Wednesday, September 01, 2010

About "GWB's War in Iraq"

From the New Republic:
Some nice historical perspective, from someone who does not approve of the war at all.

For those Americans still persuaded that everything changed the moment Obama entered the Oval Office, let's provide a little context. The event that historians will enshrine as the Iraq war actually began back in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Iraq's unloved and unlovable neighbor. Through much of the previous decade, the United States had viewed Saddam as an ally of sorts, a secular bulwark against the looming threat of Islamic radicalism then seemingly centered in Tehran. Saddam's war of aggression against Iran, launched in 1980, did not much discomfit Washington, which offered the Iraqi dictator a helping hand when his legions faced apparent defeat. 

Yet when Saddam subsequently turned on Kuwait, he overstepped. President George H.W. Bush drew a line in the sand, likened the Iraqi dictator to Hitler, and dispatched 500,000 American troops to the Persian Gulf. The plan was to give Saddam a good spanking, make sure all concerned knew who was boss, and go home. 

Operation Desert Storm didn't turn out that way. An ostensibly great victory gave way to even greater complications. Although, in evicting the Iraqi army from Kuwait, U.S. and coalition forces did what they had been sent to do, Washington became seized with the notion merely turning back aggression wasn't enough: In Baghdad, Bush's nemesis survived and remained defiant. So what began as a war to liberate Kuwait morphed into an obsession with deposing Saddam himself. In the form of air strikes and missile attacks, feints and demonstrations, CIA plots and crushing sanctions, America's war against Iraq persisted throughout the 1990s, finally reaching a climax with George W. Bush's decision after September 11, 2001, to put Saddam ahead of Osama bin Laden in the line of evildoers requiring elimination. 

The U.S.-led assault on Baghdad in 2003 finally finished the work left undone in 1991—so it appeared at least. Here was decisive victory, sealed by the capture of Saddam Hussein himself in December 2003. "Ladies and gentlemen," announced L. Paul Bremer, the beaming American viceroy to Baghdad, "we got him." 


Which brings us to the present. After seven-plus years, Operation Iraqi Freedom has concluded. Operation New Dawn, its name suggesting a skin cream or dishwashing liquid, now begins. (What ever happened to the practice of using terms like Torch or Overlord or Dragoon to describe military campaigns?) Although something like 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, their mission is not to fight, but simply to advise and assist their Iraqi counterparts. In another year, if all goes well, even this last remnant of an American military presence will disappear. 

So the Americans are bowing out, having achieved few of the ambitious goals articulated in the heady aftermath of Baghdad's fall. The surge, now remembered as an epic feat of arms, functions chiefly as a smokescreen, obscuring a vast panorama of recklessness, miscalculation, and waste that politicians, generals, and sundry warmongers are keen to forget. 

Back in Iraq, meanwhile, nothing has been resolved and nothing settled. Round one of the Iraq war produced a great upheaval that round two served only to exacerbate. As the convoys of U.S. armored vehicles trundle south toward Kuwait and then home, they leave the stage set for round three. 

Call this the War of Iraqi Self-Determination (2010–?). As the United States removes itself from the scene, Iraqis will avail themselves of the opportunity to decide their own fate, a process almost certain to be rife with ethnic, sectarian, and tribal bloodletting. What the outcome will be, no one can say with certainty, but it won't be pretty.


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