Analyzing the fallout from a legacy of incompetence

disintegration of iraqIn 2003, the United States invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Many possible justifications were thrown at the public, ranging from the imminent threat of nuclear holocaust to the eventual desire to free the Iraqi people from their enslavement.

American occupation resulted in the virtual annihilation of the existing Iraqi state and its associated administrative structures. This destruction created a situation wherein occupying US troops served as the only force for stability. Naturally, upon US withdrawal things have begun to degenerate.

There are three points which I have endeavored to make clear:

1) That the Iraq war was not, in any way, necessary or vital to the concerns of US national security.

2) That both the ways that the war was prosecuted and the ways that US attempts at administration were carried out represent incompetence.

3) That owing to lacking US management of the Iraqi state, American military withdrawal has left an unprepared set of defense forces to cope with a resurgent population of radical and violent Islamists.

I. Prelude to the End

Rumsfeld Shaking hands with Saddam
Donald Rumsfeld (left) Saddam Hussein (right)

During the Iran-Iraq war, the United States provided arms, and ammunition (as well as agents used in the production of chemical weapons) to Iraq. There is also some debate as to what extent the United States actually funded both sides in the war. Saddam Hussein was a monster created, in part, through the efforts of US foreign and economic policy.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait began 2 August, 1990. It was billed to the Iraqi public as a means to retake much of the oil wealth which resided in the hands of Kuwaiti Sheikhs. The American response was fairly quick and resulted in the rapid disintegration of Iraqi force in the country. As fast as things heated up, however, they cooled down as well.

During the mid-to-late 1990s Iraq was virtually ignored. Economic sanctions (which many have argued are acts of war) served to suck all quality out of life for common Iraqis. As one 34 UN veteran said of the administration of the “oil-for-food” program, “I am resigning because the policy of economic sanctions is[…]destroying an entire society. Five thousand children are dying every month. I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.” 

II. The Age of Paranoia and Blood

The 9/11 attacks shocked people around the world. Many still wonder how deep the strings of this operation went. Nonetheless it was used by the Bush administration as a means to an end. That end was the military occupation of Iraq, which was less for oil as much as a geo-politically strategic move (placing US tanks 2 day’s drive from Saudi oil fields and forcing them to cooperate in the war on terror).

Operation Iraqi Freedom aimed at removing the power structure created by Saddam Hussein as well as re-building the destroyed fabric of the Iraqi economy. The United States took over the country without much of a fight and then proceeded to dismantle it piecemeal. This was exacerbated by the unchecked dismantling by the  looting of a huge portion of Iraqi infrastructure, including priceless works of cultural heritage from the Iraqi National Museum. It is important to note that, although soldiers were not ordered to stop looting, they were ordered to protect the oil ministry.

According to James P. Pfiffner, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, in a paper entitled: US Blunders in Iraq: De-Baathification and Disbanding the Army: “…neither President Bush nor the White House staff followed any regular policy process before the momentous decisions to disband the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the government were made.”

With respect to other officials Pfiffner states that,“What is known is that the decision was made against the judgment of Jay Garner, the senior CIA officer in Iraq, and military planners.” This indicates the absurd extent to which the inability of American officials to cope with reality extended.

The decision was also made without the consultation of the following officials: Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Myers, Vice Chair General Peter Pace, General McKiernan, CIA Director George Tenet, and Intelligence Community lead for the Middle East Paul Pillar.

Pfiffner contends that there were four main results of these actions:

1) The alienation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (who had no other ability to support themselves or their families).

2) The complete undermining of the every day social and economic infrastructure of Iraq.

3) The assurance that a lack of security infrastructure, within which Iraqis would have been able to carry on regular life, would become pervasive.

4) The creation (Through 1,2, and 3) of hostile, armed, and militarily-trained insurgents who harbored much resentment toward the US.

On 23 May 2003, Bremer issued CPA Order Number 2 against the advice of both his professional and military planners. This order acted to effectively dissolve the Iraqi security forces. A staggering number of individuals found themselves on the street virtually overnight.

Over 700,000 personnel were disbanded in total including 385,000 in the Iraqi armed forces and over 280,000 in the Interior Ministry (police). CIA Director George Tenet said, “this was a critical policy decision, yet there was no NSC Principals meeting to debate the move.”

Jay Garner stated that the program “was not developed in Iraq by any member of the military. It had to have been brought in by Ambassador Bremer.” 

In a letter to his wife Bremer wrote, “There was a sea of bitching and moaning . . . [but] the president’s guidance is clear: de-Baathification will be carried out even if at a cost to administrative efficiency.”

According to one US officer stationed in Baghdad, “When they disbanded the military, and announced we were occupiers – that was it. Every moderate, every person that had leaned toward us, was furious.”

German political economist Max Weber (1864-1920) fully recognized the importance of the entrenched state bureaucracy. He writes that, “A rationally ordered system of officials [the bureaucracy] continues to function smoothly after the enemy has occupied the area; he merely needs to change the top officials. This body of officials continues to operate because it is to the vital interest of everyone concerned, including above all the enemy.”

III. Temporary “Stability” (US occupation)

With US occupation came a return to at least a semblance of stability. While attacks and bombings still did occur, there was still order and a solid nucleus of force from which to project power. The government was safe, in as far as it would not be immediately destroyed, and nothing, at least in Baghdad, posed a serious threat to the natural order of things.

With respect to the government the Bush administration backed an incompetent Shiite puppet-minority under widely-hated Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into power even further disenfranchising those (now unemployed, most importantly ex-military officer) Sunnis who had more or less held political sway during the times of Saddam Hussein.

US withdrawal meant a removal of this protective screen such that the Iraqi defense forces were finally on their own. This withdrawal, however, was basically dictated by the Iraqis themselves. A failure to renew a status of forces agreement, which would give legal protections to Americans serving in Iraq, meant an effective end to any significant combat operations.

This is not to say that the United States left the Iraqis unprepared. Over $25 billion in military aid to Maliki’s puppet-regime were approved both before and during the American withdrawal to ensure adequate syocks of weapons and supplies. Iraqi soldiers today, however, possess nowhere near the capabilities and lineage of training that they did under Saddam Hussein (their salaries are also significantly lower than under Saddam).

Internal religious divisions have left the “elected” government in a tenuous position. Breakaway groups like ISIS and the Kurds in the north have seen a resurgence since. The, primarily Sunni, rebels seek to restore the old Ottoman Empire (although in newer terms). They term this as the “caliphate” which will consist in the realization of Allah’s great, Islamic kingdom on Earth.

IV. Descent into Chaos

Obama recently made a statement on Iraq. He stressed that “this is not solely or even primarily a military challenge.” He continued stating that, “Unfortunately, Iraq’s leaders have been unable to overcome too often the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there, and that’s created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government as well as their security forces.”

“So this should be a wake-up call,” he said, “Iraq’s leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together. In that effort, they will have the support of the United States and our friends and our allies.”

Today, it seems as if public opinion is hard-set against the war and everything that it stood for. Recent public opinion polls indicate that somewhere in the area of 75% of Americans now say that the war was not worth the costs incurred on the part of the Iraqi people, the United States, and the world at large.

American willingness to participate in the future of the Iraqi state must be weighed with much seriousness. Obviously, the prospect of another long and protracted war still lingers as an awful taste in the mouth of the American public. The scale to which the Obama administration provides aid to the besieged Iraqi government (it inevitably will) is incredibly important as the black hole of foreign intervention is always looming.

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