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Venezuela and the Washington Clock

With speculation rampant over whether the Trump administration is going to invade Venezuela, it is useful to review the American experience in Iraq.  On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the strategic perceptions of Saddam and U.S. planners could not have been more divergent, according to a recently published 1,500-page, 2-volume Army War College survey of that conflict. (Links to volume 1 and volume 2.) America's toppling of Saddam was an attempt to fix the chaos that resulted in 9/11 and challenged the global world order.  "The fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Islamic State in Iraq was part of a broader campaign against al-Qaeda and its associated movements. Fighting in Yemen, Somalia, Mali, and other locations was connected through a strategic framework―both ours and our enemies’―with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan" (vol. 1, p. 35).

As late as 2003 the dominant American paradigm for fixing chaos abroad was WW2.  The Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC)'s operational plan was "named Cobra II after General Omar Bradley’s operation to liberate France in 1944" (vol. 1, p. 8) and the reconstruction and stabilization plan was "named Eclipse II after the Allied plan to occupy Germany in World War II" (vol. 1, p. 106). The grand strategic solution to the problem of terrorism from failing states that succeeded the challenge of the Soviet Union was "to bring democracy" to the Islamic world the same way America had brought it to the Axis powers. If it was a flawed conception, it was at least understandable.  In the 20th century America had fought real countries -- Germany, Japan, China, North Korea, Vietnam -- and thought it knew how to do it.

But in the 21st century it would fight an un-country. The view in 2003 Baghdad could not have been more different than Washington's.  Saddam understood his state wasn't a country in the Western sense.  His primary concern was "internal threats, both from disaffected segments of Iraqi society and from prospective insider coup attempts by Ba’ath Party rivals or the Iraqi military. Saddam’s secondary concern was regional threats, Iran and Israel foremost among them. The threat posed by an American-led coalition ranked only third on Saddam’s list of dangers to his rule" (vol. 1, p. 84).

As such there were actually two invasions of Iraq: the American and the Iranian.  "Documents captured from members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran operating in Iraq in the summer of 2003 revealed Iran’s detailed courses of action for military operations in Iraq in the event of an American invasion. The Iranians intended to use the Badr Corps—expanded from its original brigade size and directed by Iranian agents—to subvert American efforts to occupy Iraq successfully, with the subversion including military, political, and social means. In the months before the coalition invasion, Badr Corps units accompanied Iranian infantry and missile brigades as they moved into positions along the border. The Badr Corps also developed assassination lists of Sunni military personnel, Ba’athists, and others who collaborated with the regime that they intended to execute systematically once the opportunity presented itself" (vol. 1, p. 114).