So now that we’re out, what did we accomplish?
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THE U.S. INVASION and the defeat of Saddam’s forces were a foregone conclusion, but what came afterward was not. In January 2003, President Bush was presented with two plans for post-invasion Iraq. One, authored by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, was endorsed by the entire military community. It planned for a provisional Iraqi government to be stood up and the withdrawal of U.S. forces in a matter of months. The alternative—authored by Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet—provided for an extended occupation and another nation-building exercise.
The Rumsfeld-Myers plan would have deprived the nations that sponsor terrorism—Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the rest—of the opportunity to engage us in a long war. But just as he did in Afghanistan, Bush chose nation-building.
Between the Afghanistan invasion and the Iraq invasion, America’s strategy and tactics had taught our very observant enemies much. By the fall of 2002, it was evident to all but French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin that an American invasion of Iraq was inevitable. From what we know now, it is apparent that in that pre-war season in 2002, the enemy made a strategic decision: to try to engage America in a long and costly insurgency in Iraq, to bleed us to death while we tried to do in Iraq what we were trying to do in Afghanistan.
In military terms, the enemy chose to make this a “meeting engagement,” one on which the course of the war could be decided.
In 2002, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi entered Iraq possibly to obtain medical treatment for a wound received in Afghanistan. His “treatment” rapidly evolved into the establishment of an active al Qaeda cell in preparation for whatever America might undertake against Saddam. He was not the only terrorist to migrate to Iraq before the American invasion.
As I wrote in The American Spectator online on April 1, 2003, Saddam welcomed them in, mistaking the fact that they were flocking to Iraq as allegiance to him. They had no such allegiance. They came to Iraq to make Bush’s goal of a unified and democratic Iraq impossible to achieve. They came, in an unsteady stream, not only from the terror-sponsoring nations but also from as far away as Ethiopia and Europe. After the invasion began, the unsteady stream became a flood. In late March 2003, about 900 members of the Ansar al-Islam group, part of bin Laden’s terrorist network, were intercepted on their way into Iraq from Iran. Our forces killed about 200 and the rest fled back into Iran. By the time Saddam’s regime was toppled, the insurgency was ready.
ALSO READY AND EAGER to help was the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A descendant of Shia ayatollahs, al-Sadr was, in 2003, wanted on the charge of murdering Grand Ayatollah al-Khoi, a rival to his growing power. When U.S. troops got close to his stronghold in Najaf, the new U.S. prefect in Iraq—L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer—decided not to arrest al-Sadr. Sadr’s militia was, and remains, Iran’s instrument in Iraq, and a principal threat to Iraq’s future.
After the invasion, Iran, Syria, and other terror sponsors made good on their plan to tie us down and make impossible Bush’s goal of a democratic Iraq. Jerry Bremer made it easier for them by disbanding Saddam’s army. When the Iraqi government decided to rehire most of them, the most elementary failure—the failure to pay when promised—drove many into the ranks of the insurgents.
In December 2005, while visiting Baghdad, I was briefed by a three-star Army general about the newly invented “explosively-formed penetrator,” a sophisticated land mine that compressed and propelled an extremely dense metal “bullet” to penetrate U.S. Humvees and armored vehicles, killing many of our troops. The “EFP” was made exclusively in Iran. The general told me that we knew several of the places where the EFP’s were being made. When I asked him why we weren’t going into Iran to destroy those mini-factories, he said that our forces weren’t permitted to do so.
On that same trip, visiting Marines in Camp Fallujah a day or two later, I asked the Marine commanding officer about the reports of jihadis coming into Iraq from Syria, mainly through the city of al-Qaim near the Syrian border. Eight months before my visit, insurgents had driven Iraqi forces out of al-Qaim. The Marine told me he had no “cross-border” problems there. The reason was that, by the time I arrived, Marine aircraft were patrolling the border hunting for jihadis. As long as the Marines were there, the insurgents weren’t.
The insurgent violence peaked after the Sunni bombing of one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites, the Samarra mosque, in February 2006. In 2007, General Petraeus began quelling that round of violence with his troop surge.
By then, al Qaeda had alienated many of the key Sunni chiefs in the “Sunni Triangle,” and those same chiefs were willing allies as long as Petraeus left troops in their villages at night to provide security. In a July 2007 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Petraeus talked about how U.S. troops had established a forward operating camp in one part of the Sunni Triangle: “This area was a very important sanctuary for al Qaeda for a number of years [since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion]. They would plan and organize car bombs and bring foreign fighters and launch them into Baghdad,” Petraeus said. “We tried to disrupt [their operations]…but never took this away from them. That is what we’re trying to do now—deny them this area.” The same was true in the rest of Iraq. Where we were, violence decreased dramatically. Where we weren’t, the insurgents had free rein.
Since establishing a government, the Iraqis have held more than one election in the relative security we provided. In 2005, the national election was boycotted by the Sunnis. Five years later, in March 2010, they held an election that may be the predicate to their nation’s future.
The parliamentary election resulted in a split: the party of the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al -Maliki, lost by a narrow margin (89–91 seats) to former prime minister Ayad Alawi. Election day violence took at least 38 lives.
Maliki remained in office by creating a coalition with Moqtada al-Sadr’s party. Though Maliki may have desired some continued U.S. presence, al-Sadr was determined to block it. Obama didn’t want us to withdraw before the 2012 election, because he wanted Iraq and Afghanistan to be off the front pages while he campaigned. His representatives practically begged the Iraqis to let us stay, but the Maliki-Sadr coalition imposed conditions that even Obama couldn’t accept.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?