Foddy Lists Mistakes

Someone called "foddy" posted a list of mistakes on ITM which I will dutifully answer.

"1) Invading Iraq, when there was NO need to do so."

What do you mean "need"? It's true you don't "need" to make the world a better place. Even when Hitler was on the rampage we could have just accepted Nazi slavery too. It depends what you're trying to achieve. I'm trying to create security for the existing free world, and to expand the free world. Invading Iraq achieved both of these objectives, which made it the right thing to do.

"2) Using too few troops, despite pre-war and post-invasion estimates that at least 500,000 were required in order to subdue the country (nearly 4 years on, 150,000 has clearly proved not to be enough)."

You have made an erroneous assumption that we wanted to subdue the country. The more strategic thing to do was to observe what forces would arise when there was no-one subduing the country. Find out what values the Iraqis had internalized, and what they would choose to do. Would they attack the US forces who clearly weren't oppressing them, or would there be some other reaction? No-one knew. It was a time to do science. The small number of troops were not just desirable, they also proved sufficient to do the job of transitioning a dictatorship to a democracy.

"Interestingly, it has been suggested that the Bush Administration didn't really want an international coalition for the war because "The Project for a New American Century" wanted to prove how easy it is to take over another country."

No, the right thing to do was to use an international coalition so that the Iraqis knew that America wasn't there to steal their oil and enslave them, unless all the other members of the coalition were somehow also "in" on this dastardly plot. Coalitions are really great. Even if a country like the Philippines only turns up with 50 troops, it is invaluable. So long as people provide SOMETHING it makes a huge difference. Even Afghanistan asked to have its name put on the list, although I don't know that they contributed anything at all. At least their heart was in the right place.

"3) Showing the world (and especially North Korea and Iran) that the US lacks a credible military threat by becoming completely bogged down in Iraq."

Another erroneous assumption. The US is not bogged down in Iraq. It can leave at any time and the democratically-elected government will not be toppled.

"4a) Failing to stop looting (including the looting of around 250,000 tons of ordnance!)."

Allowing looting was a strategic decision. It was a relief when the Iraqis decided to loot instead of attacking coalition forces. It was additionally a relief when other Iraqis complained about the looting instead of attacking coalition forces. The highest priority at the time was to avoid a war against the Iraqi people. We had no wish to force them to do anything, so a war against them would have been a horrible misunderstanding. A general war against the Iraqi people was avoided, which is all that matters. Material things can be easily replaced, now that the Iraqis no longer have a dictator squandering Iraq's oil wealth. As for the ordinance, yes, that's one of the downsides of the strategy that was chosen. Doing science was far more important.

"4b) Disbanding Saddam's army."

No. Again, the most important thing to do was to make a clean break with the past and give them brand new institutions with no blood on their hands. The old army needed to go, and more importantly, the Iraqi people needed to BELIEVE that the old army had gone and that the new army wasn't just the old one rebadged. This plan succeeded. The Iraqi people REALLY BELIEVE that the new army is there to protect them rather than oppress them. Even though a lot of members of the new army came from the old army. We still "got away" with it.

"5) Privatizing Iraq's industries."

This is in accordance with modern economic theory. If he had done anything differently it would have been a mistake.

"Jay Garner was eager to hold local elections. But Paul Bremer was sent to take over and cancelled those electons because Bremer was so eager to privatise Iraq's industries."

Not sure what local elections have to do with industry. Regardless, both of these issues are minor and don't affect the successful transition from dictatorship to democracy.

"6) Putting inexperienced people in charge of reconstruction. Twenty-somethings who had applied for Heritage Foundation jobs were put in charge of Iraq's reconstruction, though they were completely unqualified (and eminently qualified people were overlooked because they lacked the right political affiliation)."

I'm more concerned about policy decisions made by Bush than the prowess of those who actually carried out those policies. No organization is perfect. If negligence was involved, the organization should have internal procedures to prosecute those who were negligent.

"7) Failing to prevent a catastrophic amount of fraud and corruption in the reconstruction process. Billions of dollars have been lost, stolen or vanished."

Again, this isn't a mistake by Bush, this is the result of organizations having humans rather than perfect robots doing the work.

"8) Failing to secure other than very small areas of Afghanistan around Kabul."

What are you talking about? There's nowhere safe in Afghanistan for the Taliban to gather. Areas of America are not "secure", depending on your definition of that term. The Afghans are able to carry out reconstruction, democratic elections and build new security forces. A hostile dictatorship that supported terrorism was turned into a friendly democracy that fought terrorism. And you're still complaining???

"9) Failing to prevent the huge increase in drug cultivation in Afghanistan."

This is an Afghan problem for the Afghans to solve. It will be done when there are sufficient Afghan security forces to take care of the problem, since it is against Afghan law. There's no rush. No-one expected Afghanistan to turn into Switzerland overnight.

"10) Failing, after almost 4 years, to provide even a reasonable supply of electricity and water to Iraq."

It is not the US's job to do this. It is up to Iraqis to lift themselves up out of poverty. They've even got oil revenue to fund it with.

"This is just a handful of the many many mistakes."

List them and I'll answer them.

"And you can't just hand off blame for these to the Iraqis and Afghans."

Yes I can. It's their country, not ours. We've done our bit by giving them their freedom. It's up to them how they manage their country. If they want to be a colony of the US then it would be a US responsibility. They don't. And the US never intended for them to be so.

"The US was responsible for the invasion"

The US was responsible for removing sadistic dictators that were abusing these poor people, and they should be thanked for doing so.

"so they should remain responsible until order is restored."

No, the US is not responsible for what locals do with their freedom.

"If you break something, you are responsible for fixing it."

It was already broken. The US just empowered the people to fix it.

"And you can't say that the US couldn't know what the problems were going to be before they invaded. They should have done their homework and studied reports which warned that even 500,000 troops couldn't guarantee securing Iraq. Bush couldn't have cared less."

It was possible that 95% of the Iraqis objected to an external invasion and that they would fight tooth and nail against the US. If that is what the US found, it would have needed to react differently to the facts on the ground. The strategy was to find out what the Iraqi people's reaction to freedom was. 500k troops was neither desirable nor required. It would have just changed the oppressor. This was a war of liberation, not a war of conquest.

"To take just one example, he said that the U.S. government underestimated the security challenges in Iraq, to which you replied "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."That is just not true. The task of a government and military is to estimate what opposition they are going to face."

And they knew what Saddam's forces were and knew they could be beaten. And they were beaten, in 3.5 weeks. It set a gold standard. What we had no idea of was how the Iraqi people would feel about being liberated. No idea at all. That information was locked away in their skulls. Only a secret ballot would reveal what was truly in there.

"To say that they should just act and then react to what happens is patently ridiculous."

No it isn't. This is standard military doctrine. Haven't you ever heard "no plan survives first contact with the enemy"? The plan was to react!

"No army in the world is going to do that (and expect to last for long)."

Wrong. It is what the US army did, and it lasted fine.

"You then claim that the US invaded Iraq with no idea of what they were going to find there? Are you serious? Of course the US had an idea of what they would find, but either they only talked to people who were going to give the answers they wanted to hear (which means that they were wilfully irresponsible and should be charged accordingly) or they really knew what they were going to find and couldn't care less. I suspect the latter."

Predictions were all over the place. There were predictions that the entire Iraqi army would roll over as soon as they were given an opportunity to. And there were predictions that the army and the people would dig in and unite against an external invader. There was also the results from the "elections" that showed 100% of the Iraqis supported Saddam. No-one had any idea what was there. No-one knew that the poll results would show 50% feeling liberated, 50% feeling humiliated. I didn't see one prediction of any such thing. Nor did I see a prediction of Sunni terrorists blowing up random Shiite civilians to see if that would help bring them back to power.

"In fact you actually admit that some of the mistakes listed by Petraeus were mistakes, but brush them off as "short term pain". And the icing on the cake "it would have been nice if it had all been wrapped up in 5 weeks instead of 5 years". Fine, just brush off 5 years of kiling and destruction."

Short term pain is not a mistake. It's just (sometimes) a consequence of doing the right thing. Usually short term pain for long term pain, or some similar tradeoff. It's not a mistake. That 5 years of killing and destruction (mostly by Iraqis) was just what happens when you have a population with a mentality far removed from the Swiss. It's not the US's fault that the Iraqis have this mentality. It's just a feature.

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