Thursday, March 20, 2008

Five Years and Ten Unpleasant Truths

Five Years and Counting:
Ten Unpleasant Truths About The War in Iraq

Stephen M. Walt:

…On the 5th anniversary of the invasion, here are ten unpleasant truths about past errors, present circumstances, and future choices.


1. The invasion of Iraq may be the greatest self-inflicted blunder in the history of U.S. foreign policy. The case for war rested on false information, dubious assumptions and mendacious analysis. [snip] They were wrong on all counts, and their responsibility for this catastrophe should not be forgotten.

2. A smarter occupation would not have produced significantly better results. The Bush administration failed to plan the post-war occupation and compounded that error with numerous post-invasion blunders. [snip] The key mistake was the initial decision to invade, the subsequent errors merely made a bad situation worse.

3. The war has done enormous damage to U.S. interests in the Middle East. The invasion destabilized the region and enhanced Iran's influence and strategic position. It also contributed to the unprecedented rise in oil prices, discredited democracy, and further tarnished America's image in the Arab and Islamic world. We cannot escape these consequences until we reverse course. Civil war may occur after we withdraw, but that danger exists whenever we leave.

4. The war has been a major setback in the campaign against anti-American terrorism. The war diverted attention and resources from our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, thereby helping Al Qaeda and the Taliban recover their strength.

5. The "surge" has failed as a strategy. Increased U.S. troop strength brought internal violence back down to 2005 levels, but political reconciliation did not occur and the level of violence is now rising. Judged by the administration's own criteria, the strategy has not worked.

6. The United States cannot win the war at an acceptable cost. America's ability to dictate political events in Iraq was never very great and is steadily declining. Iraqis will determine their country's future, not us, and prolonging the U.S. presence will not alter this fact.

7. The search for scapegoats is already underway. Civilians who now argue that the surge is "working" are trying to pin failure either on Bush's successor, or on those who have opposed the war from the beginning.

8. The war has done more damage to the armed forces than we know, and rebuilding them will be more difficult, costly, and time-consuming than we realize. U.S. troops have fought bravely and with dedication, and they deserve our gratitude. But the war has undermined overall U.S. readiness, degraded our equipment, and crippled recruitment and retention.

9. The next president faces a stark choice: bring a misguided war to an end, or inherit responsibility for it. For the next President, continuing the occupation means taking ownership of Bush's blunder.

10. The Iraq debacle reflects a broader pattern of failure among key American institutions. Although primary responsibility for the war rests with Bush, Cheney, and the neoconservatives who conceived and sold it, other important U.S. institutions performed poorly as well. [snip]

Even more remarkably, mainstream media organizations continue to rely on the same "talking heads" and inside-the-Beltway pundits whose judgment has proven consistently wrong since 2002. The implication is deeply troubling: if Americans do not learn from this experience and hold those responsible accountable, the Iraq debacle will not be our last.

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