Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ten Year Commemoration: Iraq Revisited

For many of us at the Patterson School, the War in Iraq was the most prominent foreign policy issue (debacle?) that defined our formative years.  I remember watching the TV in my bedroom during my junior year of high school as reports surfaced of stealth fighters providing the opening bombs that ultimately led to "Shock and Awe."  Although the 1990s saw its fair share of violent conflicts (Rwanda, the Balkans, etc.), nothing like this new round of war had occupied our attention since Desert Storm.  Since we just commemorated the ten-year anniversary of our invasion, I thought I'd provide a little context.

The New York Times has nice synopsis of the War in Iraq.  The LA Times has a great timeline, some of which I've copied here:
Oct. 11, 2002 -- Force authorized
Congress au­thor­izes the use of force against Ir­aq. End­ing a somber de­bate that pushed past mid­night, the Sen­ate votes, 77 to 23, for the res­ol­u­tion. The ac­tion came hours after the House gave its ap­prov­al on a 296-133 vote.

Nov. 8, 2002 -- U.N. ultimatum
United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil passes Res­ol­u­tion 1441 call­ing on Ir­aq to co­oper­ate with weapons in­spect­ors. The show of in­ter­na­tion­al unity sends a strong mes­sage to Ir­aqi Pres­id­ent Sad­dam Hus­sein that he is without al­lies if he con­tin­ues to defy the United Na­tions, am­bas­sad­ors said.

Jan. 28, 2003 -- ‘Imminent threat’
Speak­ing to a skep­tic­al world, Pres­id­ent Bush in his State of Uni­on ad­dress gives a force­ful and de­tailed de­nun­ci­ation of Ir­aq. He prom­ises new evid­ence that Sad­dam Hus­sein’s re­gime poses an im­min­ent danger to the world and de­mands the United Na­tions con­vene in just one week to con­sider the threat.

Feb. 5, 2003 -- Colin Powell at U.N.
Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell ar­gues be­fore the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil that the U.S. has evid­ence of weapons of mass destruction in Ir­aq, based on in­form­a­tion provided by source code­named “Curve­ball,” who later ad­mit­ted to ly­ing.

March 17, 2003 -- Bush’s ultimatum
Pres­id­ent gives Sad­dam Hus­sein a 48-hour dead­line to leave Ir­aq or face sure de­struc­tion “at a time of our choos­ing.”

March 20, 2003 -- U.S. Forces Enter Iraq
U.S. and Brit­ish troops sweep in­to south­ern Ir­aq in an in­va­sion aimed at Bagh­dad, where a new wave of mis­siles and bombs struck a pres­id­en­tial com­pound hous­ing sev­er­al gov­ern­ment de­part­ments at the heart of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s power.

April 9, 2003 -- Baghdad falls
U.S. troops break Sad­dam Hus­sein’s 24-year grip on Ir­aq. With help from the Mar­ines, Ir­aqis topple a four-story statue of the pres­id­ent. Loot­ing of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic build­ings, in­clud­ing mu­seums and ar­mor­ies, en­sues un­checked amid mass dis­order.

May 1, 2003 -- ‘Mission accomplished’
Aboard USS Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln, Pres­id­ent Bush tells a cheer­ing crew that U.S. forces have brought about a ‘turn­ing of the tide’ against ter­ror­ism. Un­der­neath a ban­ner read­ing “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished,” the pres­id­ent says the con­flict with Ir­aq marked the be­gin­ning of “a new era” in wa­ging war.

Dec. 13 2003 -- Hussein caught
Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces at a farmhouse in ad-Dawr near Tikrit in a hole in Operation Red Dawn.

June 28, 2004 -- Iraqis take power
Led by Prime Min­is­ter Iy­ad Allawi, an in­ter­im Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment takes power from U.S. ad­min­is­trat­or L. Paul Bremer III after a furt­ive ce­re­mony meant to pree­mpt in­sur­gent at­tacks that could have dis­rup­ted the hand-over.

Jan. 30, 2005 -- Iraqis vote
Mil­lions of Ir­aqis defy vi­ol­ence, calls for a boy­cott and a leg­acy of des­pot­ism to cast bal­lots in the na­tion’s first mul­ti­party elec­tions in half a cen­tury.

Dec. 30, 2006 -- Hussein executed
A de­fi­ant Sad­dam Hus­sein is hanged at dawn in a secret con­crete death cham­ber. Be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion, he de­nounces the West and Ir­an.

Jan. 10, 2007 -- Troop surge
Pres­id­ent Bush ac­know­ledges that his pre­vi­ous strategy has failed and an­nounces the U.S. needs to add more than 20,000 troops in or­der to avert de­feat.

Aug. 19, 2010 -- Combat troops leave
The last of U.S. com­bat troops with­draw from Ir­aq. The move comes amid a deep polit­ic­al crisis that many think could turn in­creas­ingly vi­ol­ent, and Ir­aqis are deeply ap­pre­hens­ive.

Despite our substantial military success in the initial invasion, the United States was unprepared to execute the occupation needed to reunify the country.  Moreover, we had no plan in place to guide our efforts.  According to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "Our exit strategy in Iraq is success; it's that simple.  The objective is not to leave [but] to succeed in our mission."

President Bush tapped Lieutenant General Jay Garner to lead the transition in Iraq.  His strategy -- which quickly led to his ouster -- was to maintain the same state institutions that operated under Saddam, although many (including many Iraqis) wanted a clean slate.  The problem was "Excluding all 1.5 million party members from the new government would mean shutting out virtually every public servant, precisely the people who know how to get things running again."[1]  Garner's logic was:  "As in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don't have a problem with most of them."  American forces would work to identify the nefarious elements within the state and bring them to justice.  To prepare Iraq for a quick American exit, Garner pushed ahead with a plan to have national elections as soon as possible (within as ninety days of the fall of Saddam) that would install a new Iraqi government.  The general was swiftly replaced by L. Paul Bremmer.  After his ouster, reports stated Garner said "he fell out with the Bush circle because he wanted free elections and rejected an imposed programme of privatisation."[2]

The resulting policy of de-Ba'athification proved disastrous.  The the International Center for Transitional Justice's:
research and interviews with the official body that led de-Baathification initiatives for much of this period showed that these wholesale dismissals, combined with a lack of due process, badly undermined Iraq's government and military structures and fuelled a sense of grievance among those affected - not just employees, but also their families, friends and communities. It is unsurprising that the process became a significant contributing factor in widespread social and political conflict.[3]
The Iraqi military was especially affected by de-Ba'athification, which resulted in the dismissal of up to 500,000 soldiers.  Ultimately, the decision to disband the army fueled a growing insurgency.
In the aftermath of CPA Orders 1 and 2, Ba’ath officials became natural allies to the angry and financially troubled ex-soldiers of the Iraqi Army after the Army was disbanded, with no effort made to recall those former soldiers who may have remained interested in serving. The ability of senior Ba’ath leaders to obtain and provide funding to the insurgency was particularly important in helping to organize it into an effective force able to include unemployed and desperate Iraqis willing to strike at U.S. forces for money.[4]
As of March 2007, the Sunni insurgency stood at 70,000 fighters.  There were approximately 1,300 foreign mujahedeen fighters.  The sectarian conflict broke out into fullon civil war in Iraq in which almost   The violence prompted President Bush to commit an additional 20,000 troops in the so-called "surge."  The surge was ultimately successful because it took advantage of a new dynamic within Sunni tribes in western Iraq:  the Anbar Awakening.  "The Awakening movement, a predominantly Sunni Arab force recruited to fight Sunni Islamic extremists like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has become a great success story after its spread from Sunni tribes in Anbar Province to become an ad-hoc armed force of 65,000 to 80,000 across the country in less than a year."[5]

Seven years, over 130,000 civilians, and more than $2 trillion dollars spent, the last american combat troops left Iraq in August 2010.[6]  And for all that blood and treasure, the United States gained little.  A study conducted by the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University:
concluded the United States gained little from the war while Iraq was traumatized by it. The war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region, set back women's rights, and weakened an already precarious healthcare system, the report said. Meanwhile, the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud, it said. [Ibid]

Given the traumatic experience we've had in Iraq, it's worthwhile to ask:  How has Iraq changed us?  And for that analysis, I defer to Dan Drezner:
Here's the thing: Deep down, the American people are pretty realist. The legacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom is that this realist consensus has cemented itself further in the American psyche. The American public has an aversion to using force unless the national interest is at stake, and a deep aversion to using force to do things like promote democracy or human rights. . . .
It took a generation and the end of the Cold War for the lessons of Vietnam to fade away. I'd wager that it will take at least a generation for the legacy effects of the Iraq War. 
Indeed, in American history, the war that Operation Iraqi Freedom reminds me of isn't Vietnam -- it's the War of 1812. That was another war of choice that was launched in no small part because of War Hawks in the halls of Congress. It went disastrously for the United States save the Battle of New Orleans, which allowed politicians to put a gloss of victory on an otherwise calamitous conflict. The long-term political effects on some of the War Hawks were pretty severe however (see:  John C. Calhoun). 
Operation Iraqi Freedom's effects on the international system were minor at best. The effects on American foreign policy, however, are significant and will be with us for some time to come. 
That conclusion is all the more instructive given the the number of conflicts around the globe in which the United States could become involved:  North Korea, East and South China Sea disputes, Taiwan/China, Syria, Iran's nuclear program.  The list goes on.

[1] Brian Bennet, et al. Sorting The Bad From The Not So Bad. Time. May. 19, 2003; available at:,9171,1004842,00.html
[2] David Leigh. General sacked by Bush says he wanted early elections. The Guardian. March 18 2004; available at:
[3] Iraq's de-Baathification still haunts the country. Al-Jazeera. March 12, 2013; available at:
[4] W. Andrew Terrill. Lessons of the Iraqi de-Ba'athification Porgram for Iraq's Future and the Arab RevolutionsStrategic Studies Institute. May 2012; available at:
[5] Alissa J. Rubin and Damien Cave. In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict. The New York Times. December 23, 2007; available at:
[6] Daniel Trotta. Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study. Reuters. March 14, 2013; available at:

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