2004 September 03 Friday
Aftermath Of Iraq Invasion Makes US Look Impotent

Writing for the Jerusalem Post Barry Rubin examines the active support by Syria and Iran for the insurgency in Iraq, America's inability to halt that support, and the harm to US interests that surely flows from the Iraq invasion.

First, it is overextended in Iraq, spending vast amounts of money and using pretty much all the available military forces.

Second, support for its presence in Iraq is already falling rapidly. There would be no domestic backing or international support for engaging in a wider war.

Third, after having been so criticized for going into Iraq in the first place, the administration would not have much credibility in charging that Iran and Syria are engaged in aggressive activities.


Arguably, any gain in the "fear factor" brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam is being eroded. Those who argue, in the words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini two decades ago, that the US cannot do a "damn thing" are having that feeling reinforced today.

The Iraq war's outcome has undermined the credibility of US power no matter how long American forces remain in Iraq. Indeed, one could argue that the longer they remain, the worse the problem will become.

I expect some readers to take issue with Rubin's contentions. But if the Iranians and Syrians feel intimidated by the power of the US military then why are both regimes allowing active recruiting of fighters and passage of fighters through their territories into Iraq? Why are the Mullahs in Iran still busy working to develop nuclear weapons? Where is the sign that the Iranian and Syrian governments have been intimidated into changing their policies in directions more in US interests? Where is the gain?

Having America look weak provides an incentive for angry Muslims to join the ranks of active terrorists or to donate to terrorist organizations. At the same time US involvement in Iraq is also turning Muslim public opinion against America. It is hard to see where there is a net benefit for the United States in US Middle Eastern policy.

Steve Sailer has an excerpt of a James Fallows article interviewing national security professionals about the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq.

But the biggest question about the United States—whether its response to 9/11 has made it safer or more vulnerable—can begin to be answered. Over the past two years I have been talking with a group of people at the working level of America's anti-terrorism efforts. Most are in the military, the intelligence agencies, and the diplomatic service; some are in think tanks and nongovernmental agencies. I have come to trust them, because most of them have no partisan ax to grind with the Administration (in the nature of things, soldiers and spies are mainly Republicans), and because they have so far been proved right. In the year before combat started in Iraq, they warned that occupying the country would be far harder than conquering it. As the occupation began, they pointed out the existence of plans and warnings the Administration seemed determined to ignore.

As a political matter, whether the United States is now safer or more vulnerable is of course ferociously controversial. That the war was necessary—and beneficial—is the Bush Administration's central claim. That it was not is the central claim of its critics. But among national-security professionals there is surprisingly little controversy. Except for those in government and in the opinion industries whose job it is to defend the Administration's record, they tend to see America's response to 9/11 as a catastrophe. I have sat through arguments among soldiers and scholars about whether the invasion of Iraq should be considered the worst strategic error in American history—or only the worst since Vietnam. Some of these people argue that the United States had no choice but to fight, given a pre-war consensus among its intelligence agencies that Iraq actually had WMD supplies. Many say that things in Iraq will eventually look much better than they do now. But about the conduct and effect of the war in Iraq one view prevails: it has increased the threats America faces, and has reduced the military, financial, and diplomatic tools with which we can respond.

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at one of America's military-sponsored think tanks told me recently, after we had talked for twenty minutes about details of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. "If I can be blunt, the Administration is full of s---. In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys. But I think they are incompetent, and I have had a very close perspective on what is happening. Certainly in the long run we have harmed ourselves. We are playing to the enemy's political advantage. Whatever tactical victories we may gain along the way, this will prove to be a strategic blunder."...

Yet in spite of all this Bush is probably going to get reelected. My guess is that most Americans are not paying enough attention to draw a distinction between the war against terrorists and the war in Iraq (though there are small signs of improvement in public understanding). Certanly the rhetoric from speakers at the Republican convention suggests that the Bush reelection strategists believe they can blur that distinction to their advantage. My guess is that they are correct.

There is one upside to Bush's reelection: Bush will have to deal with the consequences of his own decisions. However, that upside of Bush's reelection hardly makes 4 more years of Dubya worth it in my estimation.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 September 03 02:34 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

John S Bolton said at September 8, 2004 1:32 AM:

At the end of the initial victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was being said that the U.S. military looked like it could roll over any ordinary resistance. It could also have been noted, at that time, though, that we were not trying to disarm the entire populations of these countries. If we now attempt to do that in Iraq, a huge and violent resistance will likely follow. To provide a disarmed populace to native rulers, and lose large numbers of our soldiers in that process, which may not even be feasible, would be a total exercise in prestige-saving, traitorous waste.

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