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Some Thoughts in Hindsight About Iraq

October 10, 2008

Characteristically, my thoughts about Iraq have been pretty consistently contrarian throughout the course of he war. With almost six years since the runup to the Iraq war I can now evaluate how accurate my views have been along the way.

It is a decidedly mixed bag. I supported the war, thinking several things: (i) this was the best way for the United States to go on offense against the terrorist threat after the attacks of September 11 in that this was a chance to install a democratic government in the center of the Middle East which would hopefully provide a transformational example to surrounding countries (the actions in Afghanistan seemed to have been fitting retaliation, but only that); (ii) the war winning capabilities of the US military were underestimated by most of the press and others; (iii) most people overestimated Iraqi resistance to a US installed elected government; (iv) at the time, the seemingly successful war in Afghanistan seemed to bear out points (ii) and (iii).

In retrospect, I think I was correct about point (i) but far less rights about points (ii), (iii) and (iv), which points go to the ease of achieving the goal set forth in point (i). My skepticism about analysis of how difficult the initial invasion would be proved to be justified, but my skepticism of reports of accelerating violence after the invasion proved to to be mostly unjustified. Recently there appears to have been has been real progress in decreasing violence and political reconciliation, but it has certainly be much harder than I anticipated and had the US strategy not proven effective that success might never have come. Much like McPherson’s analysis of the Union victory in the Civil war, US success in Iraq appears to have been highly contingent. Unlike what I originally thought, there was not a good reason to believe success in Iraq was highly probably at the time of the invasion.

Why do I think I was correct about (i)? Analyses bemoaning all the multifaceted costs of the war in Iraq ignore the large downsides of not going to war: (i) the US would be fighting a defensive war on terror, lacking strategic initiative; (ii) Sadaam Hussein would still be a thorn in our side, keeping US forces in Saudi Arabia, continuing to buy world influence through the oil for food program; (iii) starting up its WMD program which the Kay report revealed to have been mothballed rather than dismantled for good; and (iv) the US would continue to be perceived as either muscle bound or a paper tiger. These are not true today as a direct result of the war.

So I am left with the somewhat paradoxical position that I believe the war in Iraq was in the best interest of the United States, but because I now believe that success was highly contingent and much harder that I anticipated I would not support even a substantially similar endeavor today. More glibly put, the war was successful, but in retrospect I would not have supported it.

I have no particular expertise on foreign or military policy other than that from being an avid follower of many different reports of the Iraq war, but I have not seen anyone else take this position which I though made these ideas worthy of a blog post. [Links for some key ideas to be added later]


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