Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iraq: Why it was a mistake to “finish the job” and take out Saddam Hussein

We awoke this morning to some of the following headlines:

Wall Street Journal: Islamist Insurgents Advance Toward Baghdad … Overrun Tikrit ...

Islamist militants swept out of northern Iraq Wednesday to seize their second city in two days, threatening Baghdad and pushing the country's besieged government to signal it would allow U.S. airstrikes to beat back the advance.

An alarmed Iraqi government also asked the U.S. to accelerate delivery of pledged military support, particularly Apache helicopters, F-16 fighters and surveillance equipment, to help push back fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda offshoot known as ISIS. The U.S. said it has been expediting shipments of military hardware to the Iraqis all year.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his country faces a "mortal threat" from the ISIS insurgents…

Stratfor: Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security


Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.


Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard to improve their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from staging complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities. …

New York Times: Iraq Militants, Pushing South, Aim at Capital

BAGHDAD — Sunni militants consolidated and extended their control over northern Iraq on Wednesday, seizing Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, threatening the strategic oil refining town of Baiji and pushing south toward Baghdad, their ultimate target, Iraqi sources said.

As the dimensions of the assault began to become clear, it was evident that a number of militant groups had joined forces, including Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era, whose goal is to rout the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. One of the Baathists, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was a top military commander and a vice president in the Hussein government and one of the few prominent Baathists to evade capture by the Americans throughout the occupation.

“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”

The United States really needs to re-think its policies vis-à-vis Islam. I’m not a person who believed the US should have “finished the job” in 2003 – the reference there to the containment policy policy put into place by George Bush 41 – “no-fly” zones to contain the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Hussein was bad, but he in turn had contained the various Islamist forces within his country. The exaggerated threats that “made necessary” the 2003 invasion of Iraq have now come full cycle, to be seen in their full folly.

The U.S. invasion did not settle the region. It has inflamed it. Poor thinking now by two U.S. Presidents has enabled Islamists to become more powerful and entrenched in the region than they have ever been:

Today, ISIS's network of fighters in Syria and Iraq are better trained, equipped and manned than its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, which U.S. forces fought for years and eventually decimated at the height of the Iraq war, according to the latest U.S. military assessments.

ISIS operates in formations, more like an army than a loose network of fighters, said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official. The group's sophisticated global recruitment network could allow it to redirect suicide bombers from targets in Syria and Iraq to neighboring countries, the official said.

What’s an effective policy for fighting this sort of thing? The 1948 “Berlin Airlift” was a policy that supported western interests in preventing Soviet expansion. The Korean War was a stalemate and a disaster. Eisenhower’s “Cold War” efforts provided an effective policy throughout the 1950’s for containing the Soviet Union. But the “hot wars” in Korea and Vietnam were disasters that accomplished nothing and fomented much damage.

Nixon’s “d’etente” with the Soviets was weak. Ronald Reagan’s military build-up in the 1980’s was the ultimately effective deterrent to the Soviet threat. George Bush 41 learned from that. His response to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – “Desert Shield” – the build-up of multi-national military defenses along the Saudi border was an effective deterrent. The continuing policy of deterrent, from 1991 through early 2000s, was also an effective policy. The attacks of 9/11/2001 were not from a failure of that policy. And the 2003 invasion – seeking to “one-up” the 1991 “Desert Storm” effort in Iraq, has proved to be a failure. Israel’s security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip has effectively prevented single suicide bombers from crossing its border with Gaza, and the security wall between Israel and the West Bank is having the same effect.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. But it’s not hard to understand what’s worked in recent military history, and what hasn’t worked. We know that “elections have consequences”. It would be good to see some intelligent discussions about these issues over the next couple of years.


  1. It's like the fall of Saigon. As long as our military might was propping up the ineffectual S. Vietnamese regime, the Viet Cong couldn't take over. Once we withdrew, it collapsed.

    1. I think the parallels will be asked: should we have been in Vietnam in the first place? Should we have been in Iraq in the first place? Were there better ways forward in both instances? What can we learn, today, from those experiences, given the way that Vietnam, as a country, evolved as a communist nation. It's true, Islam is a different kind of threat than communism was. But the question should be asked, "what will it take to defeat such an enemy in the longer term?" That would be a good question to start bouncing around now.

    2. "what will it take to defeat such an enemy in the longer term?"

      Frankly I don't think the West has the stomach for the real answer to that question.

  2. Korea was a disaster? Are your kidding? If we had not intervened, the entire peninsula would be under the Kim regime and one of the greatest missionary sending countries of the last 50 years would have been silenced. Granted, the outcome was not the best, but certainly better than the alternative.

    1. Hi ambrs, I'll grant you that. But Korea was a peninsula -- the last domino. And from the policy standpoint of putting up lines in the sand to stop dominoes from falling, Vietnam certainly was a disaster.

      Alan Kurschner has just recently put up an article from the American Thinker that discusses what an effective policy might look like moving forward in Iraq: