Get PJ Media on your Apple

Works and Days

Iraq – Agony, Ordeal, and Recovery

March 25th, 2013 - 12:00 am

I. The Case for Invasion


The Bush administration built a broad domestic coalition and an adequate foreign alliance (more inclusive than the UN-sanctioned effort against North Korea in 1950). It made compelling arguments that in a post 9/11 climate, Saddam Hussein, who otherwise had no connection with 9/11, could no longer be adequately contained with no-fly zones or trusted not to repeat his various genocides and attacks on his neighbors.

At least initially, the professed case for invasion was not just predicated on worries about WMD. It also hinged on moral concerns over the horrific toll that Saddam had taken on his own people. These were crimes, for example, that made the present spectacle in Syria or the recent strife in Libya seem minor in comparison.

The administration won overwhelming bipartisan support in obtaining House and Senate resolutions in October 2002 (unlike Clinton for the Balkan war or Obama for the Libyan bombing). It spent a year trying to persuade the UN (unlike Clinton in 1999, who just bombed without even going to the UN).

While oil made Saddam a threat, the war was not aimed to steal Iraq’s oil, as postwar events proved. Oil was important (e.g., we did not intervene in Rwanda), but largely because it ensured Saddam the revenues to pose a continual threat in the region. Instead, the March 2003 invasion was supposed to correct the failure to remove Saddam in 1991 (cf. the 1998 congressional resolution to liberate Iraq), and would offer a moral improvement over just leaving as we had done in Somalia and after the Soviet expulsion in Afghanistan. We forget now the liberal critique of the 1990s that we were culpable for the rise of the Taliban and Saddam’s survival by soulless “realpolitik” and neglecting human rights.

“Nation-building” was not just some neocon wide-eyed dream (although for some it may well have been that). More likely, it was the last choice to ensure that military force led to something better, a sort of repeat of post-Milosevic Serbia rather than post-Gulf War Iraq. The result was that 70% of the American people and almost the entire liberal media were on board.  They would not have been had (a) the Bush administration failed the year before in Afghanistan; (b) not gotten congressional approval; (c) not gone to the UN; (d) promised to leave as soon as removing Saddam or vowed to install a pro-Western strongman; (e) not had allies; or (f) talked of acquiring Iraqi oil.


The Bush administration fixated on WMD — as did those in Congress like a Senator John Kerry or Hillary Clinton — when there were 23 diverse and persuasive congressional writs to remove Saddam, ranging from genocide to sponsorship of terrorism to attempts to kill a former U.S. president. When stockpiles of WMD failed to appear, and when the insurgency gained momentum, the casus belli vanished, although the U.S. Congress obviously was on record that the need to preempt in Iraq vastly transcended the issue of WMD.

Apparently WMD arouses Western publics in a way genocide does not: compare Barack Obama’s quiescence after 70,000 murdered in Syria, a million refugees, and horrific human rights violations with his assurances that Bashar Assad’s WMD usage would be a “red line” and “game changer.”

The Bush administration was almost giddy after the brilliant 2001 two-month removal of the Taliban and the later easy installation of the pro-American Hamid Karzai — all in the supposed “graveyard of empires.” We had apparently done in two months what the Soviets had not in ten years. Given that Afghanistan was supposedly more challenging than Iraq (no ports, literacy, oil, flat terrain, or clear weather), and given that we already defeated Saddam once, it was assumed that if two months were necessary to remove the Taliban, only one would be required to oust Saddam (quite true). And if six months had seen a stable government in Afghanistan, then three would see one in Iraq (false). Just as prior success of a sort in Korea suggested that we could likewise save South Vietnam, or as heroic defense had saved France in 1914 and so it would again in 1940, so too the past never quite reappears in all its contortions in the present.

II. Conduct of the War


Kurdistan was quickly liberated, protected, and allowed to form a consensual government, the result of which is one of the most successful and most pro-American regions in the Middle East. In unanticipated fashion, al Qaeda declared Iraq the central theater in its war against America, flocked to Anbar Province, and saw its operatives killed en masse and for three years its organization nearly annihilated and discredited. Given that Afghanistan in 2003-6 was relatively quiet, Iraq soon became the only battlefield between the U.S. and al Qaeda, and offered a theater to decimate the terrorists. We forget now that al Qaeda between 2007 and 2008 was all but wiped out in Iraq.

The surge and /or its accompanying developments (the Anbar Awakening, the cumulative toll on al Qaeda, the message that the U.S. was not leaving, the rise of oil revenues, etc.) saved Iraq, so much so that when Barack Obama assumed office there were essentially no Americans dying in Iraq, and the country was more stable than Arab countries on the Mediterranean.


Abu Ghraib — enough said.

The questionable moves of disbanding the Iraqi army (if it did indeed disband, rather than just dissipate on its own) and de-Baathification were proven unquestionably wrong, when there was no alternative offered in their places: few jobless soldiers were immediately put to work in civilian projects or re-recruited into the army; few Baathists were rehired into the bureaucracy.

Arms dumps were left unguarded — allowing scavengers to collect ordinance that would fuel the IEDs that would come to kill and maim thousands of Americans.

When you set out to take Vienna, to paraphrase Napoleon, then take Vienna. The April 2004 sorta, kinda assault on Fallujah, followed by withdrawal (and insurgent boasting of a victory), sent two terrible messages beyond the needless waste of American lives: the U.S. feared that it could not defeat the insurgency in a head-to-head confrontation (it actually could and did, as the subsequent November victory in Fallujah proved), and it made the conduct of the war appear entirely political (pre-election avoidance of controversial fighting, post-election resumption of same fighting).

If the Obama administration saw too many generals in Afghanistan (McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen), Bush did not remove enough of them. That the clueless Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was put in charge of the war on the ground in Iraq is simply inexplicable. Gen. Casey did not understand the insurgency, at least until it was fully developed. And while it is true that Gen. Petraeus benefited from the Arab Awakening, the aggregate four-year attrition of enemy forces, and the spike in Iraqi oil revenues, his appointment, surge, and change in tactics need not have waited until 2007. Why had we sent a comparatively small force to begin with? Because (a) the critiques of the 1991 war had argued that we had overdone it with needlessly massive deployments; (b) Saddam was far weaker than in 1991, and opposition to him far greater; and (b) small forces had routed the Taliban in 2001 in a far more difficult Afghanistan.

From 2004-7, the Bush administration did not reply to or defend itself against its critics, as the media bought into “Bush lied, thousands died” and canonized Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, and Code Pink. Few even remember that Barack Obama had been on the record voicing agreement by 2004 with the Bush administration policy in Iraq (e.g., “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.”) and that the major Democratic presidential contenders in 2004 and 2008 (Joe Biden, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Tom Harkin, and Chris Dodd) had not just supported the war, but done so enthusiastically in their warnings about WMD. Somehow “my brilliant three-week removal of Saddam, your disastrous five-year occupation” became the Democratic talking points without much pushback from the Bush administration.

That Barack Obama in 2009 simply embraced the entire Petraeus plan (after advocating as an early presidential candidate in 2007 to get all combat troops out by March 2008) and mostly expanded the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols (from Guantanamo and renditions to drones and the Patriot Act) without a murmur from the Left suggests that their prior opposition was in large part partisan, not principled, and should have been countered in that context. Instead, the Bush administration, in pill-bug fashion, closed up and let its opposition define the entire post-9/11 landscape as one of failure and worse.

III. The Ripples of Iraq

There were positive ripples from Iraq — at first. Dr. Khan’s nuclear franchise shut down in fear of U.S. post-Iraq muscle flexing.  Col. Muammar Gaddafi voluntarily gave us his WMD arsenal. Bashar Assad got out of Lebanon and never returned. Kurdistan emerged as a stable, prosperous, and humane pro-American enclave. Iran began to worry. Even later, for all the unrest of the Arab Spring, Iraq remained about the only major Arab country that still held elections and had avoided mass uprisings.

Obviously, the cost of 4,400 lives, thousands wounded, and $1 trillion spent raise the question of not just whether the cost was worth it, but whether we would ever again repeat such a venture. Based on current public opinion, the answer for now is no.

Yet had there been a bloody, two-month fight to oust Saddam, costing as much as we lost between 2003-8, followed by postwar quiet and stability, then the losses could have been tolerated. The greater anguish came from the notion that the original war was so brilliantly conducted that we did not expect to lose so much more “in peace” than “in war.”  In some sense, the very idea that the U.S. went into the heart of the ancient caliphate, removed a genocidal monster, stayed on through an insurrection, and shepherded a constitutional government is almost surreal.

The political blowback was the loss of the Congress in 2006 and the rise of a hard-left Democratic Party. This resulted by 2009 in Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid nationalizing the health care system, running up serial $1 trillion deficits  (trumping in four years Bush’s splurge in eight), and dividing the country alone class, gender, and racial lines.

IV. Lessons

I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, because we had not finished the job in 1991 and the UN/U.S. sponsored containment of Saddam was about to dissipate. And while I was critical — who was not? — of the conduct of the occupation between 2003-2007, I still supported staying on, both on humanitarian grounds (withdrawal would have doomed the Kurds and those Iraqis invested in the reconstruction) and because the only thing worse for a global power than fighting an unpopular and apparently impossible war was losing one. The troops didn’t vote on their deployment. When they are sent to the front, we have a duty either to ensure they are supported at home or to withdraw them. The worst conduct is to call for their deployment and withdraw support for their mission in mediis rebus — with the concession that they will probably still be at the front despite political opposition at home.

Note the recent Gallup survey of Americans’ views of the world at large. We hear ad nauseam of anti-Americanism, but the Islamic Middle East should consult these polls: Americans, if the survey is correct, despise the entire region. Well over 70% of the American population does not like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Palestinians, and Syria. Why other than the serial ingratitude? To generalize, we are tired of the tribalism, religious hypocrisy, and intolerance, misogyny, conspiracy theory, cheap anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism — as well as the abstract hatred of the U.S. and the concrete conniving to visit and emigrate here. I have traveled the region a lot and won’t go again. Why? I tired of meeting the Westernized” Middle Easterner, in coat and tie, who over lunch starts in with either his conspiracy theory or his Hitlerian hatred of the Jews. Whether in Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Palestine, Libya, or Tunisia, the experience is always the same.

Do not believe in prewar political consensus. As soon as things become difficult, those who most loudly called for war (of both parties) will most loudly call it quits, and soon deny that they really had ever been for the war.  Any U.S. intervention that incurs over a hundred casualties has a shelf life of about three months; after that, “you did it, not me” is the cultural norm.

Antiwar opposition is mostly a political force of the left, not a principled and consistent antithesis to the use of U.S. power. That means a Democratic president enjoys far more latitude to conduct war. Bill Clinton could bomb Serbia without either congressional or UN approval in a way George Bush could not. Barack Obama, predator-in-chief, did not ask the Congress to go into Libya — only the Arab League and the UN. Guantanamo was a gulag under Bush and forgotten under Obama. Ditto renditions, tribunals, drones, and preventative detention. For the media, liberals make war only when forced to by bad people and in spite of their greater humanitarianism; conservatives do so willingly and as a reflection of their bloodthirstiness. If Obama preempts in Iran, we will read about the terrible Iranians who forced his hand; had Bush, we would have heard of calls for impeachment.

We are an ahistorical, me-only generation. An Okinawa or Hue does not exist in our memories. War is supposed to proceed like apps on an iPhone. No one knows of the intelligence failures surrounding Pearl Harbor, the near criminally wrong protocols of the B-17 campaign between 1942-3, or the failure to provide our troops with adequate tanks and anti-tank weaponry in World War II.

Going to war is a matter not of avoiding mistakes, but of seeking to correct them as soon as possible. For a postmodern society that knows no history, mistakes must not occur. And when they do, someone else is always to be blamed.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified image.)

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
The extremely simple minded Congressmen like Kerry and Clinton should be completely embarrassed by articles from Dr. Hanson with his citation of history with supporting facts.
Breast feeding politicians like these, that have been suckling the media for as long as they have, should be removed from their offices with much fanfare for their attempts to interfere with the publication of the course of history in their daily agendas.
History is rife with lesser criminals.
Dr. Hansons quality of service to his readers is unsurpassed by most of the highest office holders in the American government.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
On this Pesach eve, I can only say that I greatly appreciate the mind, courage and steadfastness of VDH. You are a rare man to know so much, to express it so well, and to do so consistently in the face of rebuke and scolding from the great mushy middle and the wayward Left. If you do not want to come to the ME again, I understand - your reasons are very good ones. But you are welcome in Israel any time, any day, any hour.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
VDH, there were and are so many lies from the left, it is impossible to catalog them all.

1)WMD----Clinton, Gore, William Cohen, Madeline Albright...ALL went on a public crusade DECLARING that Saddam's regime was rife with WMD and that he was THE greatest threat to world security. Cohen appeared on the news shows with props, a bag of white powder, saying that Saddam could wipe out DC.

NOTHING....and I mean less than nothing...changed in the world's knowledge of Saddam's production capability and stores of WMD from that point to Shock and Awe. Nothing. We still don't know, but many believe the Russians helped Saddam remove what he had to Syria and elsewhere. We don't know...and neither do the traitors on the left.

2) We DO know that Valerie Plame's husband was wrong...if not intentionally so...about Saddam seeking yellowcake. The left has been lying about EVERY aspect of WMD ever since. It is especially galling that Hillary took the position that she was "lied to" when supporting the Iraq mission. The Clinton's knew the truth and let Bush take a beating based on a pack of lies.

3)The Propaganda Machine that passes as our "media" was calling BOTH missions "a quagmire", the MINUTE they were engaged. They said that Iraq was going to be a tough ground slog. The slinked back into abject humility when the ground war was over in weeks....but, reared their traitorous, ugly heads...when they started counting "grim milestones".

4)Prior to the shock and awe campaign...the traitorous left was saying that we were depriving babies in Iraq of milk and medicine. That sanctions weren't working. The UN had passed a forest of dead trees condemning Saddam and saying "if you don't...we will...". He was given a chance to prove he wasn't armed with WMD. He chose to lose. Perhaps because he couldn't get cleaned up in time without the help of the Russians. Perhaps not. We are likely to never know. But it's NOT that he never had them. We know he did. We gave him some of them. The Russians, Germans and French had been very "helpful" as well.

5)You are precisely correct that Saddam was MUCH worse than Assad against his own people. He had gassed the Kurds. Put people in wood chippers and his two Pig Latin sons, Umday and Upidstay were rape room aficianados. The "humanitarian" cries by the lying left should fall on deaf ears now against Syria...they are nothing in comparison...and they should eat their words whole.

I could go on. Obama went into Libya without Congress or anyone else as a coalition "agreed upon". He drones people at will, damn the torpedoes and collateral damage. Without a peep from the left.

They do not rise up in principle...because they have no principles. They are all Propaganda...all the time. And, I'm ashamed to have to share a country with them.

Worse, they are a clear and present danger to the health and security of this land of ours...and to the world. They have destroyed Europe, ruined North Korea, collapsed Russia and obliterated the Middle East.

In a politicians...and even as humans...they suck.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (42)
All Comments   (42)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
From 2004-7, the Bush administration did not reply to or defend itself against its critics, as the media bought into “Bush lied, thousands died” and canonized Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, and Code Pink.

And the Republican Party continues this passive acquiescence to this day. It takes no genius to see that the MSM has far more influence on the electorate than the mere 10-point advantage that Tim Groseclose pointed out a number of elections ago - and others insisted didn't exist.

The MSM was essential to installing the Obama administration, and has blacked out unfavorable studies like loyal palace guards. A tiny relaxation of this guard has shown up in three recent CNN stories, but unless that first becomes a trend, and then spreads through the other media members, there's little hope.

So far, the best the public sees is in Congress when members with principles, such as Paul Ryan, Rand Paul or Tim Cruz, quit playing go-along-to-get-along and get far enough into the faces of the Dems that they are actually shown, or quoted accurately, by media who'd normally pull the curtain and change the subject. Would that the Party elders resign and hand over to the articulate new ones who can express complaints and goals clearly and concisely.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Its been ten years and trillions of dollars. Hundreds of thousands of casualties. Our troops are dumped back in America and denied the health care they need. Nothing has changed. Iraq is aligned with Iran. WE are well into the Second Great Depression. California has been taken over and we are still expanding our wars in the Middle East.

We are now five years into the Second Great Depression and you Neo-liberals are still trying to Save the World for Democracy.

Give it up, Hanson. Just give it up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've always said that Iraq was either a stroke of genius or blind luck, either way it drew the fight out of Afghanistan which had the fight concentrated there would have been another Vietnam for us. Afghanistan is called the "Graveyard of Empires" for a reason.

Historical perspective -

Current perspective -
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As an Iraq War vet, (two tours) former Soldier and Intelligence Analyst, here's my two cents:

We should have gone all the way to Baghdad the FIRST time. Saddam Hussein was a megalomaniac and terrorist supporter in violation of U.N. Resolutions, including UN Resolution 1441, which gave us the specific authority to use force if he did not comply with the dismantlement and discontinuation of his WMD program.


Saddam attacked every neighboring country except Syria from 1979-1991, and gave safe haven and support to terrorists. Our mission was clear; to overthrow and defeat Saddam’s Baathist regime; kill or capture him, and help Iraq build an infrastructure through which it could stabilize and govern itself. Iraq isn't perfect but it's a damn sight better off than it was when Saddam had an iron grip.

It’s up to Nouri al-Malaki and his parliament to take the opportunity to bring his country into the 21st century and help make Iraq’s new found democracy work. We'll see.

The focus is now on Afghanistan; the other battlefield that the MSM and the public threw down the memory hole. Up until Obama got elected, the war efforts there were going pretty good. I’ve always maintained that B. Hussein was given a winning hand in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war is his to lose, and given that he's an epic failure, that's precisely what's happening. Of course, Karzai is a corrupt little turd who would rather placate muzzie terrorists with ridiculous ROE, than prevent them from continuing their quest for a new Caliphate.

The so-called partnership between American Soldiers and Afghan troops is an epic fail. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have infiltrated the Afghan forces and most certainly have influence in Karzai’s regime.

As for "nation building", that's a project that is best left for post-war operations after the enemy has been completely defeated and the country brought under control.

The strides we made are falling apart thanks to the fact that we did not dedicate our full resources and efforts to that.

On a broader note: Islamic terrorists are trained, funded, supported, and indoctrinated across the Middle East. I’d have neutron-bombed at least 3/4ths of the Middle East on 12 September 2001, including Iraq and Afghanistan. That is how you fight a jihad, but I’m a former Soldier, not a politician.

We could pull every American military member out of the Middle East and muzzie extremists would still come here and try to kill us, because their avowed goal is to destroy the West; America in particular.

This war ain't over by a long shot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The following excerpt from a NY Times article lamenting the decline of the Democrat Party is featured in a brilliant presentation by Frantz Kebreau entitled "Stolen History":

“The sons of Democratic fathers have grown up Republican. So long as slavery and the [Civil] War linger within the memory of Americans, the youth of the Republic will continue to grow up Republicans; and slavery and the war will be remembered as long as the public schools system exist. The public schools have slain the Democratic Party with the textbooks”
NY Times 1880
The Democrats have been rewriting history ever since.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wonderful article Dr. Hanson. Thank you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are two essays I’ve found that are especially fascinating to read in context with one another, and I encourage you to read them now before I make comment on the two taken together:

The first is from historian Victor Davis Hanson titled Iraq – Agony, Ordeal, and Recovery at

The second is from political scientist Abraham H. Miller titled The Eighteenth Brumarie of Barack Obama at
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I neglected to reference my own comments here which can be read at
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
.....after that, “you did it, not me” is the cultural norm.

From a nation of wimps and perpetual adolescents.

What is the deal with all the "reported" comments? Youse guys or girls having a flame war? Then do it up front and out in the open instead of acting like Lieberals.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dr. Hanson, you do a truly remarkable job of summarizing history, including the forgotten.

It's always a breath of fresh air to read of somebody that not only remembers the justification correctly, the reasoning and discussion, but the parties who were involved. It's an added bonus to correctly identify the abject hypocrisy, selective application and double standard of Leftist America.

Of course, I have such little respect for the Left in America and their rank propaganda, their lust for power, and their deceit of all things, I've become numb to their methods. Like the snake with forked tongue, I just assume the leftist intent is to bite with the purpose first to poison, then freeze, then consume.

Can I make a bold prediction based on nothing but a gut feel and a verse or two of prophecy made approximately 2,700 years ago by a great Jewish prophet whom I admire?

That WMD in Iraq that never existed? I say it did and still does. I think in that three month build up to war, the world will one day discover that biological and/or chemical weapons made a quick transport from the desert to Damascus.

And Damascus will become uninhabitable on account of it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Excellent point about our disdain of the Middle East. We must be the only country in the world that constantly worries more about what others think of us.

Do Middle East countries run headlines "70% of Americans disapprove of us! Think we're backwards morons!"? Yeah, I don't think so.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The more I learn, the more I'm of the belief it's one big chess game with the end goal of a one world government. Our wealth is being stolen, our livelyhoods destroyed. It isn't just American institutions that have been subverted, it's a world wide reality.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 Next View All