Thursday, November 09, 2006

How To Lose A War

Great analysis at American Thinker:

In the aftermath of 9/11 any minimally responsible American government would have had to topple Saddam Hussein. We were at war with Hussein (yes, a real shooting war) and we were losing. When the twin towers fell we all knew, at some level, that the Arab world had challenged us. We couldn’t respond to that challenge by losing a war to our most vocal and visible Arab enemy. We had to assert our dominance, and Iraq, a major, oil-producing enemy just above the Arabian Peninsula, was the logical place to do it.

George W. Bush was not the man for this job. Instead of pivoting out of Afghanistan and descending on Iraq like a biblical plague, he took a long detour through the United Nations to argue about flouted resolutions and weapons of mass destruction.

The Blunder

When we finally got around to an invasion we had to put a humanitarian gloss on an essential demonstration of our power. Instead of Operation Arab Smackdown we got Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was the true blunder that turned Iraq from a political asset into a liability. This blunder belongs to George W. Bush and George W. Bush alone, even though Don Rumsfeld has now paid for it with his job.

Most Americans intuitively understand that our survival depends on maintaining our dominant position in the world and that to do so we have to answer all challengers and leave no serious enemy standing. To be the World’s hyperpower is to wear a target. With technology threatening to make the power of extermination widely available at popular prices, we have to make certain that nobody feels lucky enough to hazard a shot at that target. Americans will fight and die and pay through the nose to intimidate our enemies.

But most of us wouldn’t cross the street to make a better life for Iraqis, or for any other largely Arab population. This indifference isn’t evidence of atavistic racism. We are indifferent to the welfare of Iraqis partly because, after 9/11, we can’t help noticing that Arabia is not, by and large, well-disposed toward us. Mostly, however, we aren’t motivated to help Iraqis because we have our own children, our own lives and our own culture to worry about. The brotherhood of man notwithstanding, the welfare of foreigners is never going to make the list of our top hundred concerns.

Pious Hope and Shallow Support


We need a reliable client state in Iraq and fostering democracy in an alien and hostile culture is very unlikely to give us one. There was never any reason to suppose that democracy was our friend in Iraq any more than it proved to be our friend in, for example, Pakistan.

When President Bush cast the war in Iraq as a war for the benefit of Iraqis with vital collateral benefits for the U.S., sensible people recognized his argument for the nonsense it was and tuned him out. By choosing to cast it that way, President Bush guaranteed that the war would have shallow support at best. He also guaranteed that it would drag on long after that shallow support dried up entirely.

Needed: Leverage

When we tried to be liberating benefactors we gave up all the leverage we might otherwise have had over Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions. We couldn’t extort Shiite cooperation by threatening to replace Saddam with another Sunni dictator. We couldn’t threaten the Sunni tribal leaders with an Iraqi partition that would leave them cut off from any participation in the oil revenues of the Kurdish north and the Shiite south. We had guaranteed everyone a fair shake in the new Iraq. This had the effect of greatly reducing the downside risk of sectarian warfare and freeing everyone to fight for something more than their fair share.

Playing the good guys also cost us the advantage of our overwhelming power. We deliberately refrained from destroying the Iraqi army during our invasion even though we certainly had the tools to do so. Many thousands of men escaped to fight another day and another way. It wasn’t a lack of manpower that kept us from crushing Moqtada al Sadr’s militia and caused us to back away from Fallujah and other Sunni hot spots. From the beginning we were much less lethal than we should have been because we have been trying to fight without causing too many bad feelings that might get in the way of the effort to engineer a political settlement.

No matter how elusive such a settlement seems we keep groping for it because we can’t hand the terrorists a victory and the President has committed us to the goal of a free and democratic Iraq. But instead of looking resolute we increasingly look na├»ve, foolish and weak.


No wonder the voters are disgusted with Republicans and prepared to tolerate Democrats. George W. Bush has managed the almost impossible feat of making anti-war politics respectable in wartime.

Here are the lessons Republicans should learn from the pasting they took in 2006: Be practical. Common sense wins elections, half-baked theories lose them. When your leader is in thrall to a half-baked theory, cut him loose.

Never play follow the leader over a cliff again.

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