The National Interest: Opinion: Paul R. Pillar: Right and Wrong Lessons From the Iraq War
I believe I know how Peter Beinart, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Kerry, feel about the 2003 Iraq War. See, I supported it to. I thought it would be a good opportunity to one, eliminate a brutal Middle Eastern dictator in Saddam Hussein. Perhaps one of the top three most evil dictators of the 20th Century. I at least would put him in the same bastard class as Joe Stalin and Adolph Hitler. And the idea of Saddam being allowed to continue to had weapons of mass destruction to be used against his own people, or use them against others, or perhaps sell them to terrorists, was unacceptable to me.
I wish I had the foresight of Dick Durbin. Who when was one of I believe twenty-two Senate Democrats who voted against the war. Sometimes it helps to be in Congress especially with a national security role and serving on one of those committees. And then maybe I would’ve seen the same lack of evidence that Saddam still even had WMD and a competent military, let alone a nuclear weapons program. Remember, the original justification for invading Iraq in 2002-03 and original being the key word here, is to prevent Saddam from obtaining nuclear weapons. Not to save a large country from a brutal dictator.
The lessons for Iraq, I think are pretty simple. Don’t invade a country unilaterally without a plan for the aftermath. What the country could look like in the short and long-terms after the regime is kicked out. Once you eliminate another country’s government, you then have the responsibility for governing that country until they can do that for themselves. That is what occupation is about.
If you’re going to invade another country simply to eliminate a brutal authoritarian regime and that country is not currently a threat to you, don’t do it unilaterally. Make the case the case to the country’s neighbors and your allies that the regime has to go, so we can save the people there from future murders and a genocide. Build a coalition to not only take out the regime, but to occupy the country in the short-term in the aftermath. Work with the opposition on the ground if you can and get their assistance.
The last lesson and I think might be the most important, other than believing the current evidence on the ground and not taking out the weapons inspectors before they’ve completed their work and this has more to do with the Iraq Civil War than anything else, is don’t try to fight for a country that won’t fight for themselves. One of the reasons why we’re still trying to assist Iraq twelve years after we knocked the Hussein Regime out of power, is because the Bush Administration set no deadlines. They said we would be there as long as we need to be. The new Iraq Government took that as forever and didn’t do their part to make sure that their country could be secure.
I know I said last lesson already, but I’ll close with this. And you can talk about hindsight all you want, but we had weapons inspectors on the ground in Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003. They were finding nothing and again I go back to the original justification point for the original reason to invade Iraq which was to eliminate their WMD and nuclear weapons program. But as the years went on the Bush Administration kept coming up for new reasons for invading Iraq.
And they finally settled on Saddam was evil and brutal and needed to go. If they took that to Congress even with a Republican House and a divided Senate, their Iraq War Resolution would’ve have never gotten approved. The American people wouldn’t have backed it. We know now that the original reason for invading Iraq that Congress and the country backed was never justified and backed up even at the time of the war.