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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Botched war.

Dan Kennedy writes in the Boston Phoenix:

Given the duplicity and high-handedness of Bush, Cheney, and their underlings, it is sometimes hard to remember that there were good reasons for going to war against Saddam Hussein — not unilaterally, not while giving the finger to the rest of the world, but good reasons nonetheless. Saddam was, along with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, perhaps the world’s most brutal dictator, a man who tortured, mutilated, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He had used poison gas on two separate occasions, against Iran and against rebellious Kurds in his own country. If intervening in the former Yugoslavia was right, if failing to intervene in Rwanda was an appalling mistake, then surely the overthrow of Saddam was a worthwhile goal. That’s why moderates and liberals such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Harvard University human-rights expert and author Michael Ignatieff, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and others supported the war, despite their misgivings over Bush’s go-it-alone approach.

Which is why, even more than Dean’s, Blix’s, Clarke’s, and Suskind’s books, a 15,000-word article by James Fallows in the January issue of the Atlantic Monthly, "Blind into Baghdad," is such a horrifying read. Fallows won a National Magazine Award for an earlier article, in which he predicted that war would lead to Iraq’s becoming, in his description, "the 51st state." That would have been far preferable to the mistakes Fallows describes in his more recent article.

For instance, military leaders opposed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s plan to invade with a small force of 75,000 troops not because they thought they would lose — far from it — but, rather, because they specifically wanted 400,000 or more to keep order after the war ended. "The military’s fundamental argument for building up what Rumsfeld considered a wastefully large force is that it would be even more useful after Baghdad fell than during actual combat," Fallows writes. "The first few days or weeks after the fighting, in this view, were crucial in setting long-term expectations. Civilians would see that they could expect a rapid return to order, and would behave accordingly — or they would see the opposite. This was the ‘shock and awe’ that really mattered, in the Army’s view: the ability to make clear who was in charge." The failure to stop the widely predicted looting, along with American administrator Paul Bremer’s decision to disband the Iraqi army — a mistake warned against in advance by experts at the Army War College and elsewhere — only compounded the security crisis.

In Fallows’s view, "The missteps of the first half year in Iraq are as significant as other classic and carefully examined failures in foreign policy, including John Kennedy’s handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in 1965." The consequences of those missteps have only become more apparent since Fallows’s article was published.

Kennedy adds at the end of his review:

Built on a foundation of lies and wishful thinking, carried out with arrogance and incompetence, the war in Iraq looms as our biggest foreign-policy disaster since the Vietnam War. George W. Bush may not be Richard Nixon; as John Dean suggests, he may be worse.

("Debacle in Iraq," Dan Kennedy, Boston Phoenix 4.22.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 21 April 2004 at 5:22 PM

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