published Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Lessons from the war in Iraq

The painful irony of another needless American war, the war in Iraq that began 10 years ago today with the televised opening of the "shock and awe" aerial assault of Baghdad, is surely remembered most vividly this week by the tiny fraction of Americans -- barely 1 percent -- who experienced the war firsthand as a member of the military or a close relative of one.

They are the ones who mourn most the 35,000 U.S. casualties and 4,500 lost American lives. They are the ones who grieve over the crippling wounds of traumatic injuries rendered by insurgents' ubiquitous and undetected roadside bombs. Many still struggle with the fracturing of families from multiple tours of duty, and the efforts to recover emotional or financial stability.

Beyond the close fraternity of American veterans, the war's milestone is just another day for most Americans. Few would say they still think consciously of the war's toll in Iraq, where millions were displaced, hundreds of thousands died, and political stability and national recovery are yet to be found.

This disconnect on the decade milestone of the Iraq war may be understandable, but it begs reflection. Measures of the toll of the war, which ended with the U.S. departure from Iraq in December 2011, remain immense and onerous burdens.

The U.S. war in Iraq has ultimately turned the land of a brutal regional tyrant into a Shia Muslim ally of Iran, never mind the war between these two neighboring states in the 1980s that killed 800,000 and prompted the U.S. and other western allies to provide Saddam Hussein chemical weapons that he later used in a massacre of his own people in the Kurdish region.

In addition to the human cost of the Iraq war, it cost the United States more than $1.5 trillion in debt that has not yet been paid. Then there's the accumulating interest on that debt, the unpaid pipeline costs of replacing or refurbishing military equipment lost in the war or given to Iraq, and the ongoing costs of medical care for America's latest generation of wounded warriors.

The war also fomented the sectarian division between Iraq's Sunni and Shia Muslims. That vicious splintering, in turn, now has infected and destabilized surrounding Arab states from Syria to Saudi Arabia, from Bahrain to Yemen. It also has swollen local iterations of insurgents and al-Qaida, and caused unmitigated unrest.

The Obama administration's response has been the same sort of drone attacks in the Middle East that have provoked such a backlash in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These attacks have further undermined America's image and political credibility in the Middle East.

Yet for all this harm, most analysts now correctly see America's war in Iraq as a "war of choice." And, worse, as a mistaken choice based on fraudulently concocted intelligence that was crammed down the nation's throat by President George W. Bush's neo-cons in pursuit of mistaken energy and political policies.

The neo-cons wanted the war in Iraq to end with the United States gaining a new gasoline station to replace Saudi Arabia, then in the process of ousting America's military outposts. They mistakenly believed they could install a puppet government in Iraq headed by the exiled Iraqi National Congress. Indeed, it was the INC's titular head, Ahmad Chalabi, who helped provide the manufactured intelligence by its agent, "Curveball," that claimed Saddam was hiding nuclear weapons.

It was decidedly apparent well before President Bush launched the war, however, that Iraq had no nuclear weapons, no connection to the 9/11 attacks, and no links to al-Qaida. Yet the Bush administration nurtured rumors to the contrary, and it ignored the clear findings of three successive U.N. weapons inspectors that Iraq had no nuclear weapons and wasn't as close to getting them as Iran is today.

Saddam Hussein obviously still retained some rusty chemical weapons stocks from those given him by the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany to aid his long war against Iran. And he surely wanted his untrustworthy neighbors in the Middle East to fear his regime. But the factual evidence was long clear before Bush launched his war that there was no reason for it. The tactical mistakes made later by U.S. commanders -- strict ouster of Baathist party members and the resulting sectarian insurgency -- just added more damage to a needless war.

The costly lessons merit remembrance as much as do the lives and families of America's military and Iraqis' burdens. When Congress' hawks talk loosely of another war, say against Iran, the debacle in Iraq should serve as a cautionary check on reckless bravado and the unanticipated consequences of war.

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nucanuck said...

The Iraq war, like the Viet Nam war, cost us our soul.

March 20, 2013 at 12:18 a.m.
jjmez said...

And the people who called for them, nucanuck, were already souless to begin with. The rest were just dragged into their soulessness by deceit and lies.

March 20, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

As one of the one percent mentioned above, I find the tone and the factual mistakes of this article HIGHLY offensive. I was there in Baghdad in 2003. I worked with the Iraqi Studies Group as an Active Duty serviceman. And nothing in the above reflects my feelings or observations. Disgusting.

March 20, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.
nucanuck said...


Please share your feelings and obsevations about the Iraq war and the US role. You had a window into Iraq through your study group that should give you insights unavailable to most.

Rather than being offended and disgusted, enlighten us.

March 21, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.
joneses said...


I appreciate your service and promise I, unlike the liberals, never turned my back on you or any of the brave soldiers in America. There are some of us in America that support the American soldier and do not demonize you. Thanks for your service.

March 21, 2013 at 8:12 a.m.

Hindsight provides such clarity. The memory loss of the Monday morning quarterbacks is astounding.

Also, I’ve never really thought of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, or Madeline Albright as what you describe as “neo-cons,” but they certainly fit your description ca. 1991-2006. That is, at least until the GOP’s warnings about invading Iraq in the 90’s proved to be accurate (ca. 2005-6). Republicans knuckled under the pressure of Democrats to make the arguments he made and do what he did. They had been making the same arguments over the course of the previous decade. And, for the Kurds and others, it was far from a complete disaster.

March 21, 2013 at 11:27 a.m.
nucanuck said...


It's fair to say that both parties have, and have had, a militaristic foreign policy bent for decades. The term neo-con came into vogue with the Bush hard-liners and seemed to represent an even more militaristic solution to foreign policy. The Cheney led hard core neo-cons seem to be the most extreme in memory, but that is not to excuse Obama or the Clintons from militarism to excess.

The Iraq war and much of US drone policy were/are illegal by almost any international standard. Only US military might allow us to go unpunished and our utter arrogance will catch up with us.

We are a violent society and seem to be growing more so.

March 21, 2013 at 12:23 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

This article seems spot on to me. Spook claims to be disgusted by the "tone and factual mistakes" of the editor and then he just turns tail and runs. Come on, Spook...point out some of those factual mistakes and enlighten us as to why they are mistakes or lies or misrepresentations or whatever it is that you claim them to be and that disgusts you so much.

March 21, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

No, that's all right, thanks. I am tired of trying to convince people of the mistakes in their religious-level beliefs. And I DON'T care for people who accuse me of "turning tail".

The editor claimed to speak for our military veterans; he may speak for some, but he does not speak for me.

March 21, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.
Easy123 said...


No one is asking you to convince anyone. Why can't you simply back up your claims with facts? Is it that hard to do?

March 21, 2013 at 1:10 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

Against this crowd? Yes. I am a veteran. I served proudly. I have been attacked and accused of "turning tail". I would gladly sit down to lunch with the editor and explain my feelings on the subject; my facts are available anywhere, just as yours are. I happen to feel that my facts have more weight than yours; you are going to believe, no matter what I say, that yours have more than mine. But there is nothing I can say that will "prove" what I say is true, just as there is nothing you can say that will prove what you say is truth. Now you can continue attacking my opinions, it is a free country. You are welcome.

March 21, 2013 at 1:27 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

This article has nothing to do with anyone's presence in Iraq, whether as a soldier or serving in any other capacity. The editor did not slander or demean or in any way attempt to speak for any military person in the least; he has only mentioned facts about the war and the run-up to the war that are common knowledge. Spook, if you are so ultra-sensitive that you have found something to feel offended about in an article as prosaic as this, then you have a problem. I accused you of turning tail, yes, and that's because that's what it's called when you TURN TAIL, making accusations without backing them up. If you think it's a waste of time trying to prove your point to people you think aren't going to believe you anyway, then why do you even bother to make any comments at all here?

March 21, 2013 at 2 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

Good question.

March 21, 2013 at 2:10 p.m.
nucanuck said...


Turn-tail seems to fit. If you have the courage of your convictions and won't express your convictions, then just maybe your convictions aren't well founded.

March 21, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

Right. When were you in Iraq again? I won't be an internet ranger, making claims that can't be backed up - which is why I would offer to meet the editor - or someone - to show that I really exist, and explain my experiences in Iraq.

There was intelligence that seemed to be from multiple sources that we now know was a single source - Chalabi - but please enlighten me as to the last war we went into with perfect intelligence on the enemy's strengths, weaknesses, plans, and intentions before the war. There were lies, such as the French promises, and the Turks'. But the accusations above... ah, why bother. Hate all you want.

March 21, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
Easy123 said...


The intelligence (WMD, nuclear capabilities, etc.) was the whole reason we went to war in Iraq and that intelligence was completely wrong. How do you reconcile that?

March 21, 2013 at 5:08 p.m.
nucanuck said...


The inescapable conclusion of reasonable minds has to be that Cheney/Bush were searching for reasons to engage Iraq and pushing their case on the country. No study group in Iraq would have open access to the formative stages before the war. You seem to imply that your position gave you special access. If so, put it on the table. Most of those that you call haters are actually pretty reasonable people, but only change their opinions when presented with a strong arguement.

I believe that true patriotism includes calling your own country to task when it is called for. Blind obedience is or should be culpable.

Were you among the gullible or are you privy to something few on the planet know about?

March 21, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

Interesting choice you give me there: gullible or privy to - and willing to give away - secrets. Of course there is no chance that two honest people can look at the same information and come to different conclusions.

March 21, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
Easy123 said...


You haven't presented any information. How can anyone come to a conclusion about information that you haven't presented? I'm starting to get the feeling that you don't have any information to present.

March 21, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
nucanuck said...


No one expects you to divulge classified information, but neither does it seem credible that your study group in Iraq in 2003 would have insight or facts about the pre-war motivations of the POTUS or VPOTUS. That isn't the way things work. It looks like you want others to believe that since you were in Iraq, you know facts that, in fact, you don't know.

Any game changing information would already be in the public domain if it could retrieve any of Bush's credibility. It's not and you are looking very suspect for implying secret knowledge.

March 21, 2013 at 8:11 p.m.
jjmez said...
  • spooky said... but please enlighten me as to the last war we went into with perfect intelligence on the enemy's strengths*

This wasn't a case of just mistaken bad intelligence, but purposeful deceit. Bus is said to have come into office with the intent of settle a personal score with Saddam, when another likely false intelligence report from an allied country, came out saying Saddam had tried to have Bush Sr. assassinated. Bush was on a personal quest to seek revenge for something that likely never occured. Remember when Bush stood at that podium and said something to the effect, "He tried to kill my daddee, y'all!"

btw-Bush forced the intelligence reports to say what he wanted. Een as the people initially gathering the intelligence kept trying to tell him there was no proof that Saddam was a threat of any kind or had WMD. He got rid of those individual and brought on teamplayers.

March 21, 2013 at 9:44 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

The information is available - I am not implying, someone else was implying that I was referring to classified information. All the information is available, I read the same things you do. I come to a completely different interpretation of the facts. I do NOT see lies. At least not from President Bush. No "purposeful deceit".

Period. You will disagree with me. Fine.

March 21, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.
Easy123 said...


Then you, sir, are deluded. You will disagree with me. Fine.

March 21, 2013 at 11:24 p.m.
SpookUSNret said...

:D Oh, okay. I will say, then, that you are simply mistaken.

March 21, 2013 at 11:40 p.m.
nucanuck said...


I know of no information other than tepid weak denials from Bush supporters defending the reasons for the Iraq war. You have to want to believe to be able to believe all the discredited claims that have been thrown out there.

Patriots should be truth-seekers.

March 22, 2013 at 12:54 a.m.
Lr103 said...

Patriots should be truth-seekers.

Spooks should take the above, frame it, and carry it with him wherever he goes.

March 22, 2013 at 10 a.m.
SpookUSNret said...

And I shouldn't have to put up with insults and insinuations for what I have deduced from the facts available. Thank you very much - I spent twenty years in the Navy being a truth seeker. And I found out quite a bit, including how to analyze the noise in the system.

March 22, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.
nucanuck said...

If you won't or can't defend your deductions and their basis, then yes, you should expect to put up with challenges to those deductions.

Twenty years in the Navy conveys no special deductive capacity and may even act as a constricting environment.

So far you have given us an opinion based on nothing. If you want that opinion to be respected, you will have to earn it.

March 22, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.
SpookUSNret said...

Ah. There's the difference. I wasn't seeing my opinions disrespected, I was seeing disrespect directed at me. Good day.

March 22, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Not true. On this site your thoughts and opinions are what matter, not your work experience. So far you have called out the editorialist for being offensive, disgusting, and playing loose with the facts. You have told us that you were in the Navy for twenty years and in Iraq in 2003, with the implication that that gave you special insights. (I was in military intelligence for eight years...who cares?) While you may have had a distinguished career, you have still utterly failed to support your initial position/attack.

If you want respect, you will have to earn it. What you think is not enough on this site, you need to be able to defend why you think what you think to earn the respect you seek.

March 22, 2013 at 12:52 p.m.
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