Facing America’s Failure in Iraq

The last week, which has seen murderously radical Sunni jihadists take over much of Iraq and even threaten Baghdad, has witnessed the unraveling of the past dozen years of U.S. policy in that country, and with it the collapse of our entire strategy towards the Middle East. There is ample blame to go around. I have no intention here of reopening the debate about the wisdom of invading Iraq in 2003, since that would require a book rather than a blog post, though if it’s not evident to you by now that Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, as executed, was perhaps the greatest disaster in the history of American foreign policy, I’m not sure this blog’s for you. That said, I am tired of the constant efforts to decontextualize the actual history of how we wound up invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein; scoring cheap political points off complex matters of statecraft is too easy and, as I’ve said before, deeply toxic in a democracy. Let this be a reminder that “regime change” in Iraq was the policy of the Clinton administration, with the near-unanimous backing of Congress, going back deep into the 1990s. If America made a complete hash of its 2003-2011 grand expedition to Mesopotamia – and at this point it’s difficult to make any other case – it did so in a fully bipartisan fashion (here I implore readers to recall that Democrats were more enthusiastic about attacking Iraq in 2003, under the dumb/bad Bush, than they were in 1991, under the wise/good Bush) that bears witness to a systemic failure of our Republic to create and implement non-stupid foreign policy.

Moreover, for all the mistakes and obfuscations of George W. Bush’s presidency over Iraq, not to mention the strange machinations of Vice President-cum-Majordomo Dick Cheney, which were surely legion, the fact remains that the White House was poorly served by (most of) our senior military leadership throughout the Iraq War. This is not a politic thing to mention, since adulation of the U.S. military, customarily from a safe distance, is one of the few fully bipartisan efforts left in American political life, and openly criticizing our decision-makers in uniform, even when they make terrible mistakes, is a good way to become an instant pariah in Washington, DC. Plenty of senior officers were amply aware that the Iraq War, as planned, was a fool’s errand doomed to fail, but nearly all of them kept quiet about it. Despite the fact that top officers at the three- and four-star level have very generous pensions and benefits that would in no way be endangered by “speaking truth to power,” exactly one senior military officer dared to seriously protest the impending disaster in Iraq, putting in his retirement papers after his efforts inside the Pentagon to resist Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s madcap war plan got nowhere. It is important to note that General Eric Shinseki, recently in the news over his disastrous management of the Veterans Administration, who became a darling to the Left as the U.S. Army chief of staff for his public criticism over the coming Iraq War, noting (entirely accurately, let it be said) that the war plan was grossly inadequate to the predictable needs of post-Saddam Iraq, did not do anything really significant like resign in protest. Might such an act, the Army’s top general taking off his stars and resigning in protest, have caused the real debate that was so needed before Iraq was invaded? Sadly, we will never know.

There are many competing myths about our Iraq War, but two of them stand out at present. First is the myth that, yes, things went badly in Phase IV (the post-invasion period), including some avoidable stupidities like snap-disbanding the Iraqi military and tearing apart what functioning state edifice the country possessed, but this was eventually saved, almost magically, by the so-called Surge in 2007, led by the sage General David Petraeus, which snapped victory from the jaws of defeat, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. military, laying the foundation for long-term success – until, of course, it was thrown away by President Obama. The prevailing counter-myth, which shares some of the same narrative, has it that Obama engineered a solid outcome in his first administration, and when the last U.S. troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011, their sacrifices were not in vain, as they left behind a country that was a more-or-less functioning democracy and a much more secure, pleasant and coherent place than Saddam’s Iraq was. The disaster that has unfolded in Iraq of late is, in this telling, something that nobody could have foreseen: it’s a freak geopolitical accident, for which the United States, and particularly the Obama administration, has no blame. If you like the first myth, FoxNews is there for you, while if the latter myth holds more appeal,  you’ve got MSNBC. Let it be noted, however, that both these myths share certain misconceptions and are grounded in deep untruths.

In the first place, the collapse of Iraq into sectarian violence in 2003-2004, after the brutally ramshackle Saddam regime fell apart before American armor, was entirely predictable, indeed it was foreseen clearly by quite a few people, as it required not clairvoyance just some understanding of the kind of place Iraq actually is, but this was considered “off-message” by the White House and the Pentagon, which did not want to hear reality-based negativity, and it was therefore easy to ignore. Moreover, the 2007 Surge was a merely tactical success, where U.S. forces were playing a co-starring role in the nasty Sunni-Shia civil war that has constituted the main narrative of post-Saddam Iraq and, more important, it produced no lasting political success, thanks to persistent American tone-deafness about Mesopotamian realities. (If you want a full evisceration of the Surge myth, Gian Gentile is your man.) Since war is ultimately a political act, military operations that do not lead to important political outcomes in the end represent strategic noise.

Nevertheless, the second Iraq myth is just as misguided in its avoidance of reality. Although I am sympathetic to the Obama White House’s desire to get away from a losing war that they had no part in starting, walking away was not a rational strategic option for the United States in January 2009, yet in many ways that is exactly what happened. At this juncture, it is not churlish to note that if Barack Obama did not want to seriously deal with America’s Iraq mess, he really should not have run for president in 2008. It is commonplace to cite the negative effects of Obama’s failure to secure a long-term Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad, to allow limited U.S. military presence in the country after 2011, and there should be no illusions regarding how unkind history will be to this White House about the matter, but the underlying political mess is the bigger issue – which Obama’s team also avoided thinking about seriously. Simply put, it was entirely predictable that, left to his own devices, Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki – a dictatorial sectarian bully who has been a pawn of Iranian intelligence for over three decades –  would marginalize and oppress Iraq’s Sunnis until they engaged in major armed revolt against Baghdad. But this reality was “off-message” to the Obama administration despite – or perhaps because of – its obviousness and was wished away in the face of numerous warnings. Now that Sunnis are in violent uprising against the Maliki government, pushing aside Iraq’s U.S.-trained military like a wet rag, and led by a bunch of jihadist fanatics that proved too violent for al-Qa’ida membership, the failure of Obama’s Iraq policy is plain for the world to see.

As a historian, I always seek analogies for conflicts, since why reinvent the wheel when you don’t need to? America’s 2003-2011 war in Iraq bears startling similarity to Germany’s struggle in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. In April 1941, the Wehrmacht invaded Yugoslavia, a cobbled-together multiethnic dictatorship, and the country’s impressive-on-paper military folded almost without a fight. Yet the rapid victory – the German “thunder run” on Belgrade was just as impressive as America’s on Baghdad in 2003 – merely opened up the real conflict, a nasty ethnic-cum-sectarian war of all-against-all, in which long-standing grievances were acted out in a genocidal fashion. In this, the Germans were mostly spectators, with fighting raging around them that the Wehrmacht barely understood. In response, the German military forged alliances with local partners and satellites, yet this was problematic since these were often unreliable and frequently used German-supplied weapons to rape, murder and pillage rather than fight rebels. Nevertheless, the Germans won pretty much every fight in Yugoslavia, and had the ability to move wherever they wanted, annihilating rebels along the way. Their spring 1944 “surge” was a genuine success. But they never had enough troops in the country to make their victories last, and politically it was hopeless anyway, thanks to magical thinking in Berlin. The fight among the Yugoslavs might have lasted decades, had not the Germans lost the war altogether in the spring of 1945 (it bears noting that, when Yugoslavia collapsed for the second and final time in 1991, the ethnic-sectarian mayhem restarted, like clockwork). This analogy is an obvious one, though not particularly welcome in the Pentagon. I was employing it as early as 2004, to deaf (and usually hostile) ears, since: 1. How dare anyone compare the U.S. military to the nasty Wehrmacht, and 2. The Germans lost the war and, of course, the invincible U.S. military never loses wars. In response, I wrote an article that should have been a bit more politically acceptable, on how to handily defeat an insurgency in a heavily Muslim country, without relying on mass brutality, while securing long-term political success – that, too, was ignored. After the end of the Cold War, when Soviet archives revealed how astonishingly brutal Stalin had been, the eminent historian Robert Conquest is said to have suggested that his 1968 magnum opus The Great Terror – which had been criticized from the Left for allegedly overstating Soviet crimes, when in actuality it may have understated them – be reissued under the title I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.

Debating what went wrong in Iraq, and why, must be done, but the more pressing matter now is addressing the disaster that has predictably unfolded this spring. There is now a general Sunni uprising that may destroy the Iraqi state altogether. While it is likely that the jihadist madmen behind ISIS will soon wear out their welcome among fellow Sunnis with their murder and mayhem, following the customary takfiri pattern, Sunni discontent with Maliki and his system has reached a point that it will not be easy to bring to heel without truly massive force and brutality. How long Iraq can survive under this strain is an open question, though there is no doubt that ISIS, like many Sunnis, view their aim as nothing less than shattering that unwanted state and the whole post-1918 Western-imposed order in the Middle East. Redrawing those borders has long been a favored option among strategists on the verge of despair, but it is wise to note that similar post-1918 Western-imposed borders were shunted aside in the Balkans in the 1990s, amidst war and genocide, and there is every reason to expect that the outcomes will be similar in the Middle East, albeit on a far grander scale of conflict and bloodshed.

It’s clear that America will not put “boots on the ground” in Iraq to save the Maliki government, which is sensible given the severity of the mess; reinserting U.S. troops into this hornet’s nest of sectarian war is not a recipe for lasting success. American airpower may have a role to play, if we are willing to use it. Until this week, I never feared Salafi jihadists setting up their fantasy-caliphate on an actual piece of real estate because they wear our their welcome among fellow Muslims quickly, and just as important they present an easy target for our Air Force. Whatever our shortcomings in “nation-building,” the U.S. military is astonishingly effective at delivering punishing firepower from the air, almost anywhere of our choosing. I had always assumed that no U.S. president would hesitate to use AC-130 gunships on murderous jihadists gathering in the open, but that apparently was a mistaken assumption. Recently, Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey explained that we do not have enough intelligence regarding the situation on the ground in Iraq to use our mighty airpower to defeat ISIS. What he means is we do not possess sufficient information to target jihadists with the remarkable degree of precision that the U.S. military has become accustomed to possessing in Afghanistan today and Iraq before our 2011 withdrawal. Time-sensitive signals intelligence combined with imagery allowed U.S. forces to hit the bad guys with a historically unprecedented degree of accuracy, with little “collateral damage” i.e. dead civilians. But this was an anomaly that does not represent a standard that can achieved without actually occupying the country in question. People die in war, including innocents, no matter how hard we strive to prevent that, as we rightly do, but the pretty lies of technology gurus and defense contractors have deceived many about the nature of war, even in the era of precision weaponry and persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The murderous madmen of ISIS are plausibly the Worst People in the World, and if they do not deserve the punishing blows of U.S. airpower, nobody anywhere does.

The alternative is letting Shia militias, under Iranian command and control, do the dirty work against ISIS, and we should have no illusions about how dirty that will be, against the entire Sunni population, not just the jihadists. Iraq’s incompetent and cowardly army has largely folded, but Shia volunteers, encouraged by the blessing of Ayatollah al-Sistani, their spiritual leader, are marshaling to crush the Sunni uprising. They will use proven local methods, which will kill more innocents than thousands of American airstrikes would. Moreover, outsourcing the defense of the Maliki clique to the Iranians, the prime minister’s true masters, bespeaks truly grand American failure in Iraq. We have cooperated with Iranian spies and terrorists before, in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, and the outcome was far from edifying; Iraq will be no different, just on a bigger and more important battlefield. When you wind up with your least-bad option being partnering with the Pasdaran, Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guards Corps, listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by our own government, you’ve been doing strategy wrong for some time.

Yet after many Mesopotamian mishaps for many years, caused by numerous avoidable errors that are rooted in institutionalized escapism from reality in our foreign and defense policy, working with the Iranians to keep Iraq from melting away altogether, amidst all-out war and possibly genocide, really may be the least-bad outcome today. The ultimate trajectory of the conflict now unfolding can only be guessed at, but two of the core objectives of U.S. policy in Iraq since 2003 – preventing a jihadist sanctuary from emerging and preserving some sort of functional unitary Iraqi state – have signally failed, and avoiding that reality will not change it. There is ample blame to go around in Washington, DC, and throughout our security apparatus and political system. We were at war with Iraq for twenty years, nonstop from 1991 to 2011 – it never really registered with the public, but the U.S. airmen who had to maintain watch over Iraq every day between 1991 and 2003, regularly getting shot at, will be happy to clarify for you that there was no peace with Iraq in the aftermath of Operation DESERT STORM – and there is, now, only strategic failure to show for it. This is something that we must confront honestly, with as little partisan bickering as possible, as unlikely as that is, so we can salvage our Middle East position before it crumbles altogether and reduces our global prestige to nothing. Only fools do not understand that Moscow and Beijing are watching all this very closely. Iraq was America’s biggest, longest and bloodiest war of Ottoman succession. Let us hope it is also the last.

In my next piece I will outline just how America’s post-Cold War delusions about “nation-building” wound up taking center stage in our foreign policy … watch this space.

[As ever, the author’s comments are his own and in no way representative of any of his employers, past or present.]


41 comments on “Facing America’s Failure in Iraq”
  1. Becker Head says:

    “Let this be a reminder that “regime change” in Iraq was the policy of the Clinton administration, with the near-unanimous backing of Congress, going back deep into the 1990’s……” Your insertion of this comment is quite “quizzical.” Using your “logic”, we can also apply it to Cuba, the former Soviet Union (during the cold war), Iran, Syria, most of the African Nations etc. Yet, here we are, an action that was taken exclusively through lies, coercion and deceit (you can describe it any way you want……if you want to quibble about it) but the decision will always be on W’s shoulders and his incompetent administration. Lest we forget that we lost all credibility and standing in the world, but more serious was setting the precedent that ANY COUNTRY, can use whatever excuse they deem necessary to take over extrajudicial territories. Yes…Putin has just exercised its Bush Invasion Doctrine very effectively, and it appears that others, are doing likewise.

    1. 20committee says:

      Cheney clearly appears in your dreams. Get help.

  2. Did the USA not invade Iraq on purpose to destabilize the middle east, so that the Shia-Sunni civil war would cause them to kill eachother, and therefore not focus on terror attacks against the west?

    1. 20committee says:

      Ask Wolfowitz, it was his idea.

  3. Andraz says:

    I would say that presidential policy, called PSD-11, is rather detrimental and naive to the region and Western interests:


    With regards.


  4. V. Uil says:

    Terrific sobering article. Thank you for your effort. Alas there is no easy answer to the impending disaster in the ME which has been going on in one shape or another since Alexander the Great invaded Mesopotamia.

    I should add that I am not American – though I lived in the US for many years. I travel widely for my work – Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe and anecdotally I have never encountered a time when the US’s standing has been lower in the world (over the last 30 years).

    True, under Bush the US was more hated, but it was also feared. Under the current administration it is seen – rightly or wrongly – as laughable, inept, fickle and failing and anyway being invaded by Hispanics. I think this emboldens bad actors around the world.

    One small issue is your comment regarding poor dumb Bush. A true observation, but it does not fill one with confidence to note that Kerry scored lower on the US military IQ tests than Bush.

    1. 20committee says:

      LOL thanks, nice detail there. 🙂

  5. D.M. says:

    Chances of us finding a Nelson Mandela in Iraq are pretty much 0%

    Odds of finding three highly partisan leaders to represent three separate states are much better.

    Is there any chance of subdividing the country between the Sunni, Shia and Kurd factions like Biden proposed back in 2009? It worked for India and Pakistan.

    1. D.M. says:

      UPDATE: Apparently they are looking for someone to replace Maliki right now: http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-iraq-fighting-oil-refinery-20140619-story.html

      1. section9 says:

        I don’t get it. Who in the Administration came up with Bright idea of bailing on Al-Maliki as if he were a campaign aide caught breaking into GOP headquarters in Cleveland or something? Do these people honestly think that the in-country political actors are going to stand aside for a new American stooge?

    2. 20committee says:

      Little late for that, alas ….

  6. Mike Lumish says:

    Blow me: you can’t start off an essay with “I don’t want to rehash…” then turn around and blame it all on Clinton. Nope. Clinton may have supported regime change, but he did not support charging in to blow everything up and hand Iraq over to the Iranians.

    Covering your essay in shit like this does nothing to improve the clarity of your thinking.

    1. 20committee says:

      Blow me? Very classy. Your mother must be so proud.

      1. AIM9 says:

        I found myself searching for the most proper place to drop this. Here looks about as on target as I can find.

        You might recall my first comment appeared on your Benghazi post in which I stated “This is your best yet.” I’m happy I qualified my praise for that earlier previous post.

        Alas, after reading the Benghazi post I left your page feeling a sort of ‘sunny disposition’ having posted. Not so this time. However XXCommittee,

        Move the Benghazi post down a notch.

      2. 20committee says:

        Thans for your feedback!

  7. Iraq was a talking point, a long time hawk project the same way socialized medicine was a long time left project. It was pushed through after 9/11 similarly to how Obamacare was pushed through after the housing bubble. Both were nonsensical reactions to the crisises they were born out of.

    I’m waiting for someone to suggest bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities as an answer to ISIS in Iraq.

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  9. carl says:

    I am glad to see you address the lack of moral character in the senior officer corps. The dereliction of duty McMaster documented is worse than ever and getting worse. It is a grave danger to the nation. We have gotten away with is so far but if things get big, as in Red China or the takfiri killers get a nuke big, we will be in a terrible fix. Sometimes I think we are sort of in the position of Prussia prior to 1806, the trouble is Napoleon was a paragon of mercy and magnanimity compared to the people we face now.

    (It will be interesting to see what McMaster does now that he has achieved important rank, given what he wrote his best known book about.)

    1. 20committee says:

      Watching McMaster here too, interesting.

  10. St John Bridger Philby says:

    Excellent article, and appreciate the digression in to the Wehrmacht experience in Yugoslavia.

    Prime Minister Maliki is a pretty bad actor. How is it we wound up with him as PM? Couldn’t the US viceroy have seen to it that a more compliant leader managed to win?

    That said, he certainly learned some bad habits from us. The Guardian article that describes the counterinsurgency program of James Steele illuminates how this worked: he raised a Shiite death squad under a Shiite general that rounded up Sunnis suspected of ties to the insurgency, tortured them to death all the while demanding names, and then rounded those people up next, on and on. Perhaps this wasn’t the example to set in the presence of subordinates?

    Perhaps Gertrude Bell was right, and a Shia government is in fact ‘the very devil’ she warned of. The Saddam government, as ugly as it was, isn’t as bad as a failed state with 1939-style mass executions, international disorder, jihadis with US and British passports. Why didn’t the administrators see to it a Sunni government was left in place, making it look like it was Iraqis idea? Bremmer doesn’t strike me as one of the kool-aid drinkers.

    In any case, reasoned and informed historical perspective such as you present is the good John Schindler, set opposite the evil John Schindler who indulges in petty nonsense and bewailing leakers.

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks for your views, though there is only one John Schindler, FYI.

  11. MarqueG says:

    Your blog is a consistently rewarding read, John. If only your linked article in Strategic Studies were freely available… (Forty bucks to read an article? The unbridled greed of academic journal publishers never fails to astound.)

    The Yugoslav-German analog you find is interesting, which is to say at the very least, entirely new to me. The continental European perspective on empire building is distinct from the historical analogy of the Anglo-American island-nation empire building experience. I’ve come to see the latter as instructive, as the British Empire managed to impose harmony as well as modernization and representative government on many far-flung parts of the world, with relative durability, depending on whether one looks at India or Zimbabwe.

    Unfortunately (or not?), as Americans we haven’t been willing to take seriously our role as imperial rulers, with our academic elites having reached a consensus that the pre-British Empire epoch was a sort of Garden of Eden, i.e., imperialism/colonialism is worse than bad.

    I bear the lumps with pride that you inflict on me as another unapologetic Remove Saddam acolyte — a position I have consistently held since we failed to eliminate him after Desert Storm. The lumps are all the more bearable because you recall that the Remove Saddam ideology was something of a pre-9/11 bipartisan consensus throughout the 90s.

    Anyhoo… A jumble of thoughts in response to your thought-provocation. Many thanks!

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks very much for your kind feedback. I wish I could make JSS give the article away for free, but not my call, alas …

  12. Brian says:

    Your lack of self-awareness is astounding. In every single manifestation of your musings on Iraq, you have failed to mention that you were *personally* involved in concluding that Iraq did have WMD’s, giving the necessary (and blatantly wrong) ammunition to Bush and Cheney’s folly.

    I have never seen such chutzpah before in my life. You have gallons of blood on your hands, but you think you’re a prophetic saint. You are shameless!

    1. 20committee says:

      I had nothing to do with the Bush admin’s WMD assessment – that is a lie.

      1. Brian says:

        Well, Johnny boy, looks like you’ve been caught in a lie.


        “In the run-up to OIF, 2002-03, I headed an interagency intelligence task
        force which looked at the Iraqi military and we, too, were fooled. All
        evidence seemed to point in the direction of Iraq having WMDs – that’s how
        D&D is supposed to work. And in the Dick Cheney 1% threat doctrine world
        2002-03, that led to only one possible conclusion, even though, with
        hindsight, much of the evidence cited was incomplete at best.”

      2. 20committee says:

        Dear Idiot: Too bad you can’t read. I know what I was doing in 2002-03 better than you know what I was doing. You are reading what is NOT there. I, like most intelligence professionals in ALL countries, assumed Iraq had WMDs, as that was what Saddam’s quite successful denial & deception program wanted everyone to believe. But I had no involvement with the WMD issue and never briefed anybody in the White House (or anywhere else) about it.

  13. Want2no says:

    “though there is no doubt that ISIS, like many Sunnis, view their aim as nothing less than shattering that unwanted state and the whole post-1918 Western-imposed order in the Middle East.”

    It is notable how little attention the media give the fact that what is playing out in Iraq is a Shia/Sunni struggle. Listening to cable or regular TV news, you often think this is a conflict betweeb the people of Iraq against a few thousand well-armed extremists/terrorists. I am no military expert, but I do wonder if the ISIS could have come as far without the support of key Sunni tribes and, just maybe, the help of former officers in Saddam’s army? Maybe the Sunnis think they can uses the extremists as Trojan horse to return to power in at least some parts of Iraq. Maybe they think they will eventually be able to shove ISIS aside once it delivers what they want, whether true or not? Whatever their thinking, it is notable that so many Sunnis seem to have decided to accept the risks of backing ISIS, rather than supporting the status quo.

    It is also interesting, and understandable, how reluctant many commentators and public officials are to admit that events in Syria and Iraq are a re-drawing of borders and nations. It represents uncertainty, conflict and disorder. It tests the post-WWII idea of the sanctity of current borders. Yet we the current borders of Iraq, Syria and other Mideast countries were drawn in Europe with little or no input from locals and little consideration of tribal and ethnic populations. As with your Yugoslavia example, it worked so long as you had a Tito, or, in the case of the Arab world, a Saddam or an Assad (Hafez) to rule with an iron fist. Once that kind of rule ended, things came apart. Should a serious observer have been surprised?

    Maybe it is politically incorrect to say so, but, if we and out allies are going to do anything in Iraq and Syria at this point, might not the best course of action be to make sure none of the sides can win a total victory? Might it not be better to try for an eventual military stalemate and accept that the endgame, when it comes, will be new borders and nations? Might any attempts to hold Iraq and Syria together in their current form only “kick the can down the road” at best?

    1. 20committee says:

      You are correct that most Westerners miss the actual dynamics behind the struggle in Iraq today (and since 2003) – but the MSM and Western government were largely just as blind about what was really going on (and why) in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Nothing new, sadly. Tito and Saddam were quite similar, I have to say. If one had zero need to worry about morality and human decency, allowing mad Salafi jihadists and Iranian-backed Shia thugs to fight each other to the death of all of them would be a desirable outcome indeed.

  14. aquatone says:

    “two of the core objectives of U.S. policy in Iraq since 2003 – preventing a jihadist sanctuary from emerging and preserving some sort of functional unitary Iraqi state – have signally failed”

    and with

    “Moscow and Beijing are watching all this very closely”

    being the case, what should the new US objectives be? It seems to me that Iraq’s borders are a lost cause now (I doubt any of the groups in Iraq believe in a multiethnic state now), so perhaps just stopping unnecessary Sunni-Shiite back-and-forth bloodshed is good enough?

    1. 20committee says:

      We must make sure that ISIS does not have permanent sanctuary and whatever form Iraq takes after this current uprising is not simply an Iranian satellite. I am not optimistic on either count right now.

  15. Phineas Fahrquar says:

    Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
    Sometimes the most necessary lessons are the one we learn from failure.

    1. 20committee says:

      How true that is

  16. KnowlegdeSeeker says:

    Fantastic article.

    It is disturbing to think how much money has been spent and lives lost on another failure in the ME. How can we avoid the “once bitten, twice shy” mentality going forward? Part of the publics perception is that the US is more likely, now than ever, to avoid intervening in any capacity i.e. the avoidance of using air strikes in Syria after chemical weapons were used (granted I agree the last thing we need is troops on the ground in Iraq). It seems as if we are failing in every capacity: Lack of intelligence on the ground, Snowden, Syria, Benghazi, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Russia’s “reset” with the US to name a few.

    Where are we to go from here? How much longer can the public put up with the current and total lack of leadership? Where and when does this story get better?

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks for the kind feedback. Not sure how soon this gets better, but it needs to yesterday.

  17. df says:

    I’m a bit late to this, but the surge did translate into political success in Iraq. Long stalled legislation was passed in 2008 and 2009 and a more inclusive government was created with the leaders of the Anbar awakening which proliferated with the Sons of Iraq program. Gian Gentile doesn’t “eviscerate” the Surge, he has a nuanced dissident viewpoint and frankily in many of his COIN critiques his critiques are pedantic. The fact that he suggests COIN is a dogma indicates an important failure in his part that COIN is an extremely diverse array of efforts and this is reflected in the military’s engagement in other countries that are fighting insurgencies except the military is in an advisory role. The principles of having pro-government forces to sustain control of a population is indisputable, Stathis Kalyvas in his book The Logic of Violence in Civil War thoroughly proves this principles as being superior to any to earning human intelligence through the collaboration of locals. It is also irrefutable that state legitimacy and effectiveness is a longer term issue that needs to be addressed in order to ensure stability. If not for neat justice systems and financially accountable ministries, having the military/police/border police to ensure that the state maintains a monopoly on the use of force throughout its territory is also an aspect of state effectiveness, and one that every state that happens to be experiencing an insurgency lacks.

  18. Marty Busse says:

    Robert Conquest didn’t actually make the comment: Kingsley Amis did, and then attributed it to Conquest: see http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/apr/12/kingsley-amis-and-the-great-terror/.

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