Complicating the War in Iraq

By Lev Weiss (for Safe Democracy)

Lev Weiss writes on the changing nature of war in the 21st century and on the failures of the United States government in adapting. In Weiss‘ opinion, no amount of military might will be sufficient to win the wars of the present. Instead, complex solutions need to be devised involving diplomacy, and thorough planning. Iraq could have been a success had the Pentagon planned properly to win the trust of the Iraqi people. And the US can still win the War on Terrorism, once it realizes that terrorism is not something that can be warred against. The US must leave behind its simplistic idealism, and open its eyes to the growing complexity of the twenty first century.

Lev Weiss is finishing his studies on Political Science at Columbia University in New York. He is part of Safe Democracy Foundation‘s staff in New York and is the author of numerous articles and essays on US Foreign Policy in Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.

IN 2003, AS THE PENTAGON MADE READY TO GO TO WAR IN IRAQ, very little attention was given to what would happen after the war was over. Phases 1-3 of Operation Iraqi Freedom involved extensive plans for the invasion, and the gathering of tactical information on how best to topple the Ba’athist Regime. The occupation, however, was given a backseat as Phase 4. Everyone in the Bush Administration believed that the occupation would be easy, painless, and greatly welcomed by the Iraqi people who, like Americans, were hungry for a taste of freedom.

Yet, three and a half years after Bush declared mission accomplished aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Iraq is still a chaotic mess. With an ever-increasing death toll, and an embroiled environment capable of creating tyrants even worse that Saddam Hussein, it is becoming clear that the failure in Iraq is nobody’s fault but our own. While modern warfare has changed, we have remained the same, relying on idealistic visions of good and evil, and simplistic uses of military might to resolve ever-more complex conflicts. The time has come to address our failures.

The question of whether or not the US should have gone to war in Iraq has been extremely popular for some time. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the terrorist bombings of 9/11 on New York and Washington, and was in fact a sworn enemy of Al-Qaeda all the way up until the day he was executed. Yet, is it not true that Hussein was a dictator responsible for the mass murder of thousands of his own people, and the instigation of brutal wars against his neighbors?

It is true, yet it is important to remember that this ruthless killer was in fact a US ally for many years. After Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, the US was quick to back Saddam Hussein in order to contain the spread of fundamentalism throughout the Middle East. The ensuing Iran-Iraq War lasted more than 8 years, and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Where were we then with our moralistic rhetoric?

The First Persian Gulf War of 1991 saw a change in US policy towards Iraq. Following Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait the United States was quick to react, rallying an international force to push the Iraqi invasion back. Yet, the evidence is overwhelming that the US was a major cause of this first Persian Gulf War. Hussein was a megalomaniac, yet he was a reasonable megalomaniac. He would have never attacked Kuwait had he known that the US would respond with such force.

Yet, on July of 1990 American Ambassador April Glaspie inadvertently gave Iraq free reign to invade Kuwait. In her meeting with Hussein she was quoted as having said, We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.

Go ahead and attack Kuwait, she might as well have said. See if we care! And a month later, he did.

And so again, the failure of this second War in Iraq is nobody’s fault but our own. War has changed in the 21st century. Wars are no longer the interstate conflicts that have characterized the past several thousand years of human history. In the past, sheer military might was all that was necessary to conquer a nation and subdue its conflict. Now, no amount of force is sufficient to combat the self-perpetuating cycle of terrorism. For every terrorist bomber that the US succeeds in killing, three more will arise in vengeance. The times are changing, yet the Pentagon has remained stagnant.

Apart from being horribly under prepared, poorly equipped, and outnumbered, virtually none of our troops received special cultural training before being sent over to Iraq. And in the initial days following the Ba’athist army’s fall, when it was most essential to gain the confidence and trust of the Iraqi people, the US army failed to reinstate stability. Due to the Bush Administration’s decision to ignore General Shinseki’s repeated warning that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to bring stability to a post-war Iraq, the US army was incapable of controlling the chaos that ensued after the war was over.

In the days following liberation, every Iraqi government ministry was looted (except for the oil ministry, which, surprisingly enough, the military had orders to protect), businesses were sacked, and nearly every Iraqi weapons stockpile was raided. These stolen weapons and materials have reappeared in Iraq’s streets and squares in the form of terrorist bombs. How many lives might have been saved, if the Pentagon had only planned to guard these storehouses?

In addition to a failure to reinstate stability, the US military also disbanded the entire Ba’athist regime upon the presumption that an evil regime had to be toppled entirely. Yet, not everyone in the Ba’athist regime is evil, in the same way that not every member of Bush’s cabinet is corrupt. And the disbanding of the already established Iraqi regime has only made the restoration of peace more difficult. Not only were tens of thousands of Iraqis thrown out of jobs, and made the instant enemies of the US occupation, but the entire infrastructure of the Iraqi government, that could have been used to create stability, was destroyed.

Modern terrorism has added a new level of complexity to warfare. No matter how many billions we pour into our defense budget, an overwhelmingly powerful military will not be enough to win the wars of the new millennium. To truly be a world leader and a light to the nations, we must uphold our most sacred values of freedom, equality, and justice around the world. Despite the abuse that they have received at the hands of countless administrations, these words are not empty. What in our country is considered a crime (terrorist attacks, the innocent killing of civilians) must not be considered justice abroad. Rather than promoting military might, we must seek to understand these new world tendencies through diplomacy and careful planning.

Iraq could have been a success had the occupation been planned correctly to win the trust and support of the Iraqi people. And terrorism can be defeated once we understand its causes and seek to address them with constructive, complex solutions. The black and white struggle between good and evil no longer applies to modern wars. The Hitlers of our past have been replaced by the discontented, susceptible Muslim youth of our present. It is time to open our eyes to the difficulty of a world that is everything but simple. This may require some thought.

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