Editor’s Note: As more and more
Washington politicians and pundits back peddle away from the disastrous
Iraq War, some are claiming they privately opposed the invasion all
along. Others are arguing that the invasion was the right thing to do,
but that the Bush administration bungled its implementation.
While some longtime opponents of
the Iraq invasion welcome these belated skeptics into the anti-war fold,
the “repositionists” may carry with them the germs of future conflicts
-- because their critiques are primarily tactical. If George W. Bush had
just sent in more troops or had a more realistic plan, then the invasion
of Iraq would have worked, these late skeptics now say.
To address that point of view, we
are publishing a submission by Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at the
With the continued quagmire in Iraq
and the likely indictments of senior Bush administration officials for
trying to shore up the shaky rationale for the invasion, one would think
that things couldn’t get much worse for the administration. But where
success has a thousand architects, failure leads to much finger
The administration’s latest headache
comes from Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin
Powell’s chief of staff. In a well-publicized recent speech before the
New America Foundation, which I attended, Wilkerson lambasted the
“Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” that got control of U.S. foreign policy from a
president “not versed in international relations and not too much
Wilkerson’s scathing remarks were
designed to deflect criticism from his former boss. As one anti-war
Republican Senate staff member told me, Wilkerson “summoned his courage
about three years too late.” The typically politically correct,
inside-the-beltway audience was too polite to ask why Powell and
Wilkerson didn’t resign over the invasion of a foreign nation that they
Those taking a more optimistic view
might say, “better late than never.” Like Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neil
before him, a disgruntled former administration official like Wilkerson
draws a lot of public attention to horrendous administration policy.
In his speech, Wilkerson praised a new
book by Democrat George Packer, a staff writer for the New Yorker,
called The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq. The book will be
just one of many new books exposing the administration’s incompetence in
the Iraqi occupation, but will certainly get a boost from Wilkerson’s
speech and the extensive media coverage of it.
Packer traveled to Iraq multiple times
to research the book. Although valuable for cataloging the Bush
administration’s bungling, however, the book falters by implying that a
more competent administration could have been more successful in the
Herculean task of restructuring an entire society’s political, economic,
and social system.
In other words, the author presents an
essentially Wilsonian Democratic critique of a Wilsonian Republican
occupation, thus avoiding the larger question of whether such grand
nation-building can ever be successful.
Packer’s is mainly a critique of how
the administration implemented a policy that he supported. He notes
that, initially, the administration planned to lop off only the top
layer of the Iraqi army and bureaucracy after the invasion, install
Iraqi exiles in that highest echelon of a fully functioning state,
significantly draw down U.S. forces within six months, and use Iraqi oil
revenues to pay for it all.
He says that insufficient post-war
planning resulted from such rosy predictions of early withdrawal, the
military’s reluctance to engage in nation-building, and the
administration’s suppression of any hint of possible post-war
complications that might erode support for the invasion in the first
Packer argues that the administration
wanted to proclaim “freedom” for Iraqis, but, fearing loss of control in
Iraq, did not develop the institutions needed to make it a reality.
Also, Packer implies that the U.S.
government did not pour money fast enough into Iraq’s reconstruction.
But he then cites Jerry Silverman, a former Agency for International
Development (AID) official who worked in both Vietnam and Iraq, as
saying that aid failed to buy political support for the United States in
Vietnam, but may have in Iraq if security could have been established
This mysterious reversal of outcome is
a dubious proposition. Furthermore, security is what the United States
has been trying to buy with the aid, not vice versa.
Packer also notes the U.S. reluctance
to take casualties, but does not see the grave implications for
nation-building projects. Packer cites Silverman as concluding that
unlike the U.S. military and civilian personnel who were in Vietnam,
those serving in Iraq are unwilling to take the casualties needed to
secure the cities and highways so that reconstruction has a chance to
Silverman said, “Our troops are in
force-protection mode. They don’t protect anyone else.”
Force protection as priority number
one has been around for some time—for example, Somalia in 1993, the
Bosnian peacekeeping mission in 1995 and thereafter, and the war in
Kosovo in 1999. The notion is bizarre that the United States would
commit armed forces to a mission and then worry more about force
protection than accomplishment of the mission. Yet that happens when the
American public doesn’t really support its elected leaders’ wars of
Often, the public will give the
president the benefit of the doubt and support his initial decision to
send troops overseas. But if the mission is not really vital to U.S.
security and victory is not swift, casualties mount, or things go wrong,
public support erodes quickly.
Contrast this attitude with the
public’s acceptance of mass casualties in World War II—a conflict that
was perceived as critical to the nation’s survival. One would think that
the American public’s justifiable casualty aversion in wars of choice
would make the nation’s leaders cautious about committing military
forces to conflicts that didn’t affect U.S. vital interests.
But given the history of U.S. meddling
in, for example, Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Iraq, the
leaders haven’t given up their unwise interventionism, but instead have
opted to try to fight brushfire wars without massive casualties.
Some U.S. officials, usually former
military officials like Powell and Wilkerson who served during the
Vietnam period, do evidently have some qualms about such wars of choice.
It’s too bad that even as civilians, they remain such good soldiers that
they fail to publicly protest before American lives are endangered
According to the Senate staffer, even
when they do openly dissent after the fact, they “go out of their way to
blast the incompetence of the execution, while avoiding any criticism of
the premise on which the whole mess was based, that is, that the U.S.
has a presumptive ‘right’ to invade and occupy other countries.”
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.