Mistakes in Iraq

Time to have a rational debate with conservatives. Two reports from Michelle Malkin and Bryan Preston who have just returned from Baghdad, embedding with the troops. They've raised a number of "mistakes". Since I think this war has been conducted *perfectly*, let me address all the concerns.

"But they are just as critical of the Bush administration and Pentagon’s missteps—from holding Iraqi elections too early"

They weren't held too early. If they were held any later, Sistani would have declared a jihad. It was the LEAST WORST OPTION. There were a lot of people who thought that the US was never going to allow elections. We were fortunate enough to have a 6-month period of a SELECTED Iraqi government before the elections. This allowed us to transition from decent government under Paul Bremer, to semi-decent government by Iraqis, to whatever nutcases the Iraqis elected, so that they could learn from their mistakes and go back to Allawi. It turns out they didn't learn from their mistakes and reelected the same idiots. However, even that is not so bad. Maliki is not too bad. I don't see that he has passed any laws that I (or the Iraqi bloggers) disapprove of. Human rights are still protected. The enforcement of Iraqi law continues to improve with more troops coming online. Tricky things like whether Saddam should be hanged and whether Ba'athists should get amnesty and whether Sadr should be shot have all been passed onto the Iraqis. There is no good answer to these questions, and it is fascinating to see what the Iraqis come up with by themselves.

"to drawing down forces and withdrawing last year in Baghdad and Fallujah"

We're trying to find the minimum force level required to allow the pro-freedom Iraqis to win a "revolution".

"to failing to hold cities after clearing them of insurgents."

There's not enough troops to do that. There doesn't need to be enough troops to do that. It's not the job of the US to conquer Iraq.

"1. No plan for the post war period"

Iraq was a black box. We had no idea whether 95% of Iraqis wanted to be liberated or whether it was 5%. In the end it was closer to 50%. The plan was to react to whatever on earth we found there. This is exactly what was done. We needed to see what forces rose to the surface, and see how Iraqis reacted to them. It was an exercise in studying human behaviour.

"2. Leaving Iran alone"

As opposed to doing what? While I have asked the Australian government to declare war on Iran, it is in fact not prudent to do so right now. You need to wait for the Iraqi security forces to come up to speed. We've still got 2 years of Bush left. Iran will only take 4 weeks at most.

"3. Pullbacks and soft failures. Leaving Moqtada al-Sadr alive"

The Fallujah pullback was absolutely necessary to find out what sort of society terrorists planned for the Iraqis, and whether the Iraqis actually wanted that. The gloss quickly wore off. The Fallujans were soon asking for US troops to come back. It was also a chance to give the Iraqis a chance to boast that they were in fact superior to the US, after they had so graciously done us a favour and let us win the real war in 3.5 weeks. Let them have a victory in their fantasy land, and leave the real world to us. Al Sadr was similarly a strange force that emerged. It was interesting to see exactly what he thought he was able to achieve with 4000 men that the 400,000 strong Iraqi Army was unable to achieve. And even more importantly, how the Iraqi people would react to this despot.

"4. Iraqi elections held too early"

Addressed already.

"5. Misunderstanding the fundamentals"

It's not so much misunderstanding them as we needed to learn them! The comment "Most of Iraq’s warring parties don’t have any chance at taking over the entire country and don’t seem interested in doing so" is exactly correct. It is technically impossible for anyone to overthrow the government. And in military terms that's all that matters. The rest is a minor detail. As to "President Bush said in his second innaugural that all people want to be free and has based his war strategy on this idea", what he really meant was "we're going to investigate why these nutcases seem to prefer sadistic dictators to democracies". As to "The truth seems to be much grayer than that; most people want to be free, but some people want to control the freedom of other people, and some people are perfectly content to farm our their decisions to others they perceive as authority figures.", in a democracy they can vote for their favourite authority figure - there was no conceivable reason why we couldn't stand up a democracy in Iraq. As to "Additionally, the western definition of freedom doesn’t yet hold sway in places like Iraq whose contact with the west mostly consists of warfare or selling us oil." - what a funny comment! However, they turned out to vote in large numbers, and they now have freedom of speech, and I have seen no attempt to shut down debate. They've got some of the principles already. As to "if Ayatollah Sistani tells him to fight the Americans who are currently training his forces to take on the terrorists, then he will fight us", this is exactly part of the problem we need to solve. It's not that we misunderstand it, it's that we need to get it out in the open (in an environment of freedom), and then we need to address it.

"6. Assuming Iraq will conform only to unreasonable expectations which are based on ignorance of counterinsurgency warfare"

This is incorrect also. We don't need to win an counterinsurgency. It is the Iraqis who need to win a counterinsurgency. We only need to do the equivalent of jump-starting a revolution. For the purposes of this discussion, Maliki was installed via a revolution and now he is consolidating his power. Lots of people thought that the Iraqis should have a revolution of their own rather than require a US invasion. Fine. Now's the time to do whatever you were planning on doing after the revolution. It's functionally equivalent. The masses rose up (millions were on the streets with purple fingers) and installed Maliki. Go for it. Furthermore, Maliki is a nice guy and is going to allow free and fair elections after a few years, now that he won the revolution. What more do you want? The only thing required of the US is to help Maliki field an army. They can win the counterinsurgency on their own time, whether that takes 20 years or 50 years. The US forces are required elsewhere, so as soon as the Iraqi Army is able to carry on the fight and replenish its ranks, that's it - goodbye. Except for a small force required to prevent military coups or external invasions.

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