|Why Did the United States Fail in its War on Iraq?
Ibrahim M. Oweiss
Professor, Georgetown University-SFS in Qatar
Address before Model United Nations
January 11, 2007
On January 4, 2007 Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., a democrat from Delaware and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said, “he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster to the next president will be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people of the roof in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam”. It has become evident in the United States and elsewhere in the world that the US had failed its war on Iraq and seems that it had no easy way out. Attacks on the current Bush Administration are mounting from Republicans and Democrats alike. The US public opinion as shown in the low rating of President Bush reflects dissatisfaction and dismay over the Iraq War. It is a war that lasted longer than the US involvement in World War II and resulted in more than three thousand American soldiers killed, tens of thousands injured and hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians dead and injured, in addition to the cost of destruction in Iraq on the one hand and on the other hand the negative consequences of the war on the US economy, a war that contributed to the largest budget deficit and national debt in its history.
The question as to why the US failed the War on Iraq?
The first reason is the current administration dependency on military option. In an interview with President Clinton on June 16, 2003 at his office in New York City, he told me, “I wish this administration understands the limit of military option”. Vietnam was an example from which we could have learned. With the world strongest military base, the current administration thought it can win any war, a matter which is not disputable. However winning a military war is not sufficient. What is more important is to win peace in the aftermath. That is why Former President Ford was critical of President Bush in resorting mainly to the military option.
The second reason was the haste in rushing for the war on Iraq on March 19, 2003. If given ample time, the United Nations may have been able to prove that Iraq does not have weapons of mass production and thus removes the rationale for the war. Be it as it may, the result of such rush going to war did not give a chance for appropriate military planning. In fact there was no clear blue print for a program of action after the war. The war decision was mainly based an advise given by a group with no background in military combat such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearl and the like. The military apparatus was not given ample time to adequately prepare for the war and to suggest a more sizeable troops than had been committed. Just today the Associated Press reported that [President Bush acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he erred by not ordering a military buildup in Iraq last year and said he was increasing U.S. troops by 21,500 to quell the country's near-anarchy. ["Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," Bush said. The buildup puts Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress and pushes the American troop presence in Iraq toward its highest level. It also runs counter to widespread anti-war passions among Americans and the advice of some top generals. In a prime-time address to the nation, Bush pushed back against the Democrats' calls to end the unpopular war. He said that "to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale."].
The third reason is that the war on Iraq was internationally illegal. Former Secretary of the United Nations Kofi Anan stated that the War on Iraq was illegal. It represents a violation of international law as it was a war conducted against a full member of the United Nations and a sovereign state that represented no threat to the United States from afar and had no links with Al-Qaeda. It is a serious precedent in recent world affairs at times when the United Nations through its world-wide adopted charter in 1945 is commissioned to establish a framework for international law in order to avoid the catastrophes and human tragedies of WWI and WWII.
Yet in the United States the authorization of the War on Iraq satisfied the constitutional requirements when the Congress voted for the war. This vote leads me to present the fourth reason of the US failure in its War on Iraq, the claim that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration and Prime Minister Tony Blair advocated with certainty that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It sold the idea to both the American people and the Congress with even pictures shown on television of such weapons. The hard sell had helped the Bush administration to gain the approval of the US Congress even before a full investigation by the United Nations was completed. It was repeatedly claimed by Bush administration that Saddam Hussein was lying when he states that Iraq has no WMD. As it turned out that indeed Iraq had no WMD. History will therefore be the judge as to who was the liar.
In his embargoed interview of Bob Woodward of the Washington Post with President Gerald Ford in 2004 but was only released after his death a few weeks ago, the former President had very strongly disagreed with the rationale for the war on Iraq. He said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously.
"I don't think I would have gone to war," Ford told Woodward a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion.
In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney - Ford's White House chief of staff - and then Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his secretary of defense.
"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."
In an interview given with the same ground rules to the New York Daily News last May, Ford said he thought Bush had erred by staking the invasion on claims Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. "But we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does (Bush) get his advice?"
On the same point, Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, who had originally voted for the war, said on the evening of December 7, 2006 “I for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day” “That is absurd. It may even be criminal”. After having acknowledged that he has been “rather silent” on Iraq after his vote in support of the war against Iraq in 2002, he said that he now rises “to speak from the heart” after he witnessed “the slow undoing of our efforts there” He also said, “I cannot tell you how devastated I was to learn that in fact we were not going to find weapons of mass destruction” Senator Smith now represents the views of “moderate Republicans”.
It was only during the Iraq war when the administration became doubtful of finding weapons of mass destruction, it resorted to another rationale. It became part of the rhetoric of the current administration that the United States seeks to spread democracy as the only way to combat terrorism and to show that Iraq’s case could be a role model. “Democratizing” the Middle East, one of Bush administration’s foreign policy objectives has been presented as an integral part of the overall war against terrorism. The link between democracy and terrorism defies logic. The IRA was a terrorist organization in the heart of a democratic environment. Terrorism occurred in Japan in a subway. I may suggest that while democracy is a good goal to seek, history shows that it cannot be imposed from the outside. In order to be self-sustained, democracy has to be home grown. In his column E.J. Dionne Jr. on Friday December 8, 2006 Page A 39, said “One of the many disastrous consequences of President Bush's botched policy in Iraq is that it has given the promotion of democracy a bad name”. “In truth, this Middle East adventure was never a serious effort to build democracy in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Yes, there were elections and there was a lot of talk about democracy. But don't listen to what the administration said. Look at what it did”, the columnist said. He added “This war has done enormous damage to the United States, and some of the damage is to our ideals. An administration that fought a misguided, poorly planned and ill-considered war in the name of democracy should not be allowed to discredit the democratic idea itself”.
In an interview conducted on December 27, 2006 a world renowned thinker Noam Chomsky made a persuasive argument for the true reason for the invasion of Iraq. It is OIL.
The fifth reason for the US failure in its war on Iraq was the lack of vision of the true goals for such an invasion. The changing rationale for the war must have had a psychological effect on the US soldiers sent to an inferno of war.
Only six days ago on January 5, 2007, President Bush was faced by 13 senators at the White House opposing to his plans to send more troops to Iraq as was reported by Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Herald Tribune on January 8, 2007. Senator Larry Craig, a Republican form Idaho said that Bush “got an earful and I think appropriately so”. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat from Illinois told the President sending more troops to Iraq “was a mistake” while Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said he too was opposed. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat complained of having “a much harder convincing my constituents that a victory is achievable”.
The above are some of the reasons why we failed in our war on Iraq. Let us admit it, the war on Iraq had ignited sectarianism, massive killing every day and de facto civil war.
In conclusion I may suggest along the same lines of thought of Noam Chomsky the United States should, in its program of withdrawal form Iraq, bear the responsibilities of its aggression on the country and should pay massive reparations for the reconstruction of devastated infrastructure to help the Iraqi economy and its people along the same lines as the Marshall Plan for Europe after WWII.