Or, How to Get it All Wrong from the Beginning to the Never Ending
Washington and the Media keep fixating on the original justifications for the War in Iraq that turned out to be provably wrong. Perhaps some attention should also be paid to the thousand or so other mistakes made since then, any of which might have prevented, reversed or ended the course of this train wreck.
For instance, Bush clearly could have, but deliberately chose not to:
1. Wait until the evidence was stronger that the US was in imminent danger from Saddam. Shouldn’t we have insisted that the standard for evidence in taking the country to a war that some estimated might cost in the trillions with countless lives in jeopardy be at least as strong as we would use to convict in, say, an ordinary speeding ticket case or jay walking?
2. Wait until we were actually attacked by Iraq. Have we forgotten that the official NORAD policy on atomic attack from the Soviet Union during the entire Cold War was to wait until more than one nuclear missile splashed down? The stated reason for allowing some cities to vanish in mushroom clouds was to insure that it was not a mistake or some rouge individuals not acting for the nation itself? As horrific as that possibility sounded, given the history of computer mistakes, equipment failures, and human weaknesses, it was still better than risking elimination of life on earth due to an accident or terrorist. Wouldn’t we want that same standard applied to us by other nations? Isn’t it still a sound idea to carefully weigh the potential costs against the hoped for benefits?
3. Act like an adult at all times. Don’t mouth off with cheap frat boy shots like “bring it on” or demonizing the other side Why purposefully antagonize them. What possible good does it accomplish?
4. Give diplomacy or at least sanctions a chance before throwing away the opportunity. In retrospect, it turns out that they were working.
5. Wait until the UN investigators finished their search for WMDs. Wouldn’t it have be worthwhile to see if the WMDs actually existed?
6. Wait until the UN sanctioned Iraq and joined the attack. Wasn’t the hundred or so year American national tradition and principle of not being an aggressor nation worth at least some small genuine present and future value to us? Morally, if nothing else?
7. Wait until the other Arab nations join the coalition as they did in the first Gulf War. Wouldn’t it have appeared less like another “Christian Crusade” against Islam if other Muslim countries were actively and openly supporting us?
8. Let the UN, NATO or the Arabs do the actual fighting and occupation. Isn’t it always better to let other troops be the ones ducking bullets and bombs?
9. Find Osama first. Before diverting elsewhere all the resources that were trying to track down real person behind 9/11 down the one guy who freely admitted was behind 9-11, wouldn’t it have been a wise thing to capture or kill him first? Letting him get away due to the distracted of Iraq not only allows him freedom to continue, it makes us look like Keystone Kop laughingstocks.
10. Go after “Axis of Evil” countries with known WMDs first. If Bush was right that Iraq, Iran and N. Korea were all deserving of being destroyed by us unilaterally and without a declaration of war, then shouldn’t we have concentrated on the more obviously dangerous ones first? Of the three, Iraq sure looked like it was the least capable of being able to do us major immediate harm. If you attack the weak first, doesn’t that not only dissipate your strength, it allows the others to believe that you might be afraid of them. Aren’t you risking actually emboldening them rather than having them quake in fear? Didn’t that deserve a better debate and explanation?
11. Stop to consider that removing Saddam might strengthen a more devoted enemy, Iran. Iran is a Shiite country. Saddam, a Sunni, was the major counterbalance for Iran for decades. Regardless of bad Saddam was, if the result is strengthening someone even worse, is it worth the cost? Why wasn’t that possibility weighed more carefully?
12. Stop to consider that “democracy” might not be best for every county on earth, or worse, destabilize our sometimes allies, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Imposing one man, one vote on the country of Iraq automatically puts Shiites in charge. Is that what was wanted, especially given the well known Shiite record on treatment of women, other minorities, etc? Even if that was the desired goal of the Administration as it spouted the continued calls for “democracy, freedom and liberty,” was it ever considered that an unintended consequence might be to help those who want to overthrow the nearby friendly monarchies and dictatorships we have relied on so heavily in the past? Even if that was the goal, why wasn’t it presented to the American public as such?
13. Obtain an actual Declaration of War. Since that is required by the Constitution, wouldn’t it have made the War more legal if it had to go forward?
14. Share the full evidence with Congress including the caveats and doubts. Wouldn’t that have made it less likely to be perceived later as lying or at a minimum committing misrepresentations to get us in war? Didn’t those in charge trust the public? Did those in charge assume that would never get out?
15. Allow debate and actually listen to it occasionally. It is always possible that someone outside the White House inner circle may have an occasional good idea. If you don’t want to listen, you can’t learn anything.
16. Stop playing domestic politics when it is an international war. What we may need most in a war is a loyal opposition that can point out errors before they become too costly.
17. Stay neutral. Hypocrisy has a price, at the moment it is about 6 billion dollars a month. We invaded Iraq claiming that it was because Iraq was violating UN resolutions. Has everyone forgotten that Israel was also in violation of a significant number of UN resolutions at that same time? By the standards of many, Israel was illegally occupying land belonging to someone else and taking more of it. Whether everyone concurs or not, that is how outsiders might perceive it. Consequently, either we should not have used that (UN resolution violations) as a reason for invading or at least insisted Israel obey the UN resolutions too. Has it occurred to anyone that we might have even avoided 9-11 itself if we had simply refused to publically take sides in that particular Middle East dispute? Recall that there are no Basque Separatists or Irish Republican Army squads bombing us. Could that have been because we did not take sides even though these latter conflicts also clearly involved terrorists? Does anyone remember what the phrase “tar baby” means?
18. Find alternatives to oil as an energy source. Perhaps if we did not depend on oil, we would not constantly be embroiled in the Middle East where much of it is located. We also would not be perceived as being solely after the oil when we do choose to get embroiled.
19. Depart quickly once the Iraq army had finally been destroyed and all possible WMD sites had been searched. We could always have said we would be back if he starts up again as a threat.
20. Leave the Iraqi administrative infrastructure intact and merely remove Saddam. Sure there were risks associated with that, but given the observable result and loss of American lives from not doing that, could it have been worse?
21. Divide Iraq into three new countries. Perhaps simply abandoning the artificial grouping of tribes created by the British back after the first world war should have been considered. That way, our current excuse for staying to prevent civil war might have been avoided. Maybe this alternative too might have been worse, but it seems not to have even been considered. If you are undertaking such a big venture, aren’t all alternatives deserving of serious consideration and research.
22. Accept the most recent joint demands of leaders from all three factions for us to finally leave. It is becoming apparent that none of the factions want us there. Even the Kurds, our staunchest supporters, don’t want our troops in their own sector. Doesn’t staying after the elected leaders tell us to get out seem like illegal occupation?
23. Leave them to fight it out among themselves. If our original goal was really to eliminate WMDs and our substituted goal was really to remove the sadistic Saddam, who cares if they are later immersed in civil war?
24. Declare a victory and pull out. It is not too late. Nixon simply declared victory in Vietnam and pulled out. It was not a victory, but some facing saving available.
25. If we have to continue there as occupiers, use normal contract bidding to determine suppliers. In any event, isn’t avoiding the appearance of impropriety usually a good idea, not to mention vastly less expensive? Can Haliburton ever be anything but an obvious conflict of interest? Have we forgotten how many millions or billions were overpaid or outright missing?
26. Prosecute and convict war profiteers. If there is no punishment for such thievery, it will only get worse.
27. Avoid using private mercenaries as security. Doesn’t it adversely affect troop morale as well as troop retention when civilians are being paid five times what our own troops were paid for the same job? Then too there is the little matter about mercenaries acting in our name with our money, but not being subject to our military discipline, training or rules.
28. Avoid so-called “stop loss” policies. Unilaterally changing the promises to our troops by forcing them to remain beyond what they had agreed is not a way to encourage re-enlistments.
29. Re-institute the draft. Doesn’t the military needs to be larger if we are going to fight a war and still have forces left to deal with other crisis elsewhere? Shouldn’t we be putting in the military our best and brightest instead of those with few choices? Do we want a military with loyalties potentially only to their comrades?
30. Use the amount of troops that the trained and experienced commanders at the time said would be necessary. There are relatively few cases in combat where too many troops defeats your goal. Why shouldn’t we have erred on the side of caution and conservatism unless we didn’t care about the troops?
31. Protect the assets in the occupied country. If you must fight in Iraq, at least protect the things that need protection, particularly the weapons depots. How about restoring and safeguarding the infrastructure, so the people there have less interest in attacking us.
32. Protect the assets in our country. The enemy can cross the ocean too. We may be searching shoes at airports, but why aren’t we searching all cargo containers and better guarding chemical plants?
33. Avoid deaths of women and children even when our troops might be endangered as a result. It’s not only wrong, it just gives the other side pr ammunition.
34. Avoid killing male leaders if they can be captured. Why make them a martyr unnecessarily when they can be used.
35. Forgive commanders who merely stated their opinions that happened to disagree with White House assumptions and certainly avoid replacing such commanders who happened to be correct with cronies, yes men and sycophants who weren’t. Don’t we have enough “Brownies” in charge of things like FEMA already? Brown could only destroy a city. Someone like him in charge of the military could destroy everything.
36. Reward those who guessed right instead of those who guessed wrong. The only thing more devaluing of the Medal of Freedom would have been for Bush to have given it to himself along with those responsible like the CIA director Trent who caused some of the worst screw ups.
37. Avoid installing convicted felons and corrupt warlords in as our local puppets. That is not the way to win the hearts and minds. Didn’t we learn anything from history?
38. Depend less on National Guard and Reserve troops who by necessity and budget tend to be less well trained and less well equipped. Why not use them only in the very beginning when necessary as a stop gap until a sufficient number of drafted or other troops can be raised and trained? The Guard is needed for other purposes back at home.
39. Give the troops adequate supplies, personal armor, appropriately armored vehicles or waited until they were available. If you have too few troops to begin with, why waste them ?
40. Obey the Geneva Convention, international treaties and our own Bill of Rights. It seriously endangers our troops by not only abandoning such rules, but then getting stupidly caught in photos actually conducting torturing. Merely because our opponents act like Nazis does not give us the right to do so too. It merely encourages more of the same or worse. As for our claiming we do not torture after the prison camp photos were circulated is like calling a duck a chicken. Either way, it does not magically turn it into a chicken. Have we forgotten Clinton and his re-defining what is” sex?” We have many years to go before we can live down our activities to date and we can only begin the process when we finally stop claiming that rules do not apply to us.
41. Keep the moral high ground. We become nothing but greedy self serving hypocrites otherwise.
42. Convict and severely punish the leaders of the troops who were caught torturing. It means nothing to jail the foot soldiers who did as they were told and it destroys our credibility when we try to say we are for liberty and justice or freedom, especially when we don’t even get anything but low level malefactors. The same is true for jailing people in perpetuity without allowing them lawyers or courts to see if they actually are the terrorist we claim. Has anyone at least applied some cost/benefit analysis to such policies before doing them?
43. Act like there is a War going on. Feel free to cut the budget, but stop giving away taxes to the rich at the same time. If the rest of the country is feeling the pinch, we might feel we have some investment in the result in Iraq. A cut in salary for Congressmen might be in order. A few children of Congressmen in the fighting might be in order.
44. Determine if the policies being pursued are not an overreaction to events. It might have been nice if someone in the White House had looked up the definitions of hubris or arrogance before acting. Perhaps reading a few Greek or Shakespearean tragedies might have been useful for the perspective. Better yet, reviewing a couple of world history texts might have been even better.
45. Avoid making predictions that don’t come true. Dress ups in uniform by a President to pretend “mission accomplished” merely looks as silly and juvenile as Paris Hilton dressing up her Chihuahua. Moreover, telling the truth from the beginning makes it less likely that we will want to pull out when the going gets tough.
46. Admit mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone knows that. To refuse to admit ever making a mistake merely means you are a liar and not to be trusted. Admitting mistakes and correcting them before more damage is done is what adults do.
47. Accept responsibility for the results. In olden days, the leader actually lead. When he was wrong both he and his troops got killed. That was rough on the troops, but at least he wasn’t able to keep getting more troops killed.
48. When you have clearly failed, let someone else try. Be a man for once and relinquish the ball. Johnson did it. Better yet, let other countries have a shot.
49. Keep God out of it. If God had wanted some country destroyed, he can do it himself. He did not need to tell Bush.
50. If worse comes to worse, cut losses and pull out. You cannot sanctify the waste of thousands of soldiers by continuing to waste more.