Paul Wolfowitz isn’t ready to declare the Iraq War a failure:
It may be a long time before we really know the outcome of the Iraq war. To put that in perspective, consider that the Korean armistice was signed 60 years ago, but South Korea struggled for decades after that. Even after 30 years, only an extreme optimist would have predicted that South Korea today would not only have one of the world’s most successful economies but also a democratic political system that has successfully conducted six free and fair presidential elections over the last 25 years.
So too, it may be many years before we have a clear picture of the future of Iraq, but we already do know two important things. An evil dictator is gone, along with his two equally brutal sons, giving the Iraqi people a chance to build a representative government that treats its people as citizens and not as subjects. And we also know that Americans did not come to Iraq to take away its oil or to subjugate the country. To the contrary, having come to remove a threat to the United States, Americans stayed on at great sacrifice and fought alongside Iraqis in a bloody struggle against the dark forces that sought to return the country to a brutal tyranny. Iraqis rarely get enough credit for their own heroism in that struggle, but roughly 10,000 members of the Iraqi security forces are estimated to have died in that fight (twice the American total) in addition to tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
It’s a testament to the power of ideology and pride that Wolfowitz is actually still using the South Korea example. South Korea. How many sectarian divisions are there? Was not the war there in order to prevent Communist take-over of the entire peninsula? What possibly equivalent threat existed in sanctioned, impoverished Iraq? There is not a single sentence of personal accountability in the entire piece, not even a flicker of conscience about what his utopianism wrought. His only mention of Abu Ghraib, where torture policies authorized by his own president were exposed, destroying the entire moral case for the war, is about Abu Ghraib under Saddam. No apology for the death of a hundred thousand Iraqis because of a bungled operation. No apology for torture. No apology for sending thousands of Americans to die so that the new Shiite prime minister could actually cancel the coming elections in two critical Sunni areas: Anbar and Nineveh, as the sectarianism Wolfowitz insisted was over by 2003 still somehow consumes a country he never understood. No:
What did require a U.S. apology—which the ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, offered in the Fall of 2011—was the failure to assist the Shia uprising in 1991, in the aftermath of Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait.
At this point, you realize you’re dealing with someone psychologically ill-equipped to reflect with even the slightest sense of responsibility on the carnage and chaos his self-righteousness wrought. He’s back to the exhausted tropes of 2002, when he last had even the faintest credibility, repeating them as if, by some magic, they will make his catastrophic error of judgment less obvious. One wonders: when exactly did Wolfowitz have his sense of shame surgically removed? Did Allan Bloom help him out? James Joyner disagrees with Wolfowitz’s view of the US’ motives:
[R]oughly 4712 Americans were killed fighting in Iraq—which is to say, 98 percent of all Americans killed fighting in Iraq—after Saddam’s regime was out of power. 94 percent of the total American KIA died after his sons were killed. 88 percent were lost after Saddam was captured, no threat to return to power, and no longer a plausible cause for the fabled “regime holdouts” to rally around. Even after Saddam was hanged, another 1548 Americans died.
From this, I would conclude that American war aims were something other than merely toppling Saddam’s regime, making sure his “equally brutal sons” did not replace him, or even assuring that Saddam was brought to justice. Because, otherwise, we could have gotten out with only 92 dead American troopers.
Larison draws a key distinction:
Wolfowitz claims that it “may be a long time before we really know the outcome of the Iraq war,” but that’s a very silly thing to say. It may be a long time before we can assess the full historical significance of the Iraq war. That’s true of any major event that happens in one’s own lifetime, to say nothing of a war. Andrew Bacevich addressed that question here, and suggested that the Iraq war might prove to be no more significant over the long term than the War of 1812 was for the later history of the United States. The Iraq war was unnecessary, appallingly destructive, and extremely stupid, but perhaps the most damning thing that will be said about it one day in the future is that it ultimately didn’t matter very much. The outcome of the Iraq war is much more straightforward: it was a costly, wasteful failure. It advanced no concrete American interests, and instead did real harm to U.S. security. Then again, that was clear to some of us over eight years ago.
And yet Wolfowitz is incapable of intellectual evolution, let alone moral responsibility. In fact he’s still blaming Shinseki for speaking the obvious: that we needed 300,000 troops to invade and retain order. Yes: all these years later and Wolfowitz is still dreaming that if only he had controlled everything … then the very fantasies he concocted would have come true. And his main point now? That the US should be more involved in the internal sectarian clusterfuck of Syria. Here’s Wolfowitz’s version of atonement:
“I realise these are consequential decisions. It’s just that they’re consequential both ways.”
The word weasel springs to mind.
(Photo: A sun-bleached flower sticker is adhered to U.S. Army Captain Russell B. Rippetoe’s headstone in Arlington Cemetery’s Section 60 on the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq March 19, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. Rippetoe was killed in a suicide bombing at a checkpoint near the Hadithah Dam northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. He was the first soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)