Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sweets, Flowers, and Death

Today, 20 bodies have been found in Baghdad and BBC News 24 is reporting that around 50 people have been kidnapped by gunmen disguised as policemen.

Remember Duck! Cheney's optimism?
I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators... The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States...
This epitomises the miscalculations which were made before the invasion of Iraq. If you read through the pronouncements of the "coalition of the willing" in the lead up to war, there is no mention of the possibility of facing a long term insurgency after the invasion and no mention of possible sectarian tensions. The coalition did not even appear to have a contingency plan for the scenario they actually found when they arrived in Iraq. This when any two-bit student of asymetric conflict since WWII could have told you that these problems were going to be a certainty after the invasion. Bush and Blair committed to war while not understanding the likely consequences of that commitment. This is one of the (many) key criticisms of the war and it has never been addressed.

The US ambassador to Iraq has given a surprisingly honest assessment of the situation to the LA Times. (Worth reading fully)
BAGHDAD — The top U.S. envoy to Iraq said Monday that the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime had opened a "Pandora's box" of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions that could engulf the region in all-out war if America pulled out of the country too soon.
In any case, Khalilzad said the U.S. has little choice but to maintain a strong presence in Iraq — or risk a regional conflict in which Arabs side with Sunnis and Iranians back Shiites, in what could be a more encompassing version of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, which left more than 1 million dead.

The ambassador warned of a calamitous disruption in the production and transport of energy supplies in the Persian Gulf. He described a worst-case scenario in which religious extremists could take over sections of Iraq and begin to expand outward.
Khalilzad also warned that another attack like the one at Samarra could trigger full blown civil war. These risks, obvious to some before the invasion started, are now hard to ignore.

Iraq, today, is highly volatile. Khalilzad's description of the situation is the very definition of quagmire. The US, he says, can't leave now. If they do, the entire region could become embroiled in conflict. At the same time, we know that much of the violence is a direct result of their presence. Exactly the position so many people warned about before the invasion then.

If our leaders had decided to go to war after giving full consideration of the likely and potential consequences and risks which that action entailed, that decision could at least be respected to some degree. But they didn't. They took the decision based on a gross misunderstanding of the size of the risks involved. These people who didn't see the problems coming are now the same ones who are now trying to solve them. Who is seriously arguing that this is a sensible state of affairs? How can we have confidence in leaders who make decisions based on such a gross misunderstanding of the consequences of their actions? The simple answer is, we can't.

Some people might look at this as some sort of self-righteous diatribe. To them I ask that you put yourself in my position. I've studied the first Gulf war and I've studied low intensity conflict and I've got a degree in International Relation. I wasn't an outstanding student but I scraped an MA with Honours (2:1). I've certainly met any number of people who know a lot more about this sort of stuff than I do. And I can think of not one of those people who would not have predicted what happened after the invasion. They would certainly all have warned that there was a need for long term counter-insurgency planning. My government chose to ignore those warnings. Not from me, but from people who really are experts. And now, because of that incompetance, Iraq is a mess. Forgive me if I believe that it not acceptable to wait for the judgement of God.

I accept that a moral argument for humanitarian intervention in Iraq can be made (I'd argue that the normalisation of unilateral action might be the most damaging aspect of this in the long term and that this raises serious questions about morality but that's a seperate issue.) An argument to excuse horrendous incompetance however, cannot honestly be sustained.

It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq.
Retired Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, now an ABC News consultant, expresses all of the above in one sentence.

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