SMALL WARS COUNCIL
Go Back   Small Wars Council > Conflicts -- Current & Future > Operation Iraqi Freedom > Catch-All, OIF

Closed Thread
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 05-30-2010   #1
Schmedlap
Council Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,444
Default Iraq - A Strategic Blunder?

It’s conventional wisdom that overthrowing Saddam’s regime and installing a new government was a strategic blunder. What is the rationale that explains why it was a blunder? I know all of the rhetoric (Bush is evil; American Soldiers are victims; we rape and torture everyone we meet, etc, etc). But what is the actual intellectual rationale for why it was a blunder? I'm sure there is one, but it's tough to find amidst all of the other nonsense.

From my naïve standpoint, I see a dictatorship replaced with a democracy, many foreign debts to Iraq forgiven, the likelihood of increased oil production benefiting all Iraqis rather than just the ruling regime, a dramatic improvement in quality of life for the Kurds, removal of sanctions on all of Iraq, a government that has established friendly relations with its neighbors, creation of security forces that are far less abusive or corrupt, and a military unlikely to attack neighbors or its own government. What am I missing? There is no perpetual state of emergency like in Egypt, no Theocracry and ridiculously mismanaged economy like in Iran, no entrenched extended families pillaging the country’s resources like in Saudi Arabia. Even if you want to assert that Iraq will be dependent upon us for years to come, I've got one word for you: Israel.

Is it really such a disaster?
Schmedlap is offline  
Old 05-30-2010   #2
Entropy
Council Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,457
Default

Personally, I think it's too early to tell, but here are some factors to consider:

- The apparent success of the Iraqi government may very well be transitory. I don't think it's too far-fetch to consider that it could all fall apart and go back to civil war.

- The long-standing balance of power in the Gulf was broken and overthrowing Saddam greatly strengthened Iran's strategic position. I think Iran received much greater benefit than we did from Saddam's overthrow. There isn't another regional power, except us, to confront Iran if needed.

- There is the continuing question of whether it was worth it on a cost-benefit basis. Again, too soon to tell for certain, but absent the threat of WMD's the benefit to US interests were questionable considering the costs in my estimation. Maybe in the future the benefits will more clearly outweigh the costs, but as it stands now, I don't think they do.
__________________
Supporting "time-limited, scope limited military actions" for 20 years.
Entropy is offline  
Old 05-30-2010   #3
Schmedlap
Council Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,444
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
- The long-standing balance of power in the Gulf was broken and overthrowing Saddam greatly strengthened Iran's strategic position. I think Iran received much greater benefit than we did from Saddam's overthrow. There isn't another regional power, except us, to confront Iran if needed.
My understanding of Iran's benefit is that it now has significantly more influence in Iraq (really, what kind of threat was Saddam from 91 to 03?). Wouldn't that gain evaporate if the GoI collapsed?
Schmedlap is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #4
Fuchs
Council Member
 
Fuchs's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 3,189
Default

I wrote this in 2007:

Quote:
One of the most important reasons to wage war is that people expect to win.
Well, history tells us that losing a war is statistically at least as likely as to win it, but statistics cannot reveal the true horror.

Even many victories are questionable.

So, how shall we decide whether a conflict was won or lost?
The most basic condition that needs to be fulfilled is that a won war actually improved the situation for the country that "won" it in comparison to a "defeat" or no war at all.

Well, this is remarkably difficult to fulfill. Philosophy still doesn't provide us the tools to weight variables like killed citizens, wounded citizens, money, resources other than money, influence, fame and prestige. As every war that's claimed to be "won" included both losses and gains, it's probably impossible to claim victory at all based on math. But perceptions alone as measure for victory or defeat don't help either as everyone is thoroughly manipulated in his perceptions at the end of a war.

Anyway, it cannot hold up to serious thinking that some people claim that victory or not is simply decided by mission accomplishment. To accomplish a mission doesn't tell much, as missions almost never include comprehensive cost limits.

It's certainly no victory to accomplish a small mission that benefits the own country only marginally at costs of several thousand own KIA and several ten thousand own WIA as well as some hundred billion dollars expenditure.
That's also my rationale for why it was a blunder; marginal advantages gained at very high costs.
Fuchs is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #5
Entropy
Council Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,457
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
My understanding of Iran's benefit is that it now has significantly more influence in Iraq (really, what kind of threat was Saddam from 91 to 03?). Wouldn't that gain evaporate if the GoI collapsed?
Iranian influence in Iraq is only a part of it. Before 2003, Iraq was Iran's primary threat (and vice versa). That threat is completely gone. There's no threat from Iraq WMD's, no threat from the Iraqi Army, etc. It's not coincidental the Iranians are in the midst of restructuring parts of their military.
__________________
Supporting "time-limited, scope limited military actions" for 20 years.
Entropy is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #6
Fuchs
Council Member
 
Fuchs's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 3,189
Default

Actually there was no threat of Iraqi WMD in 1997-2002 either.

There was no conventional Iraqi threat to Iran in 1991-2002 either, for the Iraqi military was almost disarmed in comparison to its 1990 state and the Iranian capabilities.
Fuchs is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #7
Schmedlap
Council Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,444
Default

I guess I should have added in one more question...

What time frame are we looking at when assessing this?

Obviously there is no way to determine this with great precision, but in general terms it seems almost self-evident that the mideast in 2030 will be significantly different as a result of this regime change than it would have been had we plodded away with sanctions that (as far as I know - though I'm no expert) showed no sign of weakening Saddam's grip on power. Do we have reason to believe that it will be more problematic for us in the long term?

Fuchs - I do agree there is a cost-benefit angle that needs to be considered. I'm trying to inquire into what the benefits were (advantageous versus disadvantageous changes in the situation). In my opinion, those are more difficult to ascertain than the costs, as it seems that most of the costs are either front-loaded (money, lives, limbs) or can be forecasted with reasonable accuracy (future military operations, future aid).
Schmedlap is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #8
William F. Owen
Council Member
 
William F. Owen's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: The State of Partachia, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean
Posts: 3,947
Default

Strategic history can only be looked at as "history". Strategy can only be viewed by how it implemented the policy at the time - as it was executed.

Was the policy of getting rid of Saddam a blunder? Personally I believe not.
Personally, I think how the US invaded Iraq was done extremely badly - if the policy was to have stable, pro-US nation. That was the Strategic blunder.
It was so bad, that it is an example I use to show how people do not understand how strategy sets forth policy. Would an alternative have even worked? Dunno, but I almost any clown can show how strategy could have been bettered linked to policy.

Was Iraq worth 4,000+ KIA it cost? Dunno. What level of Iraqi support for the US - for how long - makes that all worth it? Dunno. - but strategy costs. Lives or treasure. It never comes free.

Not sure this helps, but it's free.
__________________
Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

- The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
- If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition
William F. Owen is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #9
Dayuhan
Council Member
 
Dayuhan's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Latitude 17° 5' 11N, Longitude 120° 54' 24E, altitude 1499m. Right where I want to be.
Posts: 3,136
Default

One factor that has to be considered, but which is impossible to quantify, is the degree to which the focus on Iraq diverted attention and resources from Afghanistan and from the broader effort against AQ.

I'd have to say on balance that the Iraq program has worked out better than I expected, though as mentioned above it remains to be seen whether the current government can survive, and what will replace it if it does not.
Dayuhan is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #10
bourbon
Council Member
 
bourbon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 902
Default

Quote:
Wouldn't that gain evaporate if the GoI collapsed?
Depends on how much resources Iran would commit, and how they get bogged down by it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
Actually there was no threat of Iraqi WMD in 1997-2002 either.
However, the Iranians didn't know that. After Iraq killed 1,000,000 of their people in the 1980’s, the Iranians were going to err on the side of caution. And they did.
bourbon is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #11
Fuchs
Council Member
 
Fuchs's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 3,189
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
One factor that has to be considered, but which is impossible to quantify, is the degree to which the focus on Iraq diverted attention and resources from Afghanistan and from the broader effort against AQ.
Even worse, stupid wars distract from urgent domestic reform needs.
Domestic problems can easily reach an annual relevance/loss of hundreds of billion USD. Few foreign policy problems come close to this, especially not a smallish already defeated dictator at the other end of the world.


A method for weighting the monetary costs is to add the discounted future debt servicing for the sum, using the appropriate debt interest rates.
In short: USD 100 billion war costs cost more than USD 100 billion. It's likely more close to USD 120 billion because of the additional interest.
This does apply similarly even in case of a debt-free state, for that one would have opportunity costs (the cost of getting no interest rate income on the sum).
Fuchs is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #12
Dayuhan
Council Member
 
Dayuhan's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Latitude 17° 5' 11N, Longitude 120° 54' 24E, altitude 1499m. Right where I want to be.
Posts: 3,136
Default

Defeating dictators is easy. Controlling nations is difficult. Constructing new nations is more difficult. All of this could have been anticipated, and a more accurate assessment of the challenge might have affected the decision to some extent.

Against the cost + interest of the war one has to offset the cost of sustaining the stalemate that preceded it. If the current Iraqi government survives and manages to push oil production up to 6mbpd or so one would have to factor in the impact of additional supply on global oil prices. And of course the world looks better without Saddam Hussein sitting as a head of state, another of those unquantifiable benefits.

I doubt that anyone will ever come up with a full, credible, agenda-free assessment of cost and benefit, or even that it would be possible to do so, given the non-quantifiable nature of many of the factors involved. If the current Iraqi government survives, remains relatively neutral, and resumes oil production the operation will probably be slotted into the "qualified success" category, whether or not it really belongs there.
Dayuhan is offline  
Old 05-31-2010   #13
Valin
Council Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 97
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
My understanding of Iran's benefit is that it now has significantly more influence in Iraq
There are those that say that and it does appear to be true....but I'd also say the Iraqi Shiites also have influence in Iran. What I mean is the political debate going on in Iraq is broadcast into Iran. It seems to me that the Iranians have to be saying to themselves....Why can't we have that kind of open free wheeling debate here? Why do we have to have the Mullahs pick our candidates?
Valin is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #14
Schmedlap
Council Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,444
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
One factor that has to be considered, but which is impossible to quantify, is the degree to which the focus on Iraq diverted attention and resources from Afghanistan and from the broader effort against AQ.
As many times as that argument gets repeated, I fail to see any merit at all in it. The real deficit in Afghanistan has not been about dollars and boots. It is a deficit of appropriate knowledge and talent within the framework of an unworkable strategy. Throwing money and Soldiers at the problem won't (and wouldn't have) solve(d) that. The development of our strategy in Afghanistan has occurred in the same manner that building a home would occur if you built a room and then attempted to build the rest of the house around it, ad-libbing the blueprint along the way. As we attempt to stuff the foundation underneath the room and tack the kitchen onto the side of it, we're complaining that everything would have gone fine had we only gotten more nails and 2x4's when the project began.*

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
In short: USD 100 billion war costs cost more than USD 100 billion. It's likely more close to USD 120 billion because of the additional interest.
Doesn't that assume that we wouldn't have simply spent that money on other stuff? The Bush years weren't exactly a time of frugality on non-defense spending.
Schmedlap is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #15
Dayuhan
Council Member
 
Dayuhan's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Latitude 17° 5' 11N, Longitude 120° 54' 24E, altitude 1499m. Right where I want to be.
Posts: 3,136
Default

Dollars and boots aren't the only issue. Much of the talent and much of the attention that could have led to re-evaluation and strategic adjustment was directed elsewhere, which may be one reason why the gradual deterioration in Afghanistan was largely unnoticed. Again, we don't know how Afghanistan would have gone without the Iraq engagement, and the degree of impact is infinitely arguable. It may in fact be negligible, but I've always thought that starting a war that was not related to AQ at a time when we were going to war against AQ was perhaps not an ideal decision. Unless one absolutely must fight two enemies at once, is it not preferable to fight them one at a time?
Dayuhan is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #16
Chris jM
Council Member
 
Chris jM's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 176
Default

Schmedlap, great topic and interesting comments thus far.

What still perplexes me was the fixation on WMD. I'm sure that the US Govt were basing their decision to invade on other considerations, and the WMD justification served only as a convenient casus belli. It's hard to judge success when the commander's intent is never stated.

One observation I would like to make is that any proactive action by a dominant power is bound to cause negativity. Stability in the world is important to many, especially in the areas of sovereignty and economics. America, being the greatest power within the system, has a lot to benefit by normalising and standardising the 'rules' she plays by. Should another entity challenge the established norms (say, Iraq invading Kuwait) the general global response is to champion a response that upholds those assumed rules of international affairs. Contrariwise, having America challenge the very norms she is expected to uphold inevitably causes destabilisation.

If one reads Stratfor, they propose that the Iraq undertaking was to force policy changes onto Saudi Arabia and Iran without directly intervening in their affairs. If that's the case, then judging relative success/failure will be a very, very subjective affair.

As a parting thought: if during the paranoia that reigned post Sept 11 it was outlined to the US Govt that in order to prevent any further (substantial) terrorist attacks occurring on her territory for the next decade, two foreign wars were required in Iraq and Afghanistan for the cost paid to date, would Bush have accepted the course he did? I suspect that American (and by extension the liberal world) homeland security has benefitted, however indirectly, from the interventions. I just think it's tragic that the policy was not enacted in a better, smarter way - thus reducing the human cost that has had to be borne by many different nations, Iraq included.
__________________
'...the gods of war are capricious, and boldness often brings better results than reason would predict.'
Donald Kagan
Chris jM is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #17
Fuchs
Council Member
 
Fuchs's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 3,189
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
Doesn't that assume that we wouldn't have simply spent that money on other stuff? The Bush years weren't exactly a time of frugality on non-defense spending.
You can assume that, but then you need to incorporate the benefits of that spending into the (non-)equation, on the side of peace.
It's easier to keep it simple and stick to the already mobnetarised vaiable including the effect of discounted interest.
Fuchs is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #18
tequila
Council Member
 
tequila's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 1,665
Default

Quote:
From my naïve standpoint, I see a dictatorship replaced with a democracy, many foreign debts to Iraq forgiven, the likelihood of increased oil production benefiting all Iraqis rather than just the ruling regime, a dramatic improvement in quality of life for the Kurds, removal of sanctions on all of Iraq, a government that has established friendly relations with its neighbors, creation of security forces that are far less abusive or corrupt, and a military unlikely to attack neighbors or its own government. What am I missing? There is no perpetual state of emergency like in Egypt, no Theocracry and ridiculously mismanaged economy like in Iran, no entrenched extended families pillaging the country’s resources like in Saudi Arabia. Even if you want to assert that Iraq will be dependent upon us for years to come, I've got one word for you: Israel.
I do not see many of these being strategic benefits accruing to the Unitd States. Most of these appear to be supposed benefits to the Iraqis themselves, which may be offset by the unknown tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and millions fled.

Also, how does Israel come into it? Is the idea that being a dependent of the U.S. is a good thing for the state involved? Again, I don't see the strategic benefit to the U.S. Also one could argue from this example that Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf countries are also to one degree or another dependent on the U.S. yet many are negative examples for you.
tequila is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #19
Uboat509
Council Member
 
Uboat509's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: CO
Posts: 681
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
My understanding of Iran's benefit is that it now has significantly more influence in Iraq (really, what kind of threat was Saddam from 91 to 03?). Wouldn't that gain evaporate if the GoI collapsed?
Be careful that you don't overstate Iran's influence in Iraq. There is a tendency in some circles to assume that now that the Shia are much more dominant in Iraq that the Shia dominated state of Iran will have much more influence and this is true to a point. Some of the Shia will accept all manner of Iranian help and certainly Iran has more influence than before but there is one important factor to consider. The Iranians are not Arabs and that matters a lot more than I think a lot of westerners realize. The Iraqi Shia may accept Iranian help and will accept Iranian influence but, by and large, they will not accept being dominated by non-Arabs. That will put limitations on just how much influence Iran has in Iraq.
__________________
“Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.”

Terry Pratchett
Uboat509 is offline  
Old 06-01-2010   #20
Schmedlap
Council Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,444
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
Much of the talent and much of the attention that could have led to re-evaluation and strategic adjustment was directed elsewhere, which may be one reason why the gradual deterioration in Afghanistan was largely unnoticed. Again, we don't know how Afghanistan would have gone without the Iraq engagement, and the degree of impact is infinitely arguable.
Agreed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
... I've always thought that starting a war that was not related to AQ at a time when we were going to war against AQ was perhaps not an ideal decision. Unless one absolutely must fight two enemies at once, is it not preferable to fight them one at a time?
Yes, but some would argue that it was necessary. When else would Bush have the political capital to launch an invasion of Iraq, if not in early 2003? Support was already slipping fast at that point. See next quote/comment below...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris jM View Post
I'm sure that the US Govt were basing their decision to invade on other considerations, and the WMD justification served only as a convenient casus belli. It's hard to judge success when the commander's intent is never stated.
...
If one reads Stratfor, they propose that the Iraq undertaking was to force policy changes onto Saudi Arabia and Iran without directly intervening in their affairs.
It's long been my view that WMD was a distraction and this was an effort to reshape the Mideast. Now if I can only figure out a way to get people to pay hundreds of dollars for access to my website, like Stratfor does. I still remember watching Powell's testimony at the UN in 2002, when I was 2LT. I thought, "that's it?" No way we invaded for WMD. It was a justification given to the masses. You can fool all of the people some of the time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris jM View Post
... having America challenge the very norms she is expected to uphold inevitably causes destabilisation.
Agreed. Big negative.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris jM View Post
I suspect that American (and by extension the liberal world) homeland security has benefitted, however indirectly, from the interventions. I just think it's tragic that the policy was not enacted in a better, smarter way...
Agreed. If there was significant blundering, it was the grossly negligent handling by the military at the operational and tactical levels, in my opinion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
You can assume that, but then you need to incorporate the benefits of that spending into the (non-)equation, on the side of peace.
It's easier to keep it simple and stick to the already mobnetarised vaiable including the effect of discounted interest.
Highly unlikely that we would have spent significantly less, given the free-spending ways of our politicians from 2001 to 2009. Also highly unlikely that domestic spending would have yielded benefits - it is mostly high-cost patronage jobs, unneeded projects, and high administrative costs for programs of negligible benefit that are arguably counterproductive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tequila View Post
I do not see many of these being strategic benefits accruing to the Unitd States. Most of these appear to be supposed benefits to the Iraqis themselves, which may be offset by the unknown tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and millions fled.
They help to realign the balance of power, the threats, and the opportunities in the Mideast.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tequila View Post
Also, how does Israel come into it? Is the idea that being a dependent of the U.S. is a good thing for the state involved?
No. I've heard elsewhere assertions that Iraq is a failed state because it relies on us for aid. I was merely asserting that, by that rationale, Israel is a failed state.
Schmedlap is offline  
Closed Thread

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT. The time now is 07:31 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9. ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Registered Users are solely responsible for their messages.
Operated by, and site design © 2005-2009, Small Wars Foundation