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The problem is not that we invaded Iraq. The problem is that we are currently losing the fight for stability in Iraq.

Just for the record, one more time, here are the reasons that going into Iraq made sense at the time:

1. Saddam was bad. He deserved ouster, capture, trial and execution. Twenty-five million Iraqis deserved an opportunity to take control of their lives free of Saddam's oppressive regime.

2. Saddam was at war with the United States and a threat to regional security. For more than a decade, we flew combat missions over Iraq and drew anti-aircraft fire everyday. Our forces were stationed in Saudi Arabia to neutralize the threat Saddam posed to the region. Our presence in Saudi (part of our essential commitment to preserving the peace) irritated the international Muslim community. In fact, Osama bin Laden cited our presence in Saudi Arabia as the casus belli for war against America in general and 9-11 specifically.

3. Saddam was contained--but only as a result of the costly military commitments cited above. In addition, Saddam was contained as a result of a United Nations sanctions regime. Before the war, several human rights organizations charged that the heartless US-driven sanctions policy had killed upwards of 500,000 Iraqis through malnutrition and lack of adequate medical attention. Later, we learned of massive corruption on the part of the UN in administering the sanctions against Saddam's Iraq. Moreover, by 2002, the flagging resolve of the French and other European powers threatened the entire sanctions program. Containment was a leaky policy taking on more water every day.

4. Saddam unbound meant a return to the status quo ante bellum in which he had threatened his neighbors and worked assiduously to manufacture and deploy weapons of mass destruction.

5. All of that seemed no longer tenable in a post-9-11 world. Why? Saddam was connected to 9-11 in that the insecurity he created in the region contributed to the greater instability and discontent, which facilitated terrorism. If Saddam could be deposed, many of us believed that a new Iraq would emerge, which would begin a process that might lead to an era of reform in the Middle East, which might ultimately make Islamic terrorists as rare and irrelevant as Ku Klux Klan terrorists.

All that to say, Iraq was a war of choice--but it was not a frivolous choice. Granted, now we face potential crises in the region of our own making that dwarf the old inconveniences. However, while it is tempting to view the past through the knowledge of the present, we must remember that the Iraq policy emerged from a long list of terrible choices. Doing nothing was an extremely unattractive option in the post-9-11 world.

The Bottom Line: all of that is unalterable history. Now What?
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
We are about to enter one of the most crucial periods in our national history. What happens in Iraq is vital to our future. There is a cacophony of voices on where we went wrong, who is at fault and what to do now. We should not panic. We must be careful not to succumb to our collective depression. There are answers to be found. Troubled times call for steady hands and an understanding of and a recommitment to who we are as a nation.

Although I offer no solutions in this post, here is a word or two in re perspectives, which go along way in determining how one views the predicament. In essence, there are three main camps regarding the present crisis in Iraq:

1. Those who were against the war from the beginning. They see Iraq as doomed from the outset and an egregious and unnecessary mistake. They blame the President, the neo-cons, the media, and all the other echelons of less-adamant citizens who were inclined to trust American institutions and support the war. They tend to want out at any cost, honestly believing that the price of withdrawal (no matter how high) is less onerous than a continued military commitment.

2. Those who favored the war initially, but who, at some point, soured on the action as a result of the failed reconstruction. They see Iraq as a defensible war of choice, disastrously prosecuted by an inept Bush administration. They are bitter and humiliated, and they blame the President and his men for making them look like fools. They also blame the MSM for reporting the war in a way that limited American options and facilitated the popular disgust that exacerbates the current dilemma. Most of them are hoping that James Baker and the return of the realists will somehow blaze a path to "peace with honor;" that is, cutting our losses and surviving to fight another day.

3. Those who continue to support the war and our original objectives. They believe that staying the course will eventually bring peace to Iraq and the greater Middle East. They have not given up and believe that the policy will work, if given enough time. Generally, they are loyalists by nature: loyal to party; loyal to country; loyal to their President. Mainly, they tend to lash out at the media and blame the "disloyal" Democratic opposition for most of our ills, although they are quietly frustrated with the administration as well. However, even these optimistic stalwarts are composing the rationale for failure in Iraq.

An important point: None of these groups are particularly objective; their perspectives are altered by, respectively, inordinate skepticism, excessive vanity and uncritical fidelity.

An important related point: how you view the war today, in large part, depends on how you felt about the war in the spring of 2003.

Disclosure: I am mostly a hybrid between groups two and three. I am a frustrated loyalist; I wax between complete despair and cautious optimism.

Truism: Success has many authors; Failure is a bastard.

Another Truism: Things are never as bad as they seem.

21/11: Going Big

From yesterday (Monday):
Tom Ricks in the Washington Post:
"Pentagon May Suggest Short-Term Buildup Leading to Iraq Exit:

"The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.

"Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home." The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said."

Read the full story here.

Here is a review of my prediction from a few months ago. I am not sure if I stand by it today (and some of it is already flat wrong), but it may be a jumping off point for discussion:

Quoting myself from June 29:

"Recently, the word "timetable" has claimed center stage in any discussion of Iraq. Does the President have a timetable? YES. Although the WH denies a timetable, any serious reading of the situation in Iraq and Washington leads to only one conclusion:

"Iraq must be wrapped-up by January 20, 2009. The Bush brain trust is big on presidential history (especially that of Bush-41). They have taken great pains to avoid the missteps of the father, and they understand that unfinished business is risky business (for example: see Saddam and Somalia).

"Prediction: President Bush will not leave Iraq in the lurch. The coming congressional campaign season will see quiet progress on the civil side of things, which will allow for moderate draw-downs of US troops.

"Then, in the weeks and months after the election, President Bush and the USA will "get bloody." In a similar move to the assault on Fallujah in November of 2004 after the presidential election, I expect the President to make one final push for military supremacy in Iraq.

"The President is never going to face another American election. This is an advantage for him. His legacy depends on victory in Iraq. All he needs to do is win. On the other hand, President Bush's moment is drawing to a close. After the Congressional election, the remainder of his term will be measured in months.

"He must defeat the insurgency before they (the insurgents) come to view him as a lame duck. The USA may have won the war in Iraq with the re-election of President Bush in 2004. An insurgency is hard-pressed to wait-out an American president for four years. But if the USA does not deliver the knock-out punch early on in 2007, the insurgency will see a light at the end of the tunnel.

"What goes without saying, of course, is that no future president, Republican or Democrat, will be invested in this war like George Bush. No successor to Bush will feel the press of history in the same way that the President copes with that oppressive sense of urgency and necessity every day of his administration."

The post in full here.

Today's addendum: One thing that seems to have changed since then is the basic threat. Many observers see the insurgency as mostly under control but view the civil unrest and sectarian violence as the current insoluble problem. We'll see.