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The End of Major Combat Operations in Iraq

August 27, 2010

President Barack Obama has scheduled a prime-time address to the nation on Tuesday evening at 8pm that his advisors are advertising as an opportunity to shift the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan.  Some White House advisers are  reportedly eager to claim a success  in ending major combat operations in Iraq (albeit with 50,000 U.S. troops still in country) and move on to the next war.

Few readers of 2C probably see the Iraq war as any kind of success. If you’re in conversations with your neighbors, one good resources is the New York Times story by Anthony Shadid that interviews some of the leaders that the U.S. installed to run Iraq after the invasion.  The story is worth reading in full. If you don’t have time, here are two quotes that I’d highlight

“We should be ashamed of the way we led the country,” said Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a former exile and one of the country’s most prominent politicians. The verdict by Mr. Abdul Mahdi, echoed often by his peers among the exiled opposition that followed American troops into Baghdad in 2003 and has led Iraq since, is a remarkable window on the apprehension that has seized the country today, still without leadership five months after Iraqis voted in an election meant to enshrine a new government.

The second quote is right at the end. This is perhaps the most important quote of the article and yet it has received little notice.

A leading politician related a recent conversation he had with a top Iraqi general. The politician asked about the possibility of a coup. The general, he said, deeming the talk serious, pulled out a map of the capital and provided a disconcertingly elaborate plan to execute one: overturning trucks to block the route from the main American base to the Green Zone, seizing television stations, besieging Parliament, and so on.

“When you’re president,” he quoted the general as asking, in utter seriousness, “can you make me minister of defense?”

Although President Obama said this was a war that should never have been fought, U.S. policy makers will be tempted to frame Iraq as a success. I’m guessing in the next week the media will have another wave of reports on the “success” of the war in Iraq.  Few FCNL readers view the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a success. We will need to try to help others in this country understand that this war of choice was one of the greatest failures of U.S. foreign policy in the history of this country.

Beyond the immediate consequences in Iraq, the consequences of the 2003 invasion in the rest of the world were devastating. My experience is more in Africa and Latin American than in the greater Middle East. I can tell you that in Africa, the U.S. invasion of Iraq caused a reaction that strengthened support for Osama Bin Laden rather than undermined support for that violent, extremist leader. Construction workers in Northern Nigeria were not wearing Osama Bin Laden t-shirts before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, one friend told me. But after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the t-shirts were quite popular.

Rather than celebrating the success of the end of major U.S. combat operations in Iraq, we should use this next week to figure out what lessons our country can learn to avoid such mistakes in the future.

One Comment
  1. Jim Fine permalink
    August 27, 2010 9:49 am

    My colleague, Jim Cason, certainly has it right that Iraq is worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history. We all need to reflect on one fact that has been almost completely expunged from the U.S. consciousness: in the last 20 years U.S. policy toward Iraq has been responsible for the death of over two million Iraqis, and probably closer to three million. That’s on the order of one in ten Iraqis. The death toll is about equally divided between the 12-year period of stringent economic sanctions that the U.S. and its allies imposed on Iraq and the post 2003 war period.

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