Twenty years and one week ago, American forces invaded Iraq. By the time then-President Barack Obama withdrew our troops in October 2011, they had suffered about 4,000 deaths, including combat and noncombat casualties, plus about 32,000 wounded.
Our British allies, and others who had troops on the ground such as Poland, suffered many combat deaths as well. Iraqi deaths numbered at least 150,000.
The only real measure of success or failure of any war is the result it creates. Because the Iraq War produced no result that benefited our national security, it was a resounding failure.
Those of us in the media who supported the Iraq War — myself among them — bear some responsibility for it. I have few regrets in life and that is certainly the biggest.
There are some Republicans and some in the media who argue that the war in Ukraine is a mistake of equal or greater proportions. They are as wrong as they can possibly be. It is exactly as former Vice President Mike Pence told a Fox News interviewer a few days ago. He said, “Ukraine is not our war but freedom is our fight and it is imperative that we provide the Ukrainian military with what they need.” More about that in a moment.
In 2003, the 9/11 attacks were still fresh in our minds. We had gone to war in Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban government refused to surrender Osama bin Laden after then-President George W. Bush gave them the choice between surrendering him and war. They refused, we attacked, and the Taliban regime fell quickly. We then launched a pointless, and fruitless, 20-year nation-building effort.
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, we were told, was a significant danger to U.S. national security. Bush made that point over and over, citing Saddam’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction” including chemical, biological, and even — possibly — nuclear weapons.
We knew that Saddam had chemical weapons and had used them. In 1988, he attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing thousands of men, women, and children.
Among the Bush administration, there were people such George Tenet, then CIA director, who convinced the president that the war was justified. Tenet told the president on Dec. 21, 20o2, that the case against Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.” Tenet tried to explain it away in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, but he must have known when he said it that it would have an enormous effect on Bush and his Cabinet. It clearly did.
On Feb. 5, 2003, then–Secretary of State Colin Powell — no neocon by any stretch of the imagination — spoke to the UN Security Council, presenting the case against Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction. Powell was forceful and credible.
The key question neither I nor the many other supporters of the war didn’t ask was: “How can Saddam deliver his weapons of mass destruction threat against the United States?” He had nothing in the way of air, naval, or missile forces that would have enabled him to do so. We had to assume, and did, that he could deliver his WMD against us by terrorist agents.
Then-Sen. Joe Biden was a vocal supporter of the Iraq War. When his 2020 campaign began, he’d changed his mind. In a July 2020 primary debate, he said, “From the moment ‘shock and awe’ started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress and the administration.”
Then came the March invasion, and the war was to continue for over eight years. No weapons of mass destruction were found. When I visited Iraq in December 2005, Gen. George Casey, U.S. commander in Iraq, wined and dined our group in Baghdad to convince us that things were getting better in Iraq. A few months later, the massive bombing of a Shiite Al-Askari mosque blew the lid off the war and it went downhill quickly because we weren’t fighting the ideological half of the war.
President Bush never understood — as then–British Prime Minister Tony Blair did and, later, as did Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace — that the center of gravity of the war against Islamic terrorism was the enemy’s ideology. Bush resisted fighting the ideological war, Obama preemptively surrendered it, and Trump never understood the need. Trump’s first national security adviser, Gen. Mike Flynn, understood but was booted out before he could teach Trump what needed to be taught.
After Obama withdrew our troops from Iraq in 2011, they had to go back in 2014. Combat operations supposedly ended in 2021, but there are still about 2,500 U.S. troops scattered around Iraq to help fight against ISIS. In truth, the only useful thing they can do is gather intelligence.
America went to war in 2003 against Iraq based on faulty intelligence that characterized Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a direct threat to our national security. In 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine. It was in 2022, and remains, a war of conquest.
There was no Ukrainian threat against Russia. Putin’s forces have done precisely what John Kerry falsely accused U.S. forces of doing in Vietnam: they have razed cities and towns in the manner of Genghis Khan, wantonly and intentionally killing innocent civilians as a matter of policy.
Putin’s war against Ukraine is precisely as Mike Pence said. Ukraine is not our war but freedom is our fight. It is also our fight because every casualty, every loss of materiel, aircraft, and tanks the Russians suffer reduces the Russian threat against NATO. The more Russia loses in Ukraine, the greater the benefit to our national security and that of our NATO allies.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis characterized Putin’s war against Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said that getting involved was not a “vital national interest.” He was half-right, but that’s not good enough. Russia’s war on Ukraine is a war of conquest against a democracy that, for all its faults, was innocent of threatening Russia. We have no vital national security interest in Ukraine, as this column has often stated, but that means we won’t directly intervene with boots on the ground, not that we won’t help Ukraine.
DeSantis is a foreign policy neophyte, but he will not be excused for such enormous errors.
Former President Donald Trump is as wrong as DeSantis. Trump has said we shouldn’t be sending as much as we are to help Ukraine. He withheld some of the aid we were sending in 2019.
There is much to criticize in Biden’s efforts to help Ukraine. He is draining our stockpile of weapons and not replacing them as quickly as we need them to be. We will run out of essential weapons and munitions in about a week if China invades Taiwan. Biden is also apparently content with the stalemate that the war has become.
Our NATO allies (with the exceptions of the U.K. and Poland) haven’t given us much help in supplying Ukraine with the weapons it needs to fend off the Russian assault. They won’t be of much help in rebuilding Ukraine if Ukraine ever succeeds in driving the Russians back over its borders.
Biden is reportedly against any settlement of the Ukraine war, at least at this time. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky can’t afford to make any peace agreement while U.S. support against Putin’s war is key to Ukrainian survival. The Russian war against Ukraine may not even end with Putin’s death because his possible successors — such as Wagner Group creator and commander Yevgeny Prigozhin — are as bent on the conquest of Ukraine as he is. The Wagner Group reportedly has 50,000 troops in Ukraine.
Ukraine is not Iraq. No American troops are involved in the fighting. Ukrainian forces are decimating the Russians’, which is a benefit to our national security. There is a chance, albeit a small one, that Ukraine can outlast Russia in the fight. It’s a chance they deserve, and it will benefit us if they succeed.
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