Monday, January 12, 2009

Epic Fail #1: Mission FUBARed

Part 1 of my Four Fails series.

Why did we invaded Iraq? No matter what the publicly declared reasons, are we did not invade for any of the following reasons no matter how many wingnuts try to convince you otherwise:
  • Retaliation for 9/11. Iraq had no connection with al Qaeda. Fifteen of the nineteen highjackers were Saudi Arabian.
  • Preventing Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. He didn't have any and he had no way of getting some. The evidence was tissue thin and mostly fabricated from disinformation and wishful thinking.
  • Spreading democracy to the Middle East. If we wanted to spread our ideals, we sure picked an odd place to start. Let's work on the countries where a woman can't drive a car, let alone vote, first.
The REAL reasons for why we let Osama bin Laden retire gracefully while we shifted focus to a guy we had beaten once and had boxed in will will be the Rorschach test question for a generation and may never be fully known. There are as many theories as there are people. Here are my leading candidates.

Daddy Issues. The psychoanalysis of Dubya is a cottage industry. He is the angry underachieving son of a political scion. His older brother was the heir apparent golden boy being groomed for the White House. His much rumored discussed abuse problems involve at least alcohol and he has allegedly done enough blow to powder an Apsen ski slope. His checkered business history is a long string of failures where he is eventually bailed out by his dad's cronies. As personification of the Peter Principle writ large, he was chosen as the front man for a consortium of extraction industry execs eager to reverse decades of regulation. If all he had done was oversee the dismantling of environmental regulation, the damage could be reversed, but the 9/11 attacks spiked his popularity as the symbol of American resolve. His supporters, public and otherwise, saw this an opportunity to engage in a long-sought agenda that hitherto would have been unobtainable.

Unfinished Business. Bush the Elder was frequently critcized for pulling up short in the first Gulf War. Here the Daddy Issues theory forks and either branch or both works. One sub-theory is that invading Iraq is Dubya's way of proving to himself and the world that he could do what his dad couldn't, take out the baddest guy on the planet. In this Oedipal competition, George W. would prove that he was a better leader than George H. W. could ever be. Another less Freudian expalanation is that Dubya was out to avenge the alleged assassination plot against his father. In this theory, he uses the combined military might of the United States to avenge some family feud. Either way, the tragedy is Shakespearean in proportion.

All About The Oil. Dick Cheney as the former head of Halliburton made millions selling equipment to the people that pump up dead dinosaurs. It must have struck in his craw to see all the billions funneling through the astoundingly corrupt even by UN standards food-for-oil program. A quick little war that left the Iraqi oil fields in the hands of Americans would be the greatest gift of all to two oil patch veterans.

Doing Israel's Dirty Work. Dubya's dry drunk religious conversion left him open to the Pat Robertson style evangelism that makes Israel the cornerstone of end-days millennialism. This makes him an easy mark for the neo-cons that saw Iraq as the first domino in a chain elimination of sworn enemies of the Israel state. Their plans predated the 9/11 attacks and the anti-terrorist fervor made for great cover.

Geopolitical Gamesmanship. While it's true that bin Laden and his fundamentalist fellow travelers are Saudi, striking at Iraq follows a certain twisted logic. The Bush family friends in the House of Saud have been buying off the most radical elements for decades. A fundamentalist uprising is a matter of when not if. With the Saudi oilfields in the hands of radicals and the Iran in control of the ayatollahs, Iraq is the only remaining large enough source of reserves to cushion the oil shock that would result. From a geopolitical point of view, a friendly, pro-West buffer between the Iranian Shias and the Saudi Sunnis would bring stability and provide a base of operation in case military action was needed to secure oil fields anywhere else in the Middle East. Shame it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Disregarding the ethics of invading sovereign countries on the flimsiest of pretexts, the success of this gambit was predicated on the war being done quickly and cheaply. And that is where the wheels fell of the bus. Determining where and how our Iraqi adventure went south fills an entire row at BigBoxOfBooks and grows every day. However, a few key turning points can be identified.

I Can Invade That Country With 100,000 Troops. Despite Rumsfeld's most optimistic fantasy, Moore's Law does not apply to military campaigns. It still takes a certain amount of boots on the ground to occupy territory. We used over 300,000 troops for our cloud of dust sprint to the Iraq-Kuwaiti border. The ease with which Powell dispatched the cannon fodder troops of Saddam in Gulf War One led to a certain over-confidence that belied the truism that it isn't how quick you can take something, it's how long you can hold onto it.

Where Was That Parade of Roses? By placing their faith in a handful of disgraced expatriate con-men, the Bush Administration, against all common sense and historical precedent, decided that the Iraqi people would love to be invaded and ruled by a conquering superpower. When it turned out to be not so, a mass of rationalizations and excuses kept everybody's head in the sand about the real situation until the tar baby was wrapped in a full bear hug.

Freedom is Messy. But not nearly as messy as lawless anarchy as an entire nation loots everything not nailed down and most things that were. When all the five finger discounts were taken, then all the scores that predate David Hume and Adam Smith and the rest of the Enlightenment by a few centuries started getting settled. With fewer troops than it takes to handle Black Friday Walmart crowds, we had little choice but watch as the bloodbath begin.

Send The Guys With Guns Home Without Pay. While it took dozens of neocons and chicken-hawks to really fuck up this fiasco, special honors has to go to Paul Bremer who decided that it made a lot of sense to have anybody trained to hold a weapon off the payroll and aimlessly wandering the streets.

The War Was Supposed To Be Self-Financing. Again, the lessons of Gulf War One were sadly misapplied. It's a little known secret that the U.S. turned a tidy profit from the finder's fee the Kuwaitis paid to get their country back. The costs of the Iraqi occupation were supposed to be more than covered by the cut of the oil revenue we would skim off the top. Our regime change was going to work like an international leveraged buy-out. We would push out the existing management, install our own pet board of directors, vote the shareholders a big dividend and milk our new acquisition dry. But like buying collectibles off e-Bay, sometimes the goods that show up in the mail box aren't in quite as good a condition as the screenshot showed. Our presumptiveness in assuming that just opening the tap would get the money flowing coupled with the failure to ask the Iraqis what they wanted to do with their oil left us holding both the bag and bill.

By every measure possible, Iraq is worse off today than it was under the far-less-than-benevolent dictatorship of Saddam Hussein when we were actively trying to destroy Iraq's economy. Now we can ravage their economy beyond our wildest expectations just by being there.

After four thousand servicemen dead, ten thousand more wounded, literally countless Iraqis collaterally killed, five years of quagmire, and a cost well into the thirteen digits, we have defined success down so far that we would be elated with any outcome that is less than two orders of magnitude worse than the most cynical Cassandra's pre-war prophecy. If we ever declare victory and withdraw, we will have set a new standard for the adjective Pyrrhic that had stood unchallenged for two millennia.

The sad part is that although this legacy would be more than enough to burnish one's presidential reputation as an all-time disaster, Dubya and his team outdid themselves to make sure that our fall from grace involved more than lives and fortune, which I will get to in my next post.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: So exactly why did we invade Iraq?


Mooselet said...

First let me say this is well written and thought out - you put a lot of effort into this. Kudos.

Why did the US invade Iraq? I don't think we'll ever know the real reasons. All of yours sound plausible with the exception of "doing Israel's dirty work". Israel seems quite capable and willing to do their own deeds without us. I subscribe to the "all about the oil (therefore money)" theory with Dubya's Daddy Issues being the tool with which to get Dubya to agree. Because a tool certainly describes Bush Junior.

Anonymous said...

I'm also impressed with the amount of work you put into collating this. Personally, I think many of these ideas are mutually reinforcing. I think that a smallish cadre of guys who had been bouncing around think tanks throughout the Clinton administration -- Wolfowitz chief among them -- really and honestly believed that Iraq -- a relatively secular Muslim state -- could be the scene of their capitalist/democratic utopian experiment; that they were aided and abetted by Dick Cheney, who maybe halfway bought their ideas but thought that either way the oil would be awesome, and Rumsfeld, who wanted to test out all his keen new ideas for the military; that they dovetailed nicely with both Israeli hawks who saw Saddam as Enemy #1 and Christian kooks who see Israel as stage 1 of the rapture; and they all nicely got together behind a president with a huge chip on his shoulder about that particular country.

I don't think they could have pulled it off if not for 9/11, though, but thanks to Americans' general ignorance of geography, people wanted to see Arabs and/or Muslims of some sort invaded and/or bombed and weren't picky about where that might happen; conveniently, Saddam had already been adequately established as an America-hating bad guy. It's telling that Rumsfeld apparently wanted to do Iraq even before Afghanistan.

yellojkt said...

Thanks, mooselet. I've only had a bout six years to think this through.

Exactly, josh. It was a perfect storm of people with different agendas all conspiring with each other.

Anonymous said...

On the plus side, we got a lot of humorous mileage out of thrown shoes.

yellojkt said...

I watched some of his press conference online and wanted to throw some shoes myself.