The War Was Lost Long Ago: Iran Won

Josh Marshall writes:

With Harry Reid's controversial 'war is lost' quote and with various other pols weighing in on whether we can 'win' or whether it's 'lost', it's a good time to consider what the hell we're actually talking about. . . . The supporters of the war had two basic premises about what it would accomplish: a) the US would eliminate Iraq's threatening weapons of mass destruction, b) the Iraqi people would choose a pro-US government and the Iraqi people and government would ally themselves with the US.

Rationale 'A' quickly fell apart when we learned there were no weapons of mass destruction to eliminate. That left us with premise or rationale 'B'. But though many or most Iraqis were glad we'd overthrown Saddam, evidence rapidly mounted that most Iraqis weren't interested in the kind of US-aligned government the war's supporters had in mind. . . . This is the key point: right near the beginning of this nightmare it was clear the sole remaining premise for the war was false: that is, the idea that the Iraqis would freely choose a government that would align itself with the US and its goals in the region.

. . . It's a huge distortion to say that this means the war was 'lost'. . . . Of course, the damage that's been done over the last four years of denial is immense . . . The reality though is that the disaster has already happened. Admitting that isn't a mistake or something to be feared. It's the first step to repairing the damage. . . .

This is exactly right but understates the case. I'll explain on the other side.

Iran won the war. I wonder if people understand that what the United States is fighting for in Iraq is to prop up a Shia-dominated pro-Iran, theocratic state. That we are failing at achieiving a result counter to our own national interests would be ironic if so many good people were not dying as a result of this idiotic policy.

A little over a year ago, the NYTimes wrote:

At the rate that President Bush is going, Iran will be a global superpower before too long. For all of the axis-of-evil rhetoric that has come out of the White House, the reality is that the Bush administration has done more to empower Iran than its most ambitious ayatollah could have dared to imagine. Tehran will be able to look back at the Bush years as a golden era full of boosts from America, its unlikely ally.

. . . Washington has now become dangerously dependent on the good will and constructive behavior of Shiite fundamentalist parties that Iran sheltered, aided and armed during the years that Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq. In recent weeks, neither good will nor constructive behavior has been particularly evident, and if Iran chooses to stir up further trouble to deflect diplomatic pressures on its nuclear program, it could easily do so.

There is now a real risk that Iraq, instead of being turned into an outpost of secular democracy challenging the fanatical rulers of the Islamic republic to its east, could become an Iranian-aligned fundamentalist theocracy, challenging the secular Arab regimes to its west.

Again this understated the case. I wrote in response:

It is no longer a real risk, but a virtual certainty. Is this unexpected? Is it a surprise? Were there no warnings regarding this "risk?" Well, no. The warnings were clear, timely and from people whose opinions should have commanded respect. In the September 26, 2002 Senate Armed Service Committee hearings on Iraq, the following testimony was delivered:
GEN. CLARK: [The] [p]roblem with that argument is that Iran really has had closer linkages with the terrorists in the past and still does, apparently, today, than Iraq does. So that leads you to then ask, well, what will be the impact on Iran? And that's uncertain. But it does -- if you could take these weapons out quickly, then it would cut off that potential source of supply.

SEN. CLELAND: And if you took out Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party, the secularist party, don't the Sunnis and the Shi'ite Muslims make up a majority of the population in Iraq, and wouldn't that give Iran a strong hand there, and we ultimately end up creating a Muslim state, even under democratic institutions?

GEN. CLARK: Yes, sir. I think that there is a substantial risk in the aftermath of the operation that we could end up with a problem which is more intractable than we have today.

One thing we're pretty clear on is that Saddam has a very effective police state apparatus. He doesn't allow challenges to his authority inside that state. When we go in there with a transitional government and a military occupation of some indefinite duration, it's also very likely that if there is an effective al Qaeda left -- and there certainly will be an effective organization of extremists -- they will pour into that country because they must compete for the Iraqi people; the Wahabees with the Sunnis, the Shi'as from Iran working with the Shi'a population. So it's not beyond consideration that we would have a radicalized state, even under a U.S. occupation in the aftermath.

It is ridiculous for anyone to discuss "surrender" dates. Surrender to who? The United States has already granted Iran the future of Iraq. Bush surrendered Iraq to Iran long ago. You want to know when? I'll tell you:

The "anti-war Left" has always understood the problem of Iraq was sectarian in nature. For example, in January 2005, this "anti-war Leftist" wrote:
Is the Iraq Election a success? The early reporting is that there is good turnout among the Shia and Kurds. Does this qualify as success? . . . This Election is simply, in my estimation, an exercise in pretty pictures. Why? Because Elections are to choose governments, not to celebrate the day. Are the people elected capable of governing Iraq at this time? Without 150,000 U.S. soldiers? Or even with them? I have been accused of gloating by people right HERE because of my focus on the continuing violence. But my focus has been on the realities of governing a land in chaos, in the midst of civil war, with 150,000 U.S. soldiers the only force with the ability to provide security. And this is 2 years after the invasion.

"People's war"? No, sectarian. Civil war. The "anti-war Left" knew about this problem from the beginning. Did the "Best and the Brightest?"

The second problem - "if Americans and Iraqis make the wrong choices" - if, Mr. Biddle?

Biddle writes:

Rapid democratization, meanwhile, could be positively harmful in Iraq. In a Maoist people's war, empowering the population via the ballot box undermines the insurgents' case that the regime is illegitimate and facilitates nonviolent resolution of the inequalities that fuel the conflict. In a communal civil war, however, rapid democratization can further polarize already antagonistic sectarian groups. In an immature polity with little history of compromise, demonizing traditional enemies is an easy -- and dangerous -- way to mobilize support from frightened voters. And as the political scientists Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder have shown, although mature democracies rarely go to war with other democracies, emerging democracies are unusually bellicose. Political reform is critical to resolving communal wars, but only if it comes at the right time, after some sort of stable communal compromise has begun to take root.

No kidding, Mr. Biddle. But um, you do know the horse is out of the barn already don't you? That Bremer "turned over" authority to Allawi in the summer of 2004? That elections were held in January 2005? That an Iraqi Constitution was rammed through the "Iraq assembly" in the Fall of 2005? That elections were just held "ratifying" that Constitution?

About the Iraq constitution, I wrote:

The BEST result would have been a Sunni rejection of the Constitution that would have taken Iraq back to the drawing board. That result would have demonstrated to the Sunni that they indeed DO have a stake in the political process and some power to exert in that process.

THIS result demonstrates the exact opposite. Indeed, I expect that that the passage of the Constitution will make the "basic security problem in Iraq" worse -- what can Sunnis who argue for participation in the political process and abandonment of the insurgency have to offer in the way of evidence that Sunnis will have any power in that political process? Nothing. On the other hand, had the Sunni been able to reject the Constitution, they would have had a powerful argument for political participation and abandonment of the insurgency.

The result of the constitutional vote was the worst possible outcome - overwhelming Sunni rejection of the Constitution to no political effect. The divide can only worsen now.

Mr. Biddle, to write what you write in March 2006, is rather absurd. Your point would have been worthy in 2004 and 2005. But in 2006? Puhleeaze.

The Best and the Brightest? General Clark said:

BLITZER: General Clark, it would seem that whoever's responsible for this attack, this series of attacks today in Baghdad, trying to make a political statement coming on the heels -- coming on the eve, if you will, of tomorrow's expected signing of this interim constitution, trying to scare people. Is that your sense?

CLARK: Yes. And continuing to show that, despite the presence of the Americans, there is a resistance.

There is a resistance. I think our troops are doing a great job there battling it. But this is still a society that's very much at risk. There's a risk of real civil war in Iraq. And that's what we're playing with. And we knew that, or should have known that, when we went in to occupy the country.
What can explain that our "Best and Brightest," in government, academia, Media, etc., did NOT know it? I am just a poor country lawyer, and me and the other 80,000 "anti-War Left" Kossacks knew it. Why didn't they?

Yes the result of this war has been plain as day for years now. Some are afraid to face it, apparently for the sake of George Bush's feelings. History will not be kind to the "Best and the Brightest" of this generation.

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    THIS POST (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Edger on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 12:36:16 PM EST
    is one of the best posts I've ever seen you write, Big Tent.


    Strauss (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by squeaky on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 01:26:43 PM EST
    Yes the result of this war has been plain as day for years now.

    I think that the only reasonable assessment at this point is that they were aware that this 'war' would go on and on and on.

    Remember the idea (which was just retired) of calling this the Long War.

    It is hard not to take into account the idol of neocon philosophy Leo Strauss who said that war is the desired state. Leeden has said the same. He claims that war is not only the desired state to maintain power but it is the natural state of man.

    Combined with the idea that a small elite controlling the government should lie to the public, it makes sense that the Bush team expected what was and is plain as day. Perpetual war, maintained by fearmongering which in turn maintains the status quo.

    Giulaini has taken the baton.

    The war itself was won--we defeated the (none / 0) (#1)
    by Geekesque on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 09:45:24 AM EST
    Iraqi military.

    What has transpired since then is a failed peacekeeping mission.

    Nope (none / 0) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 09:50:13 AM EST
    War Aims are how wars are won.

    Not by winning militasry victories, but by achieving war aims.

    The was was LOST. To Iran.


    Winning the war but losing the peace. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Geekesque on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:19:21 AM EST
    Well, there's no peace there but you get my drift.

    Wars are won and lost by fighting.  What's going on now is a peacekeeping mission that has no chance of success.

    I also think that telling the American people that we won the war but are now stuck in a failed peacekeeping mission (see Somalia) will move public opinion towards a sense of urgency.


    I still disagree (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:27:24 AM EST
    Wars have aims. The aims of the Iraq Debacle were never acheivable. EVer.

    The war was lost when it was launched.


    Absotootly... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by desertswine on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 11:58:30 AM EST
    The aims of the Iraq Debacle were never acheivable. EVer.

    I've read a good portion of what's been written (none / 0) (#9)
    by andgarden on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:32:27 AM EST
    on the subject, and I'm still not sure what the original goals were.

    What was said (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:37:15 AM EST
    Stop Iraq from delivering WMDs and developing nukes.

    Overthrow Saddam.

    Establish a pro-West democracy.


    Not sure I ever believed that. n/t (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by andgarden on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:40:10 AM EST
    Oh (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:42:25 AM EST
    whether it is true or not is an entirely different issue.

    I always thought (none / 0) (#25)
    by Sanity Clause on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 12:13:34 AM EST
    that the attack on Iraq was intended to provoke the actual use of WMDs, not prevent it.  Remember, W promised us that he would not only find WMDs of all sorts (including the chemical and biological weapons that Rumsfeld and his cronies had earlier provided to Saddam), but he would intercept them so swiftly that they could not be used against our troops ("Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!  Oops, he's been gassed!")  

    Such a blatant violation of the rules of civilized war would have been the beginning of the implementation of the Howard Stern Foreign Policy Initiative, as announced mere minutes after the second plane hit the WTC - "Let's nuke 'em  all and let God sort them out!"  Now W's stuck with a bloody civil war that hasn't even resulted in an excuse to obliterate Lebanon and the Palestinians.    

    On the other hand, by "failing" to secure Iraqi oil production for US consumption, he has ensured windfall profits for American and British oil companies.  Maybe chaos was the goal!


    No maybe about it. (none / 0) (#27)
    by Edger on Wed May 02, 2007 at 08:06:49 AM EST
    It can cut either way--since the war's aims (none / 0) (#14)
    by Geekesque on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 11:03:22 AM EST
    were always a moving target and ephemeral in nature, I'd say we're best off characterizing the war's aims as those that help get us out of there the fastest.

    We kicked Saddam's ass, now let's go.


    How about economic analysis? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Lora on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 09:52:01 AM EST
    BTD, I really like your political analysis here.  But can you take another look at this:

    Yes the result of this war has been plain as day for years now. Some are afraid to face it, apparently for the sake of George Bush's feelings.

    I think the economic piece is critical to understanding why we are still at war.

    Explain why you think so (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:02:51 AM EST
    I really do not.

    Here's why I think so: (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Lora on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 07:41:23 PM EST
    From the National Priorities Project:

    Total cost of the Iraq war:

    The War in Iraq Costs

    and rapidly rising.

    Where has all the money gone?  Into whose pockets?  Do you think they'd be thrilled if Congress set a date certain beyond which the war will not be funded?


    She might be alluding (none / 0) (#8)
    by andgarden on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:31:09 AM EST
    Then why are we still there? (none / 0) (#22)
    by Lora on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 03:09:32 PM EST
    Why, then, besides saving Georgie's feelings?

    I read it months ago for a class (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:26:33 AM EST
    but Ahmed Hashim makes an interesting claim in his book Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq. He says that Bush Administration planning for the post war period--such as it may have ectually existed at all--assumed that all Sunnis were ba'athists, and intended to allow a shi'ite control over the government. Just how they came to this conclusion, or just how they thought Iran would be likely to respond, boggles my mind.

    There's the oil, too (none / 0) (#11)
    by Al on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 10:39:04 AM EST
    Iraq's "government" passed passed legislation handing over the country's oil reserves to foreign companies. Personally, I think that is a principal war aim, and it too is probably lost since that legislation most likely exists only on paper.

    Brutishness (none / 0) (#16)
    by jondee on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 12:33:32 PM EST
    mercenary short-term "self interest" and historical inertia won.

    Welcome to the machine.

    Saudi/BushCo Relations (none / 0) (#19)
    by LimaBN on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 01:45:35 PM EST
    Given that W has completely bollixed this war against Shiite Iran's proxies, the (Sunni)Saudi royal family must be both furious and scared.

    Kissenger would be proud... (none / 0) (#20)
    by diogenes on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 02:23:38 PM EST
    The way to win in Iraq was obviously to buttress the one man who could contain the ethnic chaos and be a bulwark against our enemy Iraq, Saddam Hussein.  Never mind that he was a Stalinist dictator.  Hey, we worked with Stalin against Hitler anyway.

    Are you kidding me? (none / 0) (#23)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 06:38:10 PM EST
    So you say we should overthrow all dictators?

    Why didn't we start with the Stalinist in Cuba?

    This is the most ridiculous comment I have ever seen.

    Do you realize what has happened in Iraq? Arer you live in BushWorld?



    But, but... (none / 0) (#21)
    by desertswine on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 02:25:19 PM EST
    "In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

    So declared President George Bush on May 1, 2003, in a nationally televised address from the majestic splendour of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished".

    general odom agrees. (none / 0) (#26)
    by conchita on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 11:22:53 PM EST
    from the transcript of his democratic radio address this morning.

    first, about iran:

    "The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place. The war could never have served American interests.

    "But it has served Iran's interest by revenging Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iran's influence within Iraq. It has also served al Qaeda's interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.

    and about withdrawal and diplomacy with iraq's neighbors:

    "A wise commander in this situation normally revises his objectives and changes his strategy, not just marginally, but radically. Nothing less today will limit the death and destruction that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

    "No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq. Only that step will break the paralysis that now confronts us. Withdrawal is the pre-condition for winning support from countries in Europe that have stood aside and other major powers including India, China, Japan, Russia.

    "It will also shock and change attitudes in Iran, Syria, and other countries on Iraq's borders, making them far more likely to take seriously new U.S. approaches, not just to Iraq, but to restoring regional stability and heading off the spreading chaos that our war has caused.

    i also read tonight that on may 3rd top u.s. and iraqi leaders will meet with iran and syria plus international powers in sharm el-sheikh.  avaaz has a plan to launch a major advertising and text-message campaign inside Iraq this week to bring iraqi voices to this decisive meeting and is calling on people throughout the world to support the iraqi people by signing their petition:

    Petition to US, Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian leaders meeting on May 3rd and 4th:

    NEGOTIATE. Iraq will be stabilized by a negotiated political process, not military force. All Iraqi factions and neighbors must be included.

    EMPOWER THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. Neither the US, nor the Iraqi government can lead this process. Only more impartial and legitimate international actors like the United Nations, EU and OIC can mediate the new talks.

    WITHDRAW RESPONSIBLY. The US should respect the wishes of 78% of Iraqis and permanently and completely withdraw its military presence from Iraq under an agreed timetable supported by the Iraqi people.

    There is no military solution for Iraq. The only solution is a diplomatic solution.