Iraq’s Collapse: Mission Accomplished
These have become the dominant neocon talking points in trying to both rationalize another round of American military intervention in Iraq and to explain away their own complicity in the current crisis in Mesopotamia. What is so profoundly offensive about these Chickenhawks trotting out both their shopworn rationalizations for ever-more war and their transparent attempts to elude responsibility for what seems to be the impending collapse of Iraq is the fact that the collapse of Iraq is exactly what they wanted.
Nevertheless, “we left too soon” is a talking point with legs, and in what is surely a high point in the Annals of Lack of Self-Awareness, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the fathers of the current crisis, is co-hosting with convicted felon Lewis “Scooter” Libby a five-day seminar on what is laughably described as an Iraq War “study in decision-making” where we’ll surely hear a lot more about how we “left too soon.”
L. Paul Bremer III, America’s former proconsul in Iraq, is another neocon who rates highly in obliviousness. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Bremer strikes an Heroic Neocon Pose, courageously blaming President Obama for a “feckless” policy that Bremer himself gave birth to. As the Washington Post‘s Rajiv Chandresekaran showed in Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority was a dumping ground for former Heritage Foundation interns, Bush “Rangers,” and neocon halfwits who viewed a 90-day tour in Baghdad’s Green Zone — where they could mimic Bremer and sport combat boots and latest in deployment-chic — as “their bit” in the war effort.
When the manifest failings of the CPA became plain for everyone to see — Bremer even had the hubris to screw up the designing of a new flag for Iraq, one quickly abandoned when Iraqis complained it resembled that of the State of Israel — Bremer hurriedly shoved his in-box into the lap of the Iraqis and blew town.
Bremer’s legacy, however, lived on for those of us still on the ground. His disbanding of the entire Iraqi security structure, based on a complete misreading of the history of post-war Germany, created the foundations of Sunni resentment that today feed the ISIS flame.
But Bremer’s actions were not unique: they were part and parcel of a Strategy of No-Strategy. Ever since George W. Bush had his “Top Gun” moment and landed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, he has been lambasted for what is said to be his tone-deaf “Mission Accomplished” speech.
That criticism is unfair. When Bush gave that speech, the mission was accomplished.
At no point did the Bush Administration define rebuilding or even managing transitional Iraq as its mission. The mission was toppling Saddam. What happened next was largely irrelevant — indeed, as Donald Rumsfeld said, it was beside the point: “We’re not interested in nation-building. This is not what we do. This is not what we’re going to do.”
The Bush Administration wanted to get in and out of Iraq the way they thought they’d got in and out of Afghanistan. As U.S. Army Major Matthew A. Hover wrote for the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2012, the differences between former American military occupations and that in Iraq could not be more stark.
Though the Bush team routinely cited history to rationalize its policies, no one in the Bush Administration actually knew history or had any desire to learn from it. In World War II, as Hover notes, there were four years of occupation planning before the U.S. Army reached Germany; 6,000 military officers were specifically trained to govern occupied areas; there was a clearly defined chain of command and a clearly defined set of policies for governing occupied areas. Indeed, the War Department produced “handbooks” for the occupations of Germany, Italy, and Japan that numbered dozens of volumes, covering everything from public transportation to hospitals to schools to local elections.
The Bush Administration did none of that for Iraq. Indeed, they could not do any of that and still maintain the political fiction that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam would be easy.
This explains why the White House trotted out the hapless Andrew Natsios, a loyal Republican state legislator from Massachusetts, Army Reserve officer, and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to tell ABC’s Ted Koppel with an admirably straight face that the cost of reconstruction in Iraq would be $1.7 billion. It was really a miracle of political theater — it was the “.7” that gave it credibility, as if the Bush team had rolled up its sleeves and pulled on its green eyeshades and dragged out the 10-key calculators and really set about the task of figuring the thing out.
They hadn’t. In fact, what they’d figured out what that they didn’t want to figure it out. They didn’t want to occupy Iraq, they didn’t want to rebuild Iraq, they didn’t want to — as Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted they would — own Iraq. The Pentagon took ownership of post-war Iraq to ensure that the country would not be rebuilt; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in one of those press conferences that so charmed the Beltway media, growled, “If you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.”
But now the neocons want to take a Mulligan and try again.
Bush’s mission in Iraq was indeed accomplished. The problem is not that Iraq is “ungovernable.” There are lots of multi-ethnic, multi-confessional countries in the international system. The problem is not that “those people” have “always been fighting.” The problem is governance, the half-baked, half-finished, half-funded, half-wit system of governance we created while the Bush Administration fled Baghdad in the middle of the night, leaving America’s fighting men and women to cope with the fallout.
Bush, Cheney, Perle, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz. While Iraq collapses, they’ll sip bottle of water in television Green Rooms, trying not to disturb their makeup before going live to proclaim what “we” need to do to forestall Iraq’s collapse.
What they won’t tell viewers is that Iraq didn’t have to collapse. They wanted it to. They built that.