Iraq: Why Can't We Learn From Our Mistakes?

Obama wants to arm "moderate" Syrian fighters. But moderates can become fanatics with changes to the political and military moment.


United States Air Force/Wikimedia

What if the American invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction? What if whatever weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein once had were sold to him in the 1980s by American arms dealers with the express permission of the U.S. government? What if he no longer had them when the U.S. invaded? What if the principal reason for invading Iraq was to depose Hussein because he tried to kill President George H.W. Bush, whose son ordered the invasion?

What if another reason for the invasion of Iraq was to enable western-allied governments to control or receive oil from Iraq? What if the Bush administration lied to the American people, Congress, the U.N., and governments of other nations in order to persuade them to support the invasion? What if the Bush administration knew all along that Hussein posed no threat to the stability of the Middle East or the freedom or security of the U.S.? What if Hussein was, in fact, a stabilizing force in the Middle East?

What if the American invasion violated the moral precepts of the Just War, precepts accepted in Judeo-Christian teaching and culture for more than 500 years, and that have underpinned international law for more than 100 years?

What if the invasion killed 4,500 Americans and 650,000 Iraqis, injured 40,000 Americans, displaced 2 million Iraqis, and destroyed more than $100 billion in Iraqi property? What if that invasion, which cost more than one trillion borrowed U.S. dollars, degraded the Iraqi military?

What if the American invasion sent many members of the Iraqi military underground or into the arms of anti-government resistance fighters? What if the American invasion also produced a fierce resistance and determined will to expel the American invaders?

What if the Middle East has been the scene of a 1,000-year-old religious dispute between two branches of Islam: the Sunni and the Shia? What if under Hussein the Sunni persecuted the Shia and also persecuted a third group in that region, the Kurds? What if Hussein used the weapons of mass destruction that American arms dealers sold him to gas thousands of Kurds? What if the Shia now persecute the Sunni?

What if Iraq is not a country of people with common cultures and interests and generally accepted borders, but rather an amalgam of warring groups cobbled together by British and American diplomats? What if only a strongman like Hussein—however evil and ill suited for government by Western standards—can keep peace and stability in an artificial country like Iraq?

What if al-Qaida was not present in Iraq before America invaded? What if the American invasion drew al-Qaida fighters to Iraq from Africa and other parts of the Middle East? What if the American invasion produced a violent stew of resistance to and resentment of American-induced violence in Iraq?

What if that stew—which has been known by different names, but is now called ISIS—included not only fighters from all over the Middle East and Africa, but also from the current Iraqi military and from Hussein's military, which U.S. forces thought they had defeated or dispersed? What if many of those former Iraqi military forces brought their American-made and American-paid-for military equipment and their American military training with them into ISIS?

What if, in the 11 years since the U.S. invaded Iraq and in the 13 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, American troops have been training new Iraqi and Afghan armies? What if during that time of training many of those U.S.-trained troops joined the ISIS resistance? What if the U.S.-trained troops that stayed in the Iraqi military are really a rag-tag band of second-rate soldiers who are unable to defend the Iraqi government against ISIS? What if President Obama's military advisers have told him this?

What if some of the training has taken place in the United States? What if some of those trainees left their instructors, fled a U.S. Army base, and were at large in the U.S. with their weapons?

What if under the watch of the U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers one-third to one-half of the landmass of Iraq has fallen to ISIS? What if ISIS—though barbaric and ruthless and decidedly undemocratic—has established governments in the lands it conquered? What if those governments—though terrifying to those who would resist them, as Hussein was—have financed schools and hospitals and operated as the only government in the land, as Hussein did? What if those governments are selling oil to finance themselves, as Hussein did?

What if the forces in the U.S. who believe the military is best when it is fighting are again beating the drums for war in Iraq? What if Obama's present plans are to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels and induce them to fight ISIS on the ground while the U.S. provides air cover? What if the U.S. really cannot tell the moderate Syrian fighters from the fanatical Syrian fighters? What if they are one and the same fighters, whose moderation or fanaticism changes with the politics and military needs of the moment?

What if American empire building and military adventurism and going about the world looking for monsters to slay have caused this mess? What if the American government refuses to recognize that? What if the United States is about to embark on the same thing all over again? What if all this has not made a single American freer or safer? What if all this has made the American government paranoid and the American people less free and poorer and more vulnerable?

What if the government here cannot recognize its failures? What if a people who cannot understand the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them? What do we do about it?

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  1. OT: Sorry for the re-post but I happen to think it’s warranted:…..s-20140924

    One assailant, 24-year-old Kathryn Knott (reported by some sources as Katherine Knott), is the daughter of Chalfont, Pennsylvania Police Chief Karl Knott and an apparent spoiled brat. Her neighbors told ABC 6 that they’re “not surprised” by the charges.

    1. It’s okay, daddy will fix it for her.

  2. Stop Questioning Me!

    I get Socratic overload and must force people to drink hemlock to cure it.

    1. What if every article was a series of questions? What if the ads were also a series of questions? What if people carried on conversations like this in person, all the time?

        1. Seriously, the Judge always makes me think of this song:

          I know I can’t hold the hate inside my mind
          ‘Cause what consumes your thoughts controls your life
          So I’ll just ask a question
          A lonely simple question
          I’ll just ask one question
          What if? What if?
          What if? What if?
          What If I?

          What if? What if?
          What if? What if?
          What If I?

          What if? What if?
          What if? What if?
          What If I?

          What if? What if?
          What if? What if?
          What If I?

          What if you did?
          What if you lied?
          What if I avenge?
          What if eye for an eye?

          What if your words could be judged like a crime?

          1. BTW, I’m not a creed fan and all my shirts have buttons.

    2. Why! What are you hiding!

      1. More questions…

    3. I wish I could find the precise quote from The Paper Chase about the Socratic method.

      1. “We use the socraic method here. I call on you, ask you a question and you answer it. Through this method of questioning, answering, questioning, answering we seek to develop in you the ability to analyze that vast complex of facts that constitute the relationship of members within a given society. You teach yourselves the law, but I train your mind. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and you leave thinking like a lawyer.”

        1. Thank you. IMDb only had the end of that quote.

          I was conflating it wiht Kingsfield’s quote telling the students, “At times you will feel you have the right answer. I assure you this is only a delusion.”

          1. yvw. I’m trying to make up a bit for the multiple threadjacks 😉

  3. The M-I-C is the K-E-Y. They don’t see continuous profits from arming and fighting thise we armed as a “mistake” at all. In fact, the more we destabilize the more money to be made. They would answer all your “what if’s” with Amens.

    1. And how an we properly test our new weapons if we don’t sell weapons to people who hate us.

    2. The M-I-C is the K-E-Y.

      The ending to Full Metal Jacket where they’re all singing the Mickey Mouse club theme song now takes on a whole new meaning. Mind. Blown.

  4. OT: What if I really wanted to ignore the Judge’s article?…..a_law.html

    HARRISBURG – The state Senate on Wednesday passed legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

    1. But you’re only going to be able to get inferior weed at the ABC stores.

  5. Mike Church read this on-air this AM on his SiriusXM show (cleverly named “The Mike Church Show”). Channel 125 6am-9am Eastern – I highly recommend it. He’s done a lot of research and publishing on the Constitution, plus is just generally a NAP type. He’d fit right in at HyR.

    Who knows – maybe he’s one of us.


  6. Oh, what if there were some stuff that – despite generally paying far more attention than the average ‘murcan – there were a number of factors the Judge noted that I hadn’t known or considered before? What if that made me even angrier with my government and the tards infesting it? What if I didn’t want my blood pressure to be raised? Is there something I can do about it, besides not reading articles by the Napster? could biofeedback help? Should I just have better control of my emotions? What would happen if I were driving a car at the speed of light and I turned on the headlights? Does anyone else think Steven Wright’s jokes are ALL still funny today? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? How much morning wood would it take to build a house? Should I be discussing this with jesse?

    Inquiring minds probably don’t care. That is all.

  7. You know why the Thebans were able to eventually beat down the Spartans? Not because they had some super band of homos. Because the Spartans fought them too many times in inconclusive battles. The Thebans learned all the Spartan tactics and tricks and eventually started winning.

    Phillip and Alexander didn’t make that mistake. They beat them once, and when the Thebans rebelled, they destroyed the city and sold the inhabitants into slavery.

    We keep fighting the same assholes, each time winning inconclusive victories and leaving behind more and better weapons. No wonder ISIS is trying to bait us into coming back.

    1. That’s how the VC operated. Take the explosives out of dud ordinance then make IEDs to use against us.

    2. If your going to go to war you should be in it to win it, using everything up and to the kitchen sink to wipe out your enemies. As a nation we probably don’t have the resolve to fight a war to do the messy immoral things that are needed to win and if your not willing you shouldn’t be in the fight in the first place, because the juice is not worth the squeeze.

      1. Agree except for the “probably” part.

  8. Why do fools fall in love?
    Why do birds sing so gay?
    And lovers await the break of day?
    Why do they fall in love?

    1. Who put the bomp in the bompshebop?
      Who put the ram in the ramalamadingdong?

      1. Oh say! Can you see by the dawn’s early light?

        1. Oh say!

          This isn’t a question, is it?

          1. Jose! Can you see by the dawn’s early light?

            1. “dahnserrly light”

              “dahnserrly” is an adjective, meaning “pretty” (roughly)

  9. Why is there air?

    1. It’s not air, it’s phlogiston.

  10. I blame Bush.

    1. This is an excellent point

    2. He clearly 100% at fault for the past, present, and future.

  11. What if, in the 11 years since the U.S. invaded Iraq and in the 13 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, American troops have been training new Iraqi and Afghan armies? What if during that time of training many of those U.S.-trained troops joined the ISIS resistance?

    Are you insinuatin’ that coconuts are migratory Afghan National Army soldiers have gone over to ISIS?

    1. Swallows must have carried them over.

      1. African swallows, sure! But what would African swallows be doing in Afghanistan?

      2. African or European?

        1. Dammit! Beat me to it!

    2. I think the Afghan National Army soldiers go over to the Taliban and the Iraqi National Army soldiers go over to ISIS.

      1. Indeed – but the Napster kind of missed that in his question barrage.

      2. Oh, and IA soldiers don’t go over to ISIS, they go home.

        1. After leaving behind their weapons, gear, and uniforms of course.

        2. There may be some who go over to ISIS to get in on some of that sweet head choppin’ action, but yeah, most just go home.

          And years from now, lieing in their beds they still wouldn’t trade all the years from now until then to come back and tell ISIS that they can take their lives, but they’ll never take their FREEDOM!

          …Because ISIS are some crazy motherfuckers, and that FREEDOM! shit’s overrated anyway.

  12. Asking why “we” can’t learn from our multitude of mistakes with respect to our overseas military adventures is like asking why can’t we learn from the failure of drug prohibition. I presumes that these “mistakes” are the result of a well intentioned desire to do what is right for the country and in the world when, in fact and like the drug war, the true motives and agenda for these various interventions and invasions are not comprehended by most people. And just like the drug war is not, in fact, a failure in its actual purpose neither are all of these military interventions. As with almost everything the government does they are spectacular successes at their real intended purposes which is to enrich and empower a relative handful of people at the expense of the rest of us.

    1. Fair analysis. Do the “relative handful of people” have names?

  13. What’s this “we” shit, white man?

    And is it too much to ask that a unit patch not have a glaring grammatical error in it?

    1. I trust you mean the “TFW”, which should read “FYTW”. 😉

    2. What if the boy is from Syracuse?

      1. Hey there Red Rocks,

        I just made a comment. I’m looking forward to your stupid response. Don’t disappoint me. Have a nice day, asshole.

          1. Don’t lock eyes with it.

            1. Loki,

              Hi scrotum brain. You must have “locked eyes” with my comment, or you would not be posting your usual pig shit.

              Have a nice day, you fucking slug.

          2. Swiss Asshole,

            Did you just fart?

            1. OTRTM. No one is interested in your verbal shartage.

              1. JPrickrate,

                Of course they aren’t interested. Why? Because I post opinions that most of the morons who post on this site can’t formulate responses to. So, they respond by posting infantile pig shit such as “No one is interested in your verbal shartage”.

                Most of all they don’t like my opinions about some of the articles posted. In any event, if no one is interested, why do the same scrotum brained assholes keep posting one liner pieces of shit telling me that they are not interested?

                Have a nice day, you fucking slug.

                1. Well maybe you should try defending your arguments instead of resorting to childish insults. You might learn something.
                  You have a great day as well, you massive unflushable turd. =D

                2. Because I post opinions that most of the morons who post on this site can’t formulate responses to

                  It’s not that hard to formulate a response to, “THIS SITE IS UNFAIR TO OBAMA A BLOO-BLOO-BLOO!”

        1. Nice to see I’m living in your head rent-free now. Got some shit-porn you wish to regale us with, or do you save that for every other day of the week?

          1. Red Asshole,

            Did you just fart?

            1. More verbal shartage.

            2. On The Road To Anal Fixation,

              If you’re smelling sulfur, maybe you should close your legs.

  14. I’d like to hear this from a president just once.’To the people in the middle east,your on your own,good day’

    1. “I’d like to hear this from a president just once.’To the people in the middle east,your on your own,good day'”

      Could be tough while we are giving Blow Jobs to the Saudis and Israelis and Egyptians all at the same time.

      1. tell them to jack off from now on

        1. Against their religion and also against Reason. If you have the rich pretty chickie ready to blow you many times a day, you don’t use your hand. Also, mooooslems are carefully dictated to as what they can do with their hands…

      2. craiginmass,

        This type of “diplomacy” could be called Simultaneous International Orgasm.

  15. They did learn from the mistakes!
    This time they will spend money without expending as many American lives.

    That way they have the best of all worlds.

    1. For now.

      1. “For now.”


        The profiteers always have plausible deniability – that’s the way corporations, chains of command and political structures work. Believe me, those yachts and fine cars at Lockheed Martin, etc. aren’t going anywhere except to their vacation houses….

        The poor and middle class are left holding the bag.

        But the MIC has jobs and bonuses for them too! They will offer them OUR money to go fight. No amount is too much. If they cannot get enough, they will offer citizenship, education, lifetime health care – whatever it takes to fill the boots. In addition they can wave the flag and bible and fill the ranks.

        If the country was better off economically it would be much harder to fill those ranks.

        1. You hate immigrants. This is well know heasdinass.

        2. craiginmass|9.25.14 @ 4:24PM|#
          …”Believe me,”…

          No one here is dumb enough to believe you; you never post without lying.

  16. The author of this article would have fit right in with the pre-World War II Republican isolationists. In any event, he rants and raves a lot about American militarism and so on, but rarely offers any solutions.

    1. derp?

      Just askin’ questions.

      1. Almanian,

        And your point is? Refute my statement, or shut the fuck up.


        Just asking’ questions.

        1. Turd.Burglar.

          1. Expand your vocabulary. You have used “Turd.Burglar” many times now.

            Have a nice day, you fucking ass piece of shit moron.

            1. Turd.Burglar.

              1. Retard.

                1. Yup just what I expected. You would discriminate against people with special needs.

        2. On The Road To Mandalay|9.25.14 @ 11:23AM|#
          “Refute my statement, or shut the fuck up.”

          Road-guy sucks goat ass.
          Hey, road-guy, refute my statement or fuck off.

      2. Almanian!|9.25.14 @ 10:37AM|#

        Yeah, and a 3rd-grade mind.

        1. Hey SevoButt

          Just like your mind. Right? I thought you were still working your job at the whore house getting the towels and the douche kits ready for the evening.

          Take care, you fucking slug.

          Have a nice evening, Anal Breath.

          1. Needs more asschunck.

            1. Hey there JPRICKrate,

              Why don’t you give it more asschunk? You seem to like that word don’t you? Maybe that’s because you are a piece of shit – meaning an actual piece of shit that some retard jerked off on, and by a perverse miracle actually fertilized the piece of shit who became half human, which of course is YOU – the original Asschunk.

              1. Last post ?

  17. I’m reminded of the immortal words of Socrates who said: “I drank what?”

    1. I think he said “Interesting mouthfeel, but I wouldn’t want to drink another one.”

  18. The premise of many articles denouncing U.S. intervention in the Middle East and support for Israel, is that the U.S. has been the major cause of the rise of militant Islamic groups, of which ISIS is only one. This premise is wrong, or at least flawed.
    Don’t forget that Islamic Terrorist groups were already in business raising Hell, long before the U.S. could be accused of intervention as such. Certainly long before Afghanistan and Iraq. The truth of the matter is that Islamic Terrorist groups have been waging war against Jews and Christians since the 8th Century, and long before the U.S. even existed. Ask the Europeans about this. We are now getting what Europeans and others have been dealing with for centuries. For a better understanding of how Islamic groups have been, and will continue to blow up things, with or with our intervention, read “Islamic Imperialism: A History” by Efraim Karsh.

    What’s flawed, is not our intervention, but the way we conduct it. After 9/11, instead of invading Afghanistan, what if the U.S. had simply dropped a dirty bomb or two on Kabul as a warning, instead of sending Soldiers and Marines on the ground? People in places like Afghanistan live in medieval shit holes. The fucking morons who run it can’t even provide clean drinking water for their own people, but always have time to attack the West. Welcome to the wonderful world of “Islamic Imperialism”, still running full steam after 1500 years.

    1. *What’s flawed, is not our intervention, but the way we conduct it. After 9/11, instead of invading Afghanistan, what if the U.S. had simply dropped a dirty bomb or two on Kabul as a warning*

      We could have nuked whomever we wanted after 9/11 and the rest of the world would have done nothing. NOTHING.

      But no, we had to be all cutesy.

      1. jmomis,

        Your thought is “right on target”! The “low yield” nuke option should still be an alternative, even now.

        1. Oh yeah. Turd.Burglar.

    2. How about instead of dropping a few “Dirty Bombs” on them, we encourage, and sell goods that the common people want, and need over their “Black Markets” ? It’s a long term foreign policy, but in the end you end up with freinds instead of more enemies.

  19. Why Can’t We Learn From Our Mistakes in Iraq?

    Because, as a species, we’re profoundly retarded.

  20. Ooh, ooh! I know! I know!

    Shill for right-wingers and get a cushy job on Fox?

  21. Dear Reason editors,

    Hi, I’m wondering when we are going to get one of those fantastic nick Gillespie interviews. This time with a person in Congress who actually has principles? Is that coming soon?


    Washington, DC – Congresswoman Lee released this statement following President Obama’s address to the nation regarding the Administration’s strategy to combat ISIS:

    “Today, the President laid out his comprehensive strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS and his case for the expansion of military action in Iraq and Syria.

    The Constitution requires Congress to vote on the use of military force. This is not about this President. This is about any President and any Congress.

    We must re-establish the checks and balances laid out by the Constitution.

    The facts are clear. We are no longer talking about limited strikes to prevent genocide and protect U.S. personnel. We are talking about sustained bombing and the use of military force.

    The threat from ISIS is serious. But before we take any further military action, Congress must debate the threats to our national security, the risks to American servicemen and women and the financial costs of waging another war in the Middle East.

    As the President said “we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together,” that is why I believe the President’s plan requires a thoughtful debate and vote by Congress.”

    1. american socialist|9.25.14 @ 1:33PM|#

      Hi, dipshit.

    2. AMSOC asking a question in good faith ? I think Hell just froze over.

      1. Oh wait. AMSOC is saying that only Democrat/Progressives have principles.

        1. You use the term ‘Turd.Burglar” so frequently, I’m beginning to think you are one. You are one, aren’t you, you fucking ass fool?

          Have a nice evening, you worthless piece of shit.

          1. Turd.Burglar.

            1. Fuck off, Zombie! You post “Turd.Burglar” and I will post “Fuck off, Zombie”. O.K.?

              Take care, you fucking retard.

              1. Turd.Burglar.

    3. american socialist,

      Why bother to write anything intelligent, when all you can expect from most of the fucking undereducated morons who post on this site is: “Hi, dip shit.” And that from Sevo, who is King of the Dipshits.

      1. Why the two of you even bother posting on this site that you obviously disagree with is beyond me. Oh wait. You OTRTM, and AMSOC must be paid trolls.

        1. PAID is the key word here. The possibility that we might be getting money to post against ass holes such as yourself does infuriate YOU doesn’t it?

          Anyway, the purpose of and many other ideological news sites, is to get comments (preferably intelligent ones) that disagree with the causes that Reason and other sites promote.

          Otherwise, without disagreement, all, or National Review, or The Nation, or Politico etc. etc. gets is a bunch of identical comments from people who agree with the political philosophy of that site.

          For the most part, all seems to be getting is the same Robot bullshit from the same fools.

          1. You can thank me for your paycheck then. =) It’s okay. Even minimum wage trolls need to eat. =)

  22. What if I can’t read a whole article full of “what if”s?

    What if Napolitano spent all that time writing and it just goes to waste because nobody can stand to read it?

    What if reason continues to publish his articles that are written like this?

    What if Napolitano actually makes declarative sentences and provides sources for the premises in his hypotheticals?

    What if I actually learned something from his articles instead of being assaulted with “what ifs?” that have no bearing if the premise is not true?

    What if the moon were made of cheese? Would it taste good?

    1. Socratic method.

      1. Ooooh, Socrates. Appeal to authority often? I fail to see how that makes his article any better.

        1. If you do not ask questions you will never get answers. Who’s authority are “Appealing” to ? Your own ? Or to the shitstains that are paying you ?

  23. American Socialist posts a well written comment. His comment is clearly in support of President Obama. Obviously, this is an anti-Obama site. However, one would think, that American Socialist would receive a withering, yet civil response to his comment.

    Clearly he did not. Why? Because most of the posters on this site really don’t know how to respond to an intelligent comment, and especially from someone who holds opinions favorable to President Obama. It’s just not possible for them to formulate any responses to those whose opinions upset them.

    1. Turd.Burglar.

      1. Fuck off, ass bandit.

        1. It’s butt pirate to you turd mongler. =)

          1. So, you really are a “butt pirate”?

            Have a nice evening down at the Trailer Park jerking off with all the other retards.

            See you around, you fucking ass moron.

    2. On The Road To Mandalay|9.25.14 @ 3:18PM|#
      “American Socialist posts a well written comment.”

      According to lefty twit with 3rd-grade intellect.

    3. “His comment is clearly in support of President Obama.”

      Hi, thanks for the complement. It’s nice to get something besides being accused of luving Josef Stalin around here.

      But, my comment wasn’t supposed to be in support of President Obama, but rather in opposition to the current military operation in Syria.

      1. Well then AMSOC. Why don’t you go stir up your “Anti-War” left-wing buddies who happen to be pretty silent on our current “Fearless Leaders” call to Massacre.

        1. You “Goose Stepping”n cunt.

        2. “Well then AMSOC. Why don’t you go stir up your “Anti-War” left-wing buddies who happen to be pretty silent on our current “Fearless Leaders” call to Massacre.”

          You must not be looking at the news! I’ve seen some protests and no one there is wearing sheets, so your brethren are missing in action – as usual.

          Of course, some of them are talking somewhere. They are good at that! But ask them to show up at a rally or at the offices of their legislators and they wank instead.

      2. american socialist|9.25.14 @ 5:25PM|#
        …”It’s nice to get something besides being accused of luving Josef Stalin around here.”

        Yeah, the truth is really hard for a commie asshole, right?

  24. What if the principal reason for invading Iraq was to depose Hussein because he tried to kill President George H.W. Bush…

    Seems like a pretty good reason to me.

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