Dark victory

Why Bush's war in Iraq has damaged America's standing in the world and made us less safe.


Jeffrey Record
April 29, 2004 11:04PM (UTC)

No one who despises tyranny can regret the destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Operation Iraqi Freedom swept away more than thirty years of neo-Stalinist brutality and oppression. Whether or not Saddam Hussein posed a security threat to the United States in the spring of 2003, he had been a mortal threat to Iraqis ever since coming to power in 1968 and an open transgressor of numerous United Nations resolutions since 1990. Saddam Hussein ran one of the few totalitarian regimes to survive the collapse of Soviet Communism, which formed the last major totalitarian state threat to Western values and interests.

Nor can any student of military history ignore the extraordinary performance of U.S. forces in bringing down Saddam's regime. Allies and adversaries alike could not fail to be awed by the combination, on the one hand, of the Bush administration's unshakable determination to proceed against Iraq despite the loss of the Turkish "front" and to press on to Baghdad in the face of unexpected rear-area Iraqi resistance, and, on the other, of the remarkable operational and tactical flexibility displayed by masterfully coordinated ground, air, and naval forces. And who could not admire the courage, skill, and firmness of purpose with which U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines went about their professional business? Operation Iraqi Freedom, coming on the heels of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, underscored America's unchallengeable conventional military supremacy.

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But the Bush administration did not attack Iraq in 2003 for the purposes of liberating its people and demonstrating America's mastery of modern warfare. It went to war to remove what it asserted was a direct and imminent threat to U.S. security and to remake Iraq as a precursor to the Middle East's political transformation. It did so, moreover, over the objections of most of its friends and allies.

The larger questions, of course, concern the wisdom of the war and its likely political consequences. Some of those consequences are already apparent; others remain speculative. Wars are not only waged for political objectives; they can also have unintended political consequences. Moreover, since the removal of the Berlin Wall the United States has encountered considerable difficulty in converting its military victories into enduring political successes. In 1991 it reversed Iraqi aggression against Kuwait but failed to remove the source of that aggression -- a failure that necessitated, at least in the post-9/11 judgment of the George W. Bush White House and its neoconservative advisers, a second war against Iraq. In 1995 the United States, after much hesitation and with the assistance of Croatian ground forces, managed to halt Bosnian Serb genocide in Bosnia but only at the price of a peace enforced by a continuing NATO military presence. In 1999 the United States went to war against Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but did so in a manner that encouraged its acceleration; as in Bosnia, a residual force presence was necessary to enforce peace. In neither Bosnia nor Kosovo did the United States display a significant commitment to effective political reconstruction.

The same was true in Afghanistan. Though the Bush administration removed the Taliban regime in 2001, it was not prepared to invest the resources necessary to prevent Afghanistan's descent into that country's pre-Taliban warlordism. As of the fall of 2003, the "government" of Hamid Karzai controlled little territory outside Kabul; a brigade-sized U.S. Army force remained in Afghanistan, where it was conducting operations against a resurgent al-Qaeda presence in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistani territory bordering Afghanistan. The central government in Kabul lacked adequate security forces, infrastructure, and foreign assistance; the absence of government forces or an outside occupation force in the countryside effectively ceded most of Afghanistan to local warlords and the continuing strategic intrigue of Iran and Pakistan; massive heroin production resumed.

The lack of a determined U.S. political follow-through in Afghanistan was, in the judgment of Frederick W. Kagan, "emblematic of a larger failure to recognize that the shape and nature of a military operation establishes for good or ill the preconditions for the peace to follow. It is possible, as we saw both in Afghanistan and in our earlier campaign against Iraq in 1991, to design military operations that are brilliantly successful from a strictly operational point of view but that do not achieve and may actually hamper the achievement of larger political goals."

The U.S. war against Iraq in 2003 was not only unnecessary but also damaging to long-term U.S. political interests in the world. It was unnecessary because Iraq posed no measure of danger to the United States justifying war. It was damaging because the preventive, unilateralist nature of the war alienated key friends and allies and weakened international institutions that have long served U.S. security interests and because of the evident lack of preparedness of the United States to deal with the predictable consequences of its forcible removal of Saddam Hussein.

Seven other conclusions can be drawn from the war against Iraq.

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(1) The Bush doctrine correctly identifies a grave and unprecedented threat to the United States -- indeed, to the West as a whole: fanatical nonstate organizations seeking to acquire destructive capacity heretofore monopolized by states and not deterrable by traditional threats of punishment, denial, or destruction.

Globalization has accelerated the role of nonstate actors in the international system, and the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery portends a grim marriage of "radicalism and technology." The attacks of September 11 were a warning of things to come. Even if al-Qaeda did not employ WMD, there is little doubt it would have done so had the terrorist organization had access to such weapons. Moreover, against al-Qaeda or any other nondeterrable terrorist enemy that has already attacked the United States, a war of extermination, including preemptive and preventive military action, is morally justified and strategically imperative.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan was both. The Taliban regime was an ally of al-Qaeda that provided the terrorist organization a safe haven to plan, train, and direct operations against American and other Western targets. The regime refused demands that the Taliban turn over the perpetrators of 9/11, and when the Taliban refused, the United States acted. The connection between Operation Enduring Freedom and 9/11 was clear and accounted for the legitimacy it commanded among so many countries that would later oppose the U.S. attack on Iraq.

(2) Rogue states seek weapons of mass destruction for purposes that include deterrence, and so far have not employed such weapons in circumstances likely to invite unacceptable counteraction.

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This does not mean that such states pose no threat to their neighbors or to international order, simply that they can and have been deterred from using WMD. Saddam Hussein sought and used chemical weapons as a means of offsetting Iran's numerical advantage on the ground in the Iraq-Iran War; those weapons also served as a handy means of terrifying rebellious Kurds. With respect to nuclear weapons, he almost certainly would have sought to acquire them even had he not regarded the United States as an obstacle to his regional ambitions. The prestige of nuclear weapons dwarfs that of other WMD, especially chemical weapons, and of Iraq's two regional archenemies, Israel and Iran, one already had them and the other was striving to get them. Prestige and Israeli possession of nuclear weapons have been no less motivational for Iran, which also regarded Saddam's bid for nuclear weapons as a clear threat. Iranian interest in nuclear weapons began under the Shah and was undoubtedly heightened by Iraqi chemical attacks on Iranian front-line forces and missile attacks on Iranian cities during the Iraq-Iran War.

North Korea also lives in a tough neighborhood and views its actual or threatened nuclear capacity, along with its very destructive conventional military threat to Seoul, as a means of simultaneously deterring a U.S. attack and extorting food and fuel aid from the United States and Japan. Military power, especially its capacity to "go nuclear," is Pyongyang's only source of international significance, and if it has so far deterred U.S. military action against North Korea, it has also been deterred from attacking South Korea or Japan by the threat of unacceptable American retaliation.

Americans have difficulty placing themselves in another country's shoes, and when it comes to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nondemocratic states they tend to dismiss the possibility that such states might have legitimate reasons for doing so, including a desire to deter attack by real and potential enemies, including the United States. Neoconservative opinion is, ironically, exceptional; it has long argued for "anticipatory" military action and national ballistic missile defenses precisely to prevent rogue states from deterring U.S. military action against them. David Hastings Dunn, in his critique of the Bush doctrine, addresses the administration's conclusion that the only purposes for which Saddam Hussein -- and by implication, other rogue state dictators -- sought to acquire WMD was to intimidate or attack: "The possibility that he wanted these weapons to deter or repulse an attack from the US is presumably discounted on the assumption that without such weapons he would have nothing to fear from the US. That the US sees no contradiction in applying these stringent criteria to others and yet sees no grounds for others to view its own defense policy in this way illustrates the limitations of this approach to national security policy."

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(3) Saddam Hussein posed no direct or imminent threat to the United States or U.S. interests in the Middle East because he lacked deliverable WMD and offensive conventional military capacity and was in any event effectively deterred from any form of external aggression by credible American threats.

The grim and urgent Iraqi threat depicted by the Bush administration before the war was challenged by many at the time and subsequently discredited by the impotent performance of Iraqi conventional forces and U.S. failure to discover usable WMD. The administration chose war over a continuation of a UN inspection regime that had uncovered no evidence of any WMD, including a reconstituted nuclear weapons program, and whose continued presence would have precluded such a program. Indeed, prewar evidence cited by the administration that Iraq had a reconstituted nuclear weapons program and was moving from a "smoking gun" toward a "mushroom cloud" turned out to be bogus or unreliable. As a threat to U.S. global security interests, Saddam Hussein's Iraq paled in comparison to North Korea and Pakistan, possessors as well as proliferators of nuclear weapons and their ballistic means of delivery, and, in the case of autocratic Pakistan, a continuing sponsor of terrorism against democratic India and host to rising Islamic extremism. Yet the administration chose war against Saddam Hussein, multilateral diplomacy for Kim Jong Il, and strategic partnership with Pervez Musharraf.

Saddam Hussein's behavior before and after the launching of Operation Iraqi Freedom reflected that of a would-be aggressor who was being effectively deterred. Saddam always loved himself more than he hated the United States. In 1990 he had no good reason to believe the United States would go to war over Kuwait in part because no credible American threat of retaliation was even attempted. Once the Americans surprised him, however, he remained deterred from taking any action that risked his regime's destruction. Though he had used WMD against helpless Kurds and Iranians, he never used them against any enemy capable of effective retaliation, and he remained consistent on this issue for the remainder of his time in power. His behavior in this regard was consistent with that of Communist North Korea, which though much better armed with WMD than post-1991 Iraq, remains deterred at both the conventional and nuclear levels of conflict. The Bush doctrine's assertion that credible deterrence is not reliable against rogue states (as opposed to nonstate terrorist organizations) awaits validation.

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(4) The primary explanation for war against Iraq is the Bush White House's post-9/11 embrace of the neoconservatives' ideology regarding U.S. military primacy, use of force, and the Middle East.

The neoconservatives who populated the upper ranks of the Bush administration had been gunning for Saddam Hussein for years before 9/11. They had an articulated, aggressive, values-based foreign policy doctrine and a specific agenda for the Middle East that reflected hostility toward Arab autocracies and support for Israeli security interests as defined by that country's Likud political party. Before 9/11, however, they served a president who was focused on domestic policies and who was a self-avowed "realist" when it came to foreign policy. Then came 9/11 and what a perceptive account in the National Journal called President Bush's "borrowing wholesale from neoconservative arguments about how the United States should reposition itself in the world and use its unprecedented power." As for Saddam Hussein, "[w]e were talking about Iraq a long time before 9/11, but since 9/11 it became part of the new wisdom about how to shape the Middle East," commented Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the neoconservative Hudson Institute. Robert Jervis speculates that "Bush's transformation after September 11 may parallel his earlier religious conversion: Just as coming to Christ gave meaning to his previously dissolute personal life, so the war on terrorism has become the defining characteristic of his foreign policy and his sacred mission."

The neoconservative foreign policy doctrine and agenda offered an intellectual explanation of the world to a decidedly nonintellectual president, and some have even argued that President Bush's embrace of it was a case of the neoconservatives duping a witless White House. "The neo-cons took advantage of Bush's ignorance and inexperience," asserts Michael Lind, adding that President Bush "seems genuinely to believe that there was an imminent threat to the US from Saddam Hussein's [WMD], something the leading neo-cons say in public but are far too intelligent to believe themselves." This argument, however, does an injustice to both President Bush and the history of the office he holds. Few of America's forty-three presidents have been intellectuals, and many have been influenced by the ideas of others, as was Harry Truman by George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Paul H. Nitze, and the other intellectual and policy godfathers of Cold War containment. President Bush is certainly not the first president to believe himself embarked on a crusade against evil overseas; indeed, Bush's global democratic crusade is essentially an updated extension of Woodrow Wilson's. American foreign policy has always reflected tension between interests and values, realism and idealism.

Moreover, any administration that inherited the unprecedented global military primacy that the United States has enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union could not fail to be tempted to use military power in circumstances where no one else could effectively challenge it. In a piece in Foreign Affairs, Robert Jervis, an established scholar of international politics, concludes that more than 9/11 "or some shadowy neoconservative cabal" explains America's recent assertive unilateralism: "it is the logical outcome of the current unrivaled U.S. position in the international system. Put simply, power is checked by counterbalancing power, and a state that is not [counterbalanced] tends to feel few restraints at all." And it is difficult to characterize as a "cabal" a group of like-minded, outspoken intellectuals whose policy views have been known for years and who do not need secretive plotting to advance their cause inside the Bush White House.

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(5) Conflating Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda was a strategic mistake of the first order because it propelled the United States into an unnecessary war and weakened potential homeland defenses against terrorist attack.

Conversion of 9/11 into a case for war against Iraq required postulation of Saddam Hussein as Osama bin Laden's friend, operational collaborator, and potential source of WMD. This postulation in turn required a willful disregard of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To date, there is still no evidence of Iraqi complicity in the 9/11 attacks -- a fact finally conceded in mid-September 2003 by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Rice -- or in any other al-Qaeda attacks on Western targets before or since. Nor has evidence emerged of an operational relationship between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. And none of this should have been a surprise, given the vastly different and inherently antagonistic identities and agendas of secular Saddam's state and antisecular Osama's stateless organization.

Postulating a monolithic enemy may have been necessary to sell the American public on war with Iraq, but it blurred key distinctions, including differing vulnerabilities to U.S. force among rogue states, terrorist organizations, and failed states that hosted such organizations. It encouraged the conclusions that war with Iraq was simply a geographical extension of the war on terrorism and that Saddam's removal would weaken the al-Qaeda threat to the United States and its interests overseas. But there was never any evidence of al-Qaeda dependency on Saddam Hussein, and there remains no evidence that Saddam's fall has adversely affected al-Qaeda's future. As if to advertise this fact, al-Qaeda launched deadly attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco just six weeks after the conclusion of the war against Iraq. Al-Qaeda has been damaged by U.S. and allied counterterrorist operations conducted directly against the organization, but these operations are not to be confused with the war that brought down Saddam Hussein.

If anything, post-Saddam Iraq offers al-Qaeda a marvelous new opportunity to mobilize a jihad against the United States in the middle of an unstable Arab heartland. Yet another Western military humiliation of an Arab state cannot but help al-Qaeda recruitment. U.S. occupation forces certainly provide a new target set for al-Qaeda and other terrorist suicide bombers, and armed Iraqi resistance beyond the occasional terrorist attack could emerge if the United States botches Iraq's economic and political reconstruction.

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A major consequence of conflating Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda has been to saddle the United States with large and open-ended war and occupation costs at a time when America's homeland security remains substantially underfunded. Dollars that could be going to improve security around U.S. nuclear power plants and major seaports are instead being sent to Iraq to restore electrical power and pay demobilized Iraqi soldiers to keep them from rioting. And the costs continue to grow. By the fall of 2003 the administration had spent $80 billion and planned to spend another $80 billion on the war and postwar Iraq -- with no end in sight and every dime of it borrowed money. The combined total of $160 billion exceeds by more than $60 billion the estimated $98.4 billion shortfall in federal funding of emergency response agencies in the United States over the next five years. That estimate is the product of an independent task force study sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and completed in the summer of 2003. The study, entitled "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared," concluded that almost two years after 9/11, "the United States remains dangerously ill prepared to handle a catastrophic attack on American soil" because of, among other things, acute shortages of radios among firefighters, WMD protective gear for police departments, basic equipment and expertise in public health laboratories, and hazardous materials detection equipment in most cities. And first responders represent just one of many such underfunded components of homeland security. War with Iraq has degraded homeland security.

(6) The U.S. attack on Iraq was a preventive war; as such, it was indistinguishable from aggression, alien to traditional values of American statecraft, and injurious to long-term U.S. security interests.

The U.S. war on Iraq alienated most U.S. friends and allies because it was palpably a preventive war that violated the central norm of relations among states: Thou shalt not commit aggression. That the Bush administration believed and claimed that it was acting in self-defense did not obscure the reality that Iraq posed no direct or immediate threat to the United States. Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France, and Great Britain all went to war in 1914 in the name of self-defense. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 in part because they were convinced, as was the Bush administration with respect to Iraq, that time was working against them, that the longer they waited the less favorable the military balance would become. This is not to argue that there was no case for attacking Iraq in 2003. As on the eve of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Saddam was a brutal dictator who was in willful noncompliance with a host of UN resolutions. And there was never any question that he sought WMD, especially nuclear weapons.

But the United States did not go to war in 2003 on behalf of the Iraqi people and the United Nations. Nor was any potential Iraqi WMD threat realizable in the presence of an unfettered UN inspection regime and threatened U.S. preemption. The United States went to war instead on behalf of a new use-of-force doctrine whose proclamation in 2002 and implementation against Iraq in 2003 may have undermined U.S. security in the long term. In addition to saddling the United States with a costly and open-ended political and military entanglement in Iraq, the Bush doctrine and war on Iraq work to encourage enemies to acquire WMD and to deplete resources that might otherwise be allocated to homeland defense against terrorist attack. The doctrine and its war have also weakened the United Nations, divided Europe, damaged NATO (perhaps mortally), and compromised the legitimacy of American power abroad.

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To be sure, the United Nations as a collective security organization never lived up to original American expectations for it, and the Security Council's permanent membership is markedly unrepresentative of the actual distribution of state power in the world. But the Bush administration asked the United Nations to do something it was, by virtue of the unanimity rule for Security Council permanent members, incapable of doing: authorize a preventive war against a member state. On only two previous occasions had the United Nations authorized the use of force, and those were in response to flagrant territorial aggression. The administration moreover displayed contempt for the United Nations by suggesting that it was nothing but another discredited League of Nations and making clear that it would proceed against Iraq regardless of what the United Nations did. For the most powerful UN member to behave in such a fashion was to invite the diplomatic debacle that subsequently befell the Bush administration at the United Nations and to further weaken that organization as an instrument of collective security. By alienating three of the other four permanent members of the Security Council over the issue of war with Iraq, the United States forfeited any claim to international legitimacy and diminished prospects that it could ever again, as it had in 1950 and 1990, lead the United Nations into authorizing the use of force against genuine aggressors.

With respect to Europe and NATO, the United States deliberately sought to split the European Union and the Atlantic alliance over the issue of war with Iraq in order to isolate unexpectedly strong French and German opposition, and it did so by mobilizing support in former Communist Europe among states already in or seeking membership in the EU, and especially NATO, and eager to curry U.S. favor. In so doing, the United States, in the view of Henry Kissinger, "produced the gravest crisis in the Atlantic Alliance since its creation five decades ago." Charles Kupchan believes that NATO "now lies in the rubble of Baghdad," a judgment that, if true, would not be unwelcome to an administration that tends to regard formal alliances in general as encumbrances on U.S. freedom of military action and NATO in particular as a strategic pygmy that can bring little to the military table in the war on terrorism and wars against rogue states. The key criterion for judging the worth of allies is loyalty to America's cause as defined by a White House given to postulating a world divided between good and evil and intolerant of those who might have a different view.

To be sure, NATO's future has been an open question since the end of the Cold War, and the combination of the Soviet Union's demise and Europe's continuing integration inevitably diminished the strategic importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship for both the United States and Europe. Neither side of the Atlantic is any longer militarily dependent on the other for its security. Nor is NATO, especially a continually expanded NATO, a useful engine of collective military action outside NATO territory; Operation Allied Force in Kosovo underscored the limits of the alliance's military effectiveness beyond NATO territory.

But was it necessary for the leader of the Atlantic alliance to go out of its way to divide the alliance between those who, for a variety of motives, supported the administration policy on Iraq ("new Europe") and those who, also for a variety of motives, did not ("old Europe")? Should the administration's decision for preventive war against Iraq have been employed as a loyalty test for the other eighteen members of the alliance? And should the United States continue to exclude from participation in Iraq's reconstruction those members of NATO that refused to believe that Iraq posed a credible threat to the United States and U.S. interests in the Gulf? If the existing trend in trans-Atlantic relations continues, especially "if pre-Iraq war diplomacy becomes the pattern," contends Kissinger, "[t]he international system will be fundamentally altered. Europe will be split into two groups defined by their attitude toward cooperation with America. NATO will change its character and become a vehicle for those continuing to affirm the transatlantic relationship. The United Nations, traditionally a mechanism by which the democracies vindicated their convictions against the danger of aggression, will instead turn into a forum in which allies implement theories of how to bring about a counterweight to the hyperpower United States." Surely, such a divided West, Europe, and NATO cannot be in America's long-term interest, especially in a world of rising Islamist violence against Western civilization and everything it stands for.

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But perhaps the most egregious legacy of the Bush doctrine and the war on Iraq is their effect on the moral legitimacy of American leadership. By embracing a doctrine of preventive war, by exhibiting ill-concealed contempt for the very institutions that for half a century have served to reassure the rest of the world that American power would be employed with restraint, and by redefining allies and enemies on the basis of whether "you are with us or against us," the United States threatens to forfeit its moral leadership. Former European Union commissioner Etienne Davignon has summed up the dismay of many in Europe and elsewhere: "After World War II, America was all-powerful and created a new world by defining its national interest broadly in a way that made it attractive for other countries to define their interests in terms of embracing America's. In particular, the United States backed the creation of global institutions, due process, and the rule of law. Now, you are again all-powerful and the world is again in need of fundamental restructuring, but without talking to anyone you appear to be turning your back on things you have championed for half a century and defining your interest narrowly and primarily in terms of military security." Former European Union ambassador to the United States Hugo Paemen is blunter: "Domestically you have a wonderful system of checks and balances, but in foreign policy you are completely unpredictable, and your pendulum can swing from one side to the other very quickly, while those of us who may be deeply affected have no opportunity even to make our voice heard, let alone to have any influence. This is really worrying because while your intentions are usually good, your actions are frequently informed by ignorance, ideology, or special interests and can have very damaging consequences for the rest of us."

"Americans," wrote Francis Fukuyama on the first anniversary of 9/11, "are largely innocent of the fact that much of the rest of the world believes that it is American power, and not terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, that is destabilizing the world." If so, then the Bush doctrine and the war on Iraq can only reinforce that belief.

Indeed, the doctrine and war reflect a preliminary but by no means final answer to a much larger question, perhaps the most important question of the beginning decades of the twenty-first century: How will America employ its unprecedented global military primacy? With restraint and due consideration of the interests and opinions of others? Or with arrogance and contempt? Ironically, it was presidential candidate George W. Bush who declared: "Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that's why we've got to be humble and project strength in a way that promotes freedom. . . . If we are an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us."

(7) Perhaps the most important lesson of America's second war with Iraq is that successful military operations are not to be confused with successful political outcomes -- or to put it another way, the object of war is not military victory per se but a better peace.

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Though Carl von Clausewitz correctly observed that war is a continuation of politics by other means, Americans have traditionally viewed war as a substitute for politics. They like their wars unadulterated by politics. For this reason they have tended to define war's success or failure in terms of combat outcomes rather than in broader grand strategic terms, and accordingly have discounted the importance of war termination and the transition to peace. This outlook is reflected in civilian decision-makers' failure to accord war termination adequate priority and in the professional military's disdain for so-called operations other than war, especially those entailing peacemaking and nation-building responsibilities.

Regrettably, the United States was no better prepared for war termination in the Gulf in 2003 than it was in 1991, and though the George W. Bush administration is rhetorically committed to rebuilding the Iraq state, it remains to be seen whether it is really prepared to go the distance in terms of time, resources, and blood. The record in Afghanistan is not encouraging. It is moreover clear that the Defense Department's civilian leadership, which is still running the show in Iraq, despite the replacement of Jay Garner by Paul Bremmer, grossly underestimated the responsibilities, costs, and dangers the United States would encounter in a post-Saddam Iraq. The situation will surely and sorely test a White House and Pentagon that are viscerally opposed to nation-building, notwithstanding the administration's commitment to the Middle East's political transformation.

Anthony H. Cordesman, in his assessment of conflict termination in Iraq, contends that the United States is paying the price for its "failure to look beyond immediate victory on the battlefield. Much more could have been done before, during and immediately after the war," he argues, "if . . . the US had not seen conflict termination, peacemaking, and nation building as secondary missions, and if a number of senior policymakers had not assumed the best case in terms of Iraqi postwar reactions to the Coalition attack." Cordesman concludes with an appeal and a warning: "This should be the last war in which there is a policy-level, military, and intelligence failure to come to grips with conflict termination and the transition to nation building. The US and its allies should address the issues involved before, during and after the conflict. They should prepare to commit the proper resources, and they should see political and psychological warfare in grand strategic terms. A war is over only when violence is ended, military forces are no longer needed to provide security, and nation building can safely take place without military protection. It does not end with the defeat of the main enemy forces on the battlefield."

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the second war against Iraq will be the last one marked by failure to come to grips with conflict termination and the transition to nation-building. The Defense Department is pushing a transformation of U.S. military power that would actually widen the divide between military operations and politically successful wars. In seeking to substitute the technologies of aerial precision strike at ever greater standoff distances for traditional ground forces, the Pentagon is moving toward capital-intensive force structures that are actually counterproductive to meeting the challenges of the kind we faced in Iraq once Saddam Hussein was removed from power. Frederick W. Kagan argues that the reason why "the United States [has] been so successful in recent wars [but] encountered so much difficulty in securing its political aims after the shooting stopped" lies partly in "a vision of war" that "see[s] the enemy as a target set and believe[s] that when all or most of the targets have been hit, he will inevitably surrender and American goals will be achieved." This vision ignores the importance of "how, exactly, one defeats the enemy and what the enemy's country looks like at the moment the bullets stop flying." For Kagan, the "entire thrust of the current program of military transformation of the U.S. armed forces . . . aims at the implementation and perfection of this target set mentality." But bashing targets is insufficient in circumstances where the United States is seeking regime change in a manner that secures support of the defeated populace for the new government. Such circumstances require large numbers of properly trained ground troops for the purposes of securing population centers and infrastructure, maintaining order, and providing humanitarian relief. "It is not enough to consider simply how to pound the enemy into submission with stand-off forces. . . . To effect regime change, U.S. forces must be positively in control of the enemy's territory and population as rapidly and continuously as possible. That control cannot be achieved by machines, still less by bombs. Only human beings interacting with human beings can achieve it. The only hope for success in the extension of politics that is war is to restore the human element to the transformation equation."

Excerpted with permission from "Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq" by Jeffrey Record (Naval Institute Press).


Jeffrey Record

Jeffrey Record is a former professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the author of the study "Bounding the War on Terrorism" and six books, including "Making War, Thinking History" and "The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam."

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