or indirect result of the invasion of Iraq?

              Because the forces that would have destroyed Iraq and are destroying Syria have been building since they drew the map after World War I. All we did in Iraq was go in and control the inevitable fall.

              And I have to wonder why you guys don’t support a Syrian invasion if what you are saying is true.

              Because Syria is about a thousand times less important than Iraq. There is no oil there. There is no water there. And at this point, why not let our enemies kill each other?

              1. Because the forces that would have destroyed Iraq and are destroying Syria have been building since they drew the map after World War I. All we did in Iraq was go in and control the inevitable fall.

                Most Middle East autocracies are still intact. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

            2. So are you arguing that the war in Iraq helped usher in the Arab spring?

              I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, because anytime nations stand up against their dictators and make efforts at liberty we should be supporting this, but I doubt that’s what you mean.

              I don’t support a Syrian invasion because there is nothing left to invade. Assad has completely demolished entire swaths of the country. All that remains is to see who wants to run the shithole left over after Assad finally ends up on a lamppost.

              I have Kurdish friends who moved to Nashville in the 90’s from northern Iraq and are now moving BACK to Iraq because the situation has improved THAT WELL. Northern Iraq in the Kurdish regions is a testament to the benefits of removing Saddam. Syria, once Assad finally goes, will be a Rwandian stain on the worlds conscience.

              1. So are you arguing that the war in Iraq helped usher in the Arab spring?

                Yes, that is what I mean. And that does not mean the Arab Spring has been some great liberal leap forward, either.

                1. So you are of the opinion that the Arab world is “better off” under the Assad’s and Hussein’s of the world?

                  I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt with this, because I don’t think this is what you mean, but either you support the right of the Arab world to determine their own fate through a democratic process -even if they elect muslim fanatics- or you are of the opinion that they would be better off with a Dictator in power.

                  1. Amen! Preach it sir!

          2. You mean pretty much what happened after our invasion. Ethnic cleansing of the Sunni by the other factions. We could have saved our money and lives.

            1. No, what happened after we removed Saddam was not even close to what would’ve happened had Saddam followed Assad’s path.

              Assad had shown at least a little reluctance to using chemical weapons. Saddam already had used them. The shitstorm unleashed by a failing dictatorship like Saddam’s WITHOUT the US there to soften the fall would’ve been a disaster of epic proportions.

              1. The shitstorm unleashed by a failing dictatorship like Saddam’s WITHOUT the US there to soften the fall would’ve been a disaster of epic proportions.

                So does the US have an obligation to go into every unstable country? I think not.

                1. No, but Iraq qualified as strategically important for a number of reasons, not the least of which included the sizable cast of Islamic terrorist groups that high tailed it to Baghdad after being chased out of Afghanistan.

                  There is also the fact that we were already getting shot at by Saddam regularly whilst enforcing the no-fly zone in northern Iraq. To say that Iraq was the same as “every other unstable country” is simply to remain ignorant of the facts on the ground.

      3. I noticed that most of the writers asked about the war are pretty pessimistic. Which is fine, although some of it feels like toeing the company line rather than honest analysis. I think Ilya’s got the best handle on it, although that might mean I get lambasted by the Gillespies of the world.

        People seem to be forgetting that the Iraqi regime was hyper-aggressive, brutal domestically, was actively pursuing a WMD program, and had continually flaunted not only UN resolutions but the no-fly zones over the Kurds, attacking them with chemical weapons. Iraq’s behavior made the North Koreans look passive. The Russians and the Chinese (of course) were routinely violating UN embargoes, providing the regime with the means (and probably the tech) to develop WMDs. Hell, in the early days of the war military transports were spotted crossing the border with Syria, allegedly carrying the chemical weapons that regime is currently threatening to use.

        As much of a shitshow as Iraq is today, and as bad of an idea in the balance (for us) as our involvement in Iraq was, we have left Iraq and the region better and stronger for the lack of Hussein’s regime. Whether that was worth the blood and treasure we invested is a different argument than whether the war resulted in a net gain for Iraq and the world in general.

        1. wwhorton, for the most part agree.

          A question that has never been answered by anyone I have asked when they go into a BDS seizure over Afghanistan & Iraq, is what if the US Supreme Court had allowed the Democrats and the Florida Supreme court to steal the 2000 election and we had a President Gore on 9/11. What would Gore have done different? Why would a President Gore’s actions have been any better? (besides being better just because he’s your team’s guy) After all, the USN had been bombing the shit out of Iraq for years in support of the no-fly zone; the first gulf war was not really over.

          The choice was Bush or Gore making the calls, not some utopia choice with a president with an (L) after their name.

      4. The idea is to avoid a sinking ship. Of course we jump on the ship.

      5. You pick Syria as your counterfactual. What about Libya? Like Saddam, Qaddafi was a megalomaniac and, like Saddam, he had psychopathic sons waiting in the wings. In Libya, the people revolted, and the West imposed a No-Fly Zone and engaged in limited bombing. Qaddafi fell with comparatively limited bloodshed, and today enjoys a government that is roughly as democratic and dysfuctional as Iraq’s, at a considerably lower cost to both the United States and its own people, who, for better or worse, and unlike the Iraqis in 2003, chose at great personal risk the course they are on now.

        Now, Iraq was already under a massive No-Fly Zone, and Saddam’s military was about as fearsome as an old Pinto. (And, unlike Assad, he had been under heavy sanctions, and enjoyed no military backing from either Iran, Russia or China.) What’s to say that a rebellion against Saddam would’ve played out exactly like the Syrian and not the Libyan rebellion? I’d be surprised if you have any compelling answer to that question.

  5. Anthony Gregory pins the destruction of Iraq’s antiquities on the US. That might be true in a sense, but the implication seems to be that Marines traipsed through museums and broke everything in sight.

    The comparison to the Mongols might be accurate, but in this case the Mongols would be the Iraqi looters who ran through the museums in the days following the invasion. There was a period when Iraqi forces had left or disbanded, but US forces had yet to establish firm control, and, if you recall the news reports, looters had a field day.

    So, sure, the vacuum wouldn’t have existed if the US hadn’t invaded, but the looting was undertaken by the Iraqis themselves. They must not have found those engravings quite as valuable as Anthony did.

    1. Anthony Gregory is a moron. I didn’t even bother reading what he had to say because I knew it would be crap. Thanks for confirming that.

    2. During the looting, Rumsfeld was telling the press corps with that shit-eating grin, “Stuff happens.” He met the pillaging of a nation’s capital with a quip. In fact, for him, looting was liberation. It was democracy’s blossoming.

      And “stuff happens” isn’t just one particularly insensitive remark. It’s a reflection of the policy. If you’ve made any personal inquiries into the history, you will know that a tiny group of bureaucrats – convened, absurdly, just six or so weeks before the war to plan reconstruction – had pulled off a heroic effort and submitted to the Defense Department, along with detailed rebuilding proposals, a list of sites to be immediately secured by U.S. forces – including Baghdad’s museum. The Pentagon disregarded the list and all of the sites, except for the Oil Ministry. The team of bureaucrats was later disbanded and replaced by shadowy officialdom in the Defense Department. It was they who ordered, for instance, the dissolution of the military and civil services – an order so mysterious that Colin Powell learned about it on TV, and Bush himself has said he was never informed of it.

    3. No, that’s not all that happened. Let me quote a review I wrote of Chalmers Johnson’s book Dismantling the Empire:

      Whereas George H.W. Bush had at least respected the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict agreement in his own war with Iraq, his son George W. Bush allowed this unspeakable mass looting to occur on his watch, while designating 2,000 troops to defend the precious oil fields. A million books and ten million documents were stolen, including some of “the earliest discoveries of writing itself.” Iraq had about 10,000 important archeological sites, many ruined as a result of the U.S. war. The United States dug up “more than 9,500 truckloads of dirt in order to build 350,000 square feet of hangars and other facilities for aircraft and Predator unmanned drones. They completely ruined the area, the literal heartland of human civilization, for any further archaeological research or future tourism.” On the 4,000-year-old ziggurat of Ur, Marines spray-painted their motto, “Semper Fi,” and the Air Force put up a Burger King nearby. At Babylon, “observers say that the dust stirred up by U.S. helicopters has sandblasted the fragile brick fa?ade of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II.” Johnson sums up the cultural destruction.

  6. “policy analysts, scholars, and journalists”

    Oh yeah, I am simply rushing to read those opinions.

    1. +1000/. Ever notice that the people are the most angry about the war and the most unable to get over it are nearly always the ones who never knew anyone who fought it or was affected by it much less did so themselves? Most of the anger, bitterness and PTSD resulting from the Iraq war seems to have occurred in the Beltway pundit class.

      1. Whatever right wing haterzzz. No less an authority then Hillary Clinton has told us that

        Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.

        1. Guess it wan not that big a deal to the ‘guys’ that actually got shot and killed

          “It’s just a scratch!”

      2. Libertarian Party = Hipster douche-bags who consider political party affiliation to be a fashion statement.

        Republican Party = Incompetent, muddling dingbats who seek to preserve the status quo but can’t even manage to achieve that.

        Democrat Party = Sort of a reverse-MENSA, like the Peter Sellers in the Being There, but less intelligent and utterly non-fiction.

        What could possibly go wrong?

      3. Ever notice that the White House Republicans who sent young men and women into Iraq tended to have histories as, shall we say, draft evaders? And that none of them had family members serving in the military? And that they were completely insulated from the physical consequences of the wars they waged?

        1. Including the F-106 pilot that was in charge?

      4. By the way, John, you’re implied minimization of PTSD among returning veterans is really appalling.

        1. Um, PTSD is certainly overstated. I know this because the official stats are based on who is getting more veterans benefits because of their PTSD. Since I know one guy who is receiving PTSD money despite the fact that he’s never actually been in combat, the number of cases of PTSD are overstated by at least one case.

          I can guarantee you that the rise in reported PTSD tracks perfectly with the rise of benefits given out for PTSD. Just like phantom pain afflicts millions of people on SSDI.

        2. And your over-emphasis of it is even more so appalling. To this observer, it almost seems to be a repeat of what happened at the end of Vietnam. It was almost a branding campaign that the vets were all now warped, whack a doodle broken toys that needed to be patted on the head and cared for by concern trolls. To the point that Sylvester Stallone was able to peddle the imagery as the start of a motion picture franchise. See what they are capable of!?!?!

          And this is very disturbingly familiar if you listen to one of the favorite people around these parts, Diane Feinstein, talking about grabbing guns – with a special dig in there to suggest that the people most completely trained and familiar with weapons are probably just a little woo woo in the noggin to be trusted with them.

          Keep an eye out for this strategy, which is meant to undermine the credibility and or inputs from a significant percentage of a generation that just might not sit back and quietly do what they are told once relieved of the obligation to do so in a military environment.

  7. I just hope there’s no Galactic Coalition of the Willing out there right now planning to help us lead lives of meaning and freedom.

    The Earth creatures deserve to be lifted from insecurity and tyranny, and freed to determine for themselves the future of their planet. We envisage a unified Earth with its territorial integrity respected. All the Earth people?its rich mix of Americans and Chinese, Europeans, Africans, Latins, Eskimos, and all others?should enjoy freedom, prosperity, and equality in a united planet. We will support the Earth people’s aspirations for a representative government that upholds human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of democracy.”

    1. At least we could ethnically cleanse some this SoCon juice off if the alien shit hit the fan.

  8. Welch opens up with

    The occupational curse of generals actual and armchair alike is fighting the last war. World War I hero Maurice Gamelin prepared France to defend against Hitler’s panzers with cavalry and a glorified trench.

    Sorry Matt, the Maginot Line was such a strong line, or deep trench if you prefer, that both the Germans and the French knew that the Germans could not go through it. The French had the bulk and best of their troops to the west of the Maginot Line, to far west as it turned out. The French had a significant larger number of superior quality tanks than the Germans, even after the Czech tanks are added in, in May 1940. The French failing was to have poor tactics and improperly deploying the tanks, as well as, expecting a wide swing to the west of the advancing Germans. The German advantage was to keep their tanks together and not to spread them out evenly among their forces. The Germans then drove through middle of the French line, before swinging west and north to get into the French forces and BEF’s rear. I am pretty sure that at the time of Dunkirk the bulk of the French forces were still in Belgium.

    1. If Churchill can be believed, the French could have walked all over the Germans with little loss of life up until the time the German consolidated their hold on Czechoslovakia. I am sure I have the numbers wrong a bit (but not the relative scale), but at the time of “Munich” the French had something in the order of 90 divisions (plus a couple of BEF divisions and the whole damn Royal Navy – a big deal at the time), while the Germans had something like 36 divisions. Again, if Churchill can be believed, had the French/British Forces attacked instead dropping their necks to that guy who shall not be named, the German generals had a plan in place to execute a coup because they knew that Germany could not win a war at that point.

      The country that still was heavily reliant on the cavalry was Poland. But to have pictures of Flashman at Balaclava when thinking about 1939 Polish cavalry is wrong. The Polish cavalry may have still trained with lances, but their purpose was to be a highly mobile light infantry. While I am sure there are many reasons Poland was quickly brushed aside by the Germans in 1939, trying to defend everything across a wide and narrow front and having the Soviets attacking on another front rate higher than being stupid enough to attack takes with lances.

    2. That is an excellent summary of June 1940. Bravo!!

    3. It should also be remember that no one but von Manstein thought you could get tanks through the Ardennes. The German plan really wasn’t that brilliant. Has the French and the British realized the Ardennes were tankable, they could have easily cut off the German thrust and ended the war that month.

      1. Have you read The Blitzkrieg Legend, by Karl-Heinz Frieser?

        1. No. Should I?

  9. takes = tanks

  10. Ah yes, the Libertarian echo chamber of self-proclaimed “experts”

    What other party worships at the altar of “How can we become Poland, 1939?”

    None of your experts are experts. None of you have any idea what you are talking about.

    1. The idea is enhance your power and wealth by not blowing your load on bullshit.

      1. It’s not bullshit.

        I will set aside the quality of the decision to invade Iraq. I may have been intelligent, it may have been foolish. Either way:

        Once you are involved in “regime change” you are committed to a long, large scale, expensive, difficult effort – or at least you are unwise to expect anything else.

        Once you have overthrown a government in a nation in the Persian Gulf, bordering Iran, with a majority Shia population that may be strongly influenced by the Iranian government, with a Kurdish population that may affect the internal situation in Turkey, and bordering the world’s biggest petroleum resources, you can’t stop halfway through. You must finish it. You can’t just throw up your hands and say, “Damn.”

        In a less significant part of the world, say an extremely poor and primitive nation sitting astride some of the world’s highest mountain ranges, landlocked and a long way from anything of economic importance, yes – you can quit and leave. So, as to why our nation has tried to do nation-building in Afghanistan for a decade, I don’t have the foggiest idea.

        But in Iraq, you cannot just walk out with the job half done.

        There is a lot you can argue about with regard to HOW things were done in Iraq, but that is far outside the scope of anything Reason’s “experts” would have anything useful to contribute – unless there was a well-seasoned commander in there I skipped over.

        1. Once you are involved in “regime change” you are committed to a long, large scale, expensive, difficult effort – or at least you are unwise to expect anything else.

          It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months. The idea that it’s going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990.

          1. The idea that it’s going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990.

            We didn’t invade and occupy in 1990.

            1. Uh, John. That’s a quote from Donald Rumsfeld.

  11. The war started on my 18th birthday and I was in Ramadi on my 20th. I’ve been struggling with my own cognitive dissonance between what I think and what I feel since then – not wanting to admit that the mission I believed in at the start could be wrong. It’s been the most challenging intellectual exercise in my life and I still don’t think I’ve resolved it completely.

  12. Robert Higgs is the only one with the balls to call the invasion what it was – a crime. Bush, Cheney, and co. SHOULD be brought to trial, and arguably should suffer the same fate Saddam did

    1. exactly right

  13. Ilya Somin can eat a bag of dicks.

  14. Do you suppose that we could, just for a while, cease pretending that it was politically possible for the President, post 9/11, to NOT send some troops somewhere in the middle east? Moreover, for any military action anywhere to be taken seriously, Iraq absolutely HAD to be one of the targets. Saddam had never even come CLOSE to meeting the terms of surrender from the first Gulf War. Put bluntly; we were already at war with Iraq. Deposing Saddam came under the heading of old business, which had to be closed before new business could reasonably be addressed.

  15. The first quibble I’ve got with this lengthy circle fap that Gillespie et al has engaged in is this. It isn’t the 10th anniversary of the conflict with Iraq, we actually managed to wrap the whole thing up in a mere 22 or so.

    Split hairs if you will, but direct US involvement in that ongoing mess happened in 1990. There was the international outcry of state-on-state aggression, as Saddam had just rolled into Kuwait, and seized a very sizable chunk of the contemporary proven petroleum reserves in the Gulf region. This, more than anything else, did make it a national interest, given the dependence of our (and most of our trading partners’) economies on petroleum. Love that fact or hate that fact, it is what it was, and the players don’t get to alter the checkerboard.

    The symposium bemoans mistakes with the full clarity of hindsight, and studious wisdom. But I seem to have missed everything except a passing acknowledgement that we’d have probably been better off taking Saddam out completely once we engaged. At that point, Iran was still picking up their own teeth from slugging with Saddam for almost a decade previously. Pissed of little Saudi platinum spoon trust funders were still drinking in Beirut, not sitting at home working themselves into a frenzy about infidels in their sacred Saudi Arabia (as we were, at that point, being praised by the locals that were scared shitless of Saddam for ‘defending Mecca’ from such a megalomaniac). -cont’d-

  16. The elements that contributed to the post round two misery either didn’t exist, or were too messed up themselves to be viable threats. The Iraqi Army was in tatters and either running south with white flags, or trying to head back north with the loot they’d pillaged, and the vaunted but not up to the task Soviet equipment Saddam had been acquiring at bargain basement prices from the Russians and the stylish but useless things he’d paid handsomely to the profiteering French was either in smoking ruins in the country’s southern wastes, or had been flown to ‘safety’ in Iran, never to be heard from or seen again (most of it being in such bad shape that the Iranians basically scrapped them).

    But then somebody popped up and said STOP. We don’t want to go any further. IIRC, and since his signature was on the orders that passed in my direction, I should, that came from uber-master nefarious war criminal Dick Cheney, with Pottery Barn analogies from his faithful (till he met Scooter as a fall guy for his own house blabbermouth golden child) and Volvo-fixing sidekick, Colin Powell. And HW agreed, given the timing of the “highway of death” footage that was all over the news during the cycle the decision was made. Just stop. -cont’d-

  17. Then the famous and lionized Commander, Norm, went into a tent with some Iraqis to work out the details, and walked out with the deed to the fucking Brooklynn Bridge. Interviewed afterwards, the Iraqis claimed they were totally shocked and confused that Norm had them by the shorthairs, and basically let them walk out with almost the whole farm. Concurrently, an effort was made to take care of it on the cheap, by getting the marsh Arabs and the Kurds to revolt and let it become an Iraqi internal matter. Support was promised. Help was assured. And then Saddam showed up at the first sign of insurrection, and didn’t pull any punches. But the promises of help disintegrated, and Saddam began basically as wholesale a slaughter of what he considered traitors as he could muster. And say, no one really hit on the reasoning behind a ‘no fly zone’ concept in the first place – and it’s this – he took almost everything he had left that would fly, which Norm told him was a-ok, and proceeded to bomb the shit out of all the folks we’d stirred up to go kick his ass for everybody else. Solution: impose a no-fly zone, and the UN was so busily wringing their collective hands over the slaughter that they agreed.

  18. Thus began the decade of babysitting. Billy Jeff pretty much just twiddled around with it, ordering a strike here or a strike there), if they engaged our aircraft with Surface to Air Missiles, or tried to pull off buffoonish plots to kill HW. This period, along with the Balkans, gave rise to the term “Operation DENY HOLIDAY” in military circles, because the decision to act usually came in conjunction with some holiday or other. And all the while, Saddam was busily either a) trying to bluff his regional enemies he was a tough guy with serious weapons, or b) just being an obstinate dickhead because he pretty much learned it was what he was good at and could get away with it, apparently, and obstructed, led around on wild goose chases, and otherwise stymied just about any and all attempts by any not an Iraqi and getting a UN paycheck from actually finding anything except a continually teasing trail of recently cleaned out facilities, sanitized and incomplete paperwork, and scared shitless personnel that were facing Uday’s tender attentions if they didn’t feed the inspectors the bullshit they were expected to. In other words, he worked a really really long time and expended a great deal of effort to convince people that (as we know with hindsight) imaginary WMD’s really did exist. Guarded by unicorns riding leprechauns that could hide the shit faster than gold. -contd-

  19. It doesn’t really pain me to point out to the folks convinced that all that was completely made up as a Bushy fairy tale, but folks, those guys were no where near that imaginative or creative. Hardly. They did believe it, and with pretty damned good reason, which had just about everybody else on the planet pretty well convinced, too (until events unfolded, and suddenly supposedly everyone had always suspected there was nothing to it to begin with, but they’d been suckered in by those warmongering whackos in Washington at the time, oh the shame of it). And local parochial political sideline stunts didn’t help much. Get ready to choke on this one, but Joe Wilson is a lying self aggrandizing shitbag. Here’s another – the much ballyhooed 13 words were actually factual, with a brain fart by Condi while she was still popping the clutch on her brain in front of politically partisan ‘impartial’ journalists the next day triggering the ‘Bush Lied’ meme. -cont’d-

  20. Yes, the British intelligence service had received a report (through their own channels), which did not include or pass through Italy, or anything else Joe Wilson babbled about to cover his lying ass and muddy the issue. The substance of that British intel report was that Saddam had been Yellowcake shopping in Africa. And Iraqi trade delegations had visited the country in question (which exports two things – khat, the narcotic weed that one chews to get stoned on, and minimally processed Uranium). But Joe, defender of whatever truth someone was willing to pay him the most royalties for yapping about, had determined this was bunk, because he’d managed to have his trophy wife, the paper pushing back room analyst, come up with one more per-diem garnishing glory trip to be a ‘playah’, He’d flown all the way there, stayed in his hotel room, where he received guests whose asses would have been roasted over a slow fire for admitting they could even spell the words ‘Iraq’ and ‘Yellowcake’ at the same time, so they could drink mint tea on the veranda while they denied any knowledge of anything. And obviously, mint tea is very effective truth serum, and who lies to Americans, anyway? Bush, of course. Isn’t that what the NYT printed?

  21. However, it was merely ONE of a variety of reasons for taking out Saddam. Recall, kids, that this whole time, the ten years of babysitting the jerk, the hand wringing august body with members immune to NYC traffic laws had pretty much been steadily cranking out strongly worded resolution after strongly worded resolution. It took the twin towers falling basically right in front of them to figure out that shit can get very serious, very quickly, and the overall business as usual ‘let’s have another vote and word it even MORE sternly’ method pretty much evaporated. And hard deadlines, with specific compliance goals were set. For Saddam to basically quit fucking around, quit jacking the inspectors, and just show everyone his cards. Maybe he was convinced it was just more paperwork and news coverage he could give a shit about. Who knows. It takes two to tango, and he was screaming he wanted into the mosh pit. And he was directly and indirectly supporting terrorism – anyone recall the public donations to Palestinian suicide bomber’s families? Anyone recall the evidence of Al Qaeda personnel freely traveling via Iraq? Anyone? Beuller? Probably not, because a lot of the evidence was sketchy, and depended upon reconstructing the movements of some fairly shadowy folks that didn’t necessarily want their jet set lifestyles of the fanatical and bent on destruction playing out on E entertainment news (which is why most folks missed it). -contd-

  22. One of the other commenters made note of the work led by a guy named Jay Garner, who was tasked with the development of an initial occupation plan following initial military intervention. What was in this game plan is unknown – but what is known is that it was an internal DoD exercise, and it was immediately and summarily shit canned in favor of letting the State Department pros get into the act after they’d cried their bloody heads off about not being invited to the sock hop. They had no alternative plan, or any other plan for that matter, but apparently, to soothe their ruffled feathers and hurt widdle feewings, it was decided to go with the ‘make this shit up as we go along’ approach, with the sensitive souls at Foggy Bottom playing a huge part in ignorantly making it up. The military reverted to ‘yessir, yessir, three bags full’ mode, with the result being what little organization there was in Iraq going right down the Tigris. -contd-

  23. This was why the troops were told not to display the flag. This is why no one thought to secure anything other than the Oil ministry when they got to Baghdad – NO ONE TOLD THEM TO. THEY HAD NO COHERENT PLAN, beyond the immediate tactical, which was basically to shoot back at anyone that shoots at you first, and oh, yeah, be on the lookout for that guy with the walrus looking mustache that resembles the statue the Marines had fun with. That’s why no martial law (so we’d be seen as compassionate), and with no control over people whose lives had been an exercise in total control, the result was pretty much like what happens when a kindergarten teacher leaves the room for more than 10 minutes. That’s why the Iraqi units that were sitting in garrison outside Baghdad waiting to surrender were never rounded up/put under control, till they eventually just went home, mostly because they were running out of food and hadn’t been paid in a while. And, oops, they carried their issued weapons with them. And that vacuum began to suck every little OBL convert in the region into the possibility of fulfilling their religious duty to become martyrs in Jihad against the infidels, and be able to ignore just about every other tenet and get drunk, stoned, laid, or all three, while waiting to be rewarded with 72 virgins, and occasionally making beheading videos of naive Westerners. -contd-

  24. And from there, the ugliness just grew exponentially. Thus rolling in the ‘fight the last war’ concept reveals what had been forgotten. How Germany and Japan were occupied and ‘rebuilt’. The ‘Allies’ really didn’t engage in ‘nation building’, in either place (you say Marshall plan, I say ‘throwing money at it’). In retrospect it was more along the lines of us holding them at gunpoint and telling them in no uncertain terms ‘ya’ll behave and get to work cleaning this shit up’. Which isn’t what happened in Iraq at all. “Nation Building”, no matter how you dress it up with ‘Pottery Barn Rules’ is a suckers game. It is, after all, a ‘government project’. -contd-

  25. But one point I would like to see a bit of clarification on – the ‘civilian death toll’ during the occupation – there is no denying that a lot of death was goihng on, and a lot of them were Iraqis caught in the crossfire, but how many of them were Al Qaeda aligned foreign or local fighters? Probably quite a significant percentage, as despite the actually isolated incidents the news orgs focused on where innocents were killed, the western military forces present weren’t in the habit of unleashing their firepower indiscriminately at anything that moved. So while the 100-150K estimated body counts are probably close, what percentage were actually combatants – a significant percentage, I suspect. And how many are victims of the actions of those martyrdom seeking jihadis and their suicide fashion statements? Also quite a sizeable percentage. So automatically assuming the mea culpa mode and taking all the credit, that’s probably not completely deserved..

  26. -post- All in all, was it a mistake to go in and take out Saddam? Not really, he was a rabid dog that actually was threatening our national interests (yes, code pink was right, it was about the oil. Please note – Rwanda, no oil. No intervention. See?) I still have no idea how we got into Somalia other than UN concern troll emotionalism – ABSOLUTELY disagree with that move, before, during, and since. Pretty much same with the Balkans. That mess IS in Europe’s back yard, let those fuckers take care of it (even though they were doing a shitty job of it). Afghanistan, that pretty much was a must do, but it fell to the same mid-event buffoonery that Iraq experienced, with a lot of opportunities botched to wrap it up fairly early on. At this point, the continued presence in Afghanistan is the most perplexing of all. We don’t want to be there, they don’t want us to be there, and how long do you have to make the fucking rubble bounce AFTER you’ve bagged target numero uno? Ida know, but I say let them get back to their national sport that uses a goats head for a ball, and call it a day.

  27. -post-post- And on body counts. I have no idea the actual numbers, but they were during round one. My task had me in a literal bird’s eye seat, calling plays to the field. If I called it – tanks, arty, troops, comms, aircraft – it would shortly not be there any more. Hundreds, probably. Thousands, probably not that many. But yeah, this commenter actually had actual hands on responsibility for inflicting a lot of the Iraqi casualties from round one. That said, yes, in the same circumstance, in the same setting, certainly, I would have very little problem doing it over. Any qualms disappeared with the very first photo I saw taken in a Kuwaiti hospital maternity ward, where infants had been literally slammed to the floor head first, so the invaders could cart of their incubators. No stress at all after that. Nor ‘post traumatically’ either.

  28. Lastly (really) – one saying that people were throwing around while all this was ginning up, with regard to alliances, relationships, etc, was “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as a balm for dealing with the sleazy, such as Saddam in the 80’s. What was not considered, and is more relevant to the situation today and should be aware of is the concept “yeah, we hate each other, but we hate you MORE!”

    It explains a lot of the reaction we get these days.

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  30. The decision to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom was one of the most disastrous American foreign policy decisions in recent history. Thousands of people were killed during the war, and many continue to be killed, thanks to the American-led invasion of Iraq that failed to uncover Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which…..-c-56.html were cited as one of the main reasons for the invasion. As well as resulting in unnecessary deaths, the war also damaged America’s reputation abroad and destabilized an important geopolitical region. However, while the war was an unnecessary tragedy it has impacted American foreign policy in a way that now makes the sort of direct intervention seen during the war in Iraq anathema to contemporary American foreign policy.

    This is not to say that the American military has not intervened abroad during the Obama administration. However, the interventions are more hands-off than the interventions that began under the Bush administration. No-fly zones and drone strikes, while still unnecessary and unjustified interventions, are different to the invasion and occupation of a country.

    1. I’d invite you to go and read my lengthy comments above. Particularly a review of the section that covers how ‘WMD’ become one of a myriad of reasons the invasion happened.

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