Petraeus Lists Mistakes

Ok, someone else has come up with a list of mistakes. Let's go through it.

"The first problem was that the national elections, expected to unify the country behind a legitimate Iraqi government, did the opposite."

The Iraqis have a national unity government. The government doesn't have any laws that discriminate against people based on race or religion. The people who reject this status of equal rights are basically the enemy. The fact that there are enemies is not a policy mistake. What exactly is he suggesting as an alternative? Invade a different country where no-one objects to democracy???

"The elections hardened sectarian positions as Iraqis voted largely based on ethnic and sectarian group identity,"

And how is this a mistake of the US? Did you want the US to force a 2-party non-sectarian government onto Iraq in the first elections? The UK hasn't even done that to Northern Ireland. I agree that the Iraqis shouldn't be voting along sectarian lines. Nor should the people of Northern Ireland. But failing to force this onto the Iraqi people was not a mistake. It was the least worst option. First we should see if the Iraqis naturally split up their political system along economic instead of sectarian lines. They might even make it a law that parties can't be sectarian, similar to what Belgium does. But forcing this down the throat of Iraqis at this point in history is not the right thing to do. At the moment it is best to observe what the Iraqis do of their own free will, so that we can have a good understanding of them.

"The U.S. government underestimated the security challenges in Iraq, particularly after the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara."

The US doesn't have perfect knowledge. You're basically complaining the US doesn't have a crystal ball. The only thing you can do is react to the situation on the ground.

"The United States also overestimated its ability to create new security institutions following the disbandment of the Iraqi security forces,"

This is another case of not having perfect information. Training up Iraqis was breaking new ground. The Army did this to the best of its capability. There was nothing wrong with the policy decision to instruct the Army to train up Iraqis, and there is no sign of the Army being negligent in carrying out that order.

"The U.S. military has been slow to recognize and react to the evolving threat in Iraq"

The US's primary job is to train Iraqis to take care of their own threats. This process has not been interrupted at all.

"What began as an insurgency has morphed into a conflict that includes insurgent attacks, terrorism, sectarian violence, and violent crime,"

This is a feature of Iraqis. Again, would you have preferred that we invaded Switzerland instead? You need to deal with the enemy you have, not the one you would like. There was no policy error nor military negligence here.

"It is now conventional wisdom that de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraq military were mistakes."

The hell they were. The most important thing was to get new institutions that the majority of the Iraqi people could trust. Ones that didn't have a history of oppressing the people. So that the Iraqi people didn't think "this new army is just the old one under a different name", and reject it, and not sign up to it either. A lot of people thought that Arabs weren't ready for democracy. We needed to give it the best possible shot by setting up western-style institutions. Fortunately the Iraqi people accepted their new institutions and democracy was successful. That was the main prize, and it was obtained. 300 political parties started up, instead of 0 or 1.

"De-Baathification was intended to remove former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's henchmen but it went far deeper than that. The major problem was there was no way for Baathists to reconcile with the new regime and therefore no reason to support the new government."

So? They were a minority. The majority were happy. And now the majority are in a position to reinstate the ex-Baathists if they want. It will be their decision, not the US's. As it should be.

"Petraeus held a reconciliation commission at Mosul University. More than 100 university officials and teachers were recommended for reinstatement in their jobs. The names were submitted to the de-Baathification committee in Baghdad, but no action was taken."

There is no way of knowing whether the Iraqi majority would have been upset had they be reinstated. You have nothing to compare to know that this was a mistake. The important thing was to make the majority happy, and to pass off responsibility onto the majority.

"As realization set in among those affected that there was to be no reconciliation, we could feel support for the new Iraq ebbing in Sunni Arab majority areas,"

It's not too late to have reconciliation, and that is now in the hands of the Iraqi majority instead of being imposed by the US. The short term pain is a once-off cost.

"However, it was announced without the simultaneous creation of a stipend and pension program for those in the Iraqi army and without an announcement of how the military would be reconstituted, and how former soldiers could rejoin and reclaim their careers."

So? That made it clear that the new army was different from the old one. And the Iraqi people bought it. That was the prize.

"That undoubtedly created tens of thousands of former soldiers and officers who were angry, feeling disrespected, and worried about how they would feed their families,"

Yes, that's the short term pain that needs to be weighed up against the long term gain of having fresh, respected institutions.

"A stipend was announced five weeks later, but it did not cover senior officers, and by that time there were already protests outside the Green Zone."

Protests are a healthy sign. It also made it clear to the Iraqi people that the new army was not the old army rebadged.

"This action likely fueled, at least in part, the early growth of the insurgency and anti-coalition feeling,"

That is a necessary tradeoff. The old regime was expected to get its nose put out of joint. The goal was a new European-style regime. This goal was more-or-less achieved.

"Petraeus, who headed the first formal effort to create an Iraqi military from June 2004 to September 2005, also criticized the slow pace of that project. "We took to long to develop the concepts and structures needed to build effective Iraqi security forces to assist in providing security to the Iraqi people," he wrote."

Yeah, it would be wonderful if the Army had a magic wand and could do everything in an instant. Are you claiming that someone else's Army would have done a better job? Or are you comparing the US Army to a mythical perfect army? I don't see any sign of wrong policy decisions or negligence.

"The prison abuse at Abu Ghraib and in other "less sensational but still damaging cases" inflamed the insurgency and damaged the credibility of the coalition in Iraq and around the world."

That was not a policy mistake. That was some soldiers disobeying orders. That happens in every army in the world. Whenever that happens, you just charge and jail the offenders. It is irrelevant. It is a part of life. The same thing happens in continental US too.

"There was no adequate plan for post-invasion reconstruction, Petraeus wrote. "We obviously had inadequate plans, concepts, organizations, resources, and policies for the conduct of Phase IV (stability and reconstruction) operations; consequently we were slow to move into Phase IV operations.""

There was a plan. The plan was to react to whatever we found on the ground in Iraq. We had no idea what percentage of Iraqis had been brainwashed by Saddam and were willing to fight to the bitter end. It could have been 95%. Saddam did get 100% of the vote. On the other hand, 95% of the population could have welcomed liberation, and set to work doing the reconstruction themselves. The Iraqi Army could have defected en-masse as soon as it had US air cover, and the Iraqi people could have loved the old army for doing that, and not even have a need to disband the old army. No-one had any idea what was in the minds of the Iraqi people. Only an environment of freedom and a secret ballot would reveal that.

"Petraeus wrote that the command structure in Iraq for the first 15 months was inadequate for the twin jobs of managing counter-insurgency operations and the political and reconstruction work."

Ok, that's a minor technical detail for the Army to sort out. They presumably fixed it after 15 months. So? No-one expects the Army or any other institution to get everything right on the first go.

"Petraeus also bravely wanders into politically dicey territory by saying there were simply not enough boots on the ground in several areas of Iraq."

There were enough boots on the ground to ensure that the new Iraqi security forces could be trained and democratic elections could be held. Beyond that, the Iraqi people were left to their own devices. That way we could observe what they actually did with no-one to tell them what to do. It also let them know that the US was not there to conquer them. There weren't enough troops to conquer them.

"Particularly in the late summer of 04, it became increasingly difficult to keep pulling the roots out as fast as the bad guys were putting the roots down,"

Sure. That's just how the fight played out. With more troops, the fight would have been shorter. With less, it takes longer. The result is the same either way. The advantage of doing all this with less troops is that it proves you don't need a lot of troops and thus lowers the barrier to war.

"Repeated operations in Baghdad, in particular, to clear hold and build did not prove durable due to lack of sufficient Iraqi and coalition forces for the hold phase of the operations,"

Sure. This is part of the short-term pain you get when you disband the old security forces and create new ones from scratch. It's a once-off cost.

At the end of the day, none of this matters a damn. History books are going to record that it took 60k troops to liberate Iraq, 160k troops as part of the reconstruction phase which lasted 5 years, and the Arabs got their first European-style democracy, which instead of being an enemy, joined NATO of its own free will. It will be regarded as a watershed in human history. The last ethnic group that didn't have a democratic example. This is what is known in the business as a complete and utter victory. Sure, it would have been nice if it had all been wrapped up in 5 weeks instead of 5 years, but that is due to the complexities of the enemy that we found. Iraqis had a different mentality to the Swiss. That's not actually anyone's fault, it's just a phenomenon.

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