So many pundits, pols, and, yes, celebs, said so many wrong — and downright silly — things about the war in Iraq, prewar. We knew that back then, but now that Baghdad has effectively been liberated by the U.S.-led Coalition, we provide a handy snapshot of what was said by some of those who should be looking down and making their apologies. Included here are Maureen Dowd, Chris Matthews, and Barry McCaffrey, the latter one of the retired-general second guessers Vice President Dick Cheney dubbed “embedded in television studios.” This list is far from all-inclusive, but a taste of the shame many should be feeling today. The Media Research Center, AndrewSullivan.Com, and Corner readers were invaluable in putting this together.
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“Bush Peril: Shifting Sand and Fickle Opinion”
New York Times, March 30, 2003
“With every passing day, it is more evident that the allies made two gross military misjudgments in concluding that coalition forces could safely bypass Basra and Nasiriya and that Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq would rise up against Saddam Hussein.”
With every passing day, it is more evident that the failure to obtain permission from Turkey for American troops to cross its territory and open a northern front constituted a diplomatic debacle. With every passing day, it is more evident that the allies made two gross military misjudgments in concluding that coalition forces could safely bypass Basra and Nasiriya and that Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq would rise up against Saddam Hussein. Already, the commander of American ground forces in the war zone has conceded that the war that they are fighting is not the one they and their officers had foreseen. ‘Shock and awe’ neither shocked nor awed.
Iraqi TV, March 30
“The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance.”
It is clear that within the United States there is growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war. So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces…help those who oppose the war . . .
The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan.
Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces. And I personally do not understand how that happened, because I’ve been here many times and in my commentaries on television I would tell the Americans about the determination of the Iraqi forces….But me, and others who felt the same way, were not listened to by the Bush administration.
The Nation, April 3, 2003
“Is Wolfowitz really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome us as ‘their hoped-for liberators’?”
To make matters worse, many of these Jewish hard-liners — “Likudniks” in the current parlance — appear, at least from a distance, to be behaving in accordance with traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes. Much to the delight of genuine anti-Semites of the left and right, the idea of a new war to remove Saddam was partially conceived at the behest of Likud politician Benjamin Netanyahu in a document written expressly for him by Perle, Feith and others in 1996. Some, like Perle, apparently see the influence they wield as an opportunity to get rich. What’s more, many of these same Jews joined Rumsfeld and Cheney in underselling the difficulty of the war, in what may have been a ruse designed to embroil America in a broad military conflagration that would help smite Israel’s enemies. Did Perle, for instance, genuinely believe “support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder”? Is Wolfowitz really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome us as “their hoped-for liberators”?
“Back Off, Syria And Iran!”
New York Times, March 30, 2003
“In cranking up their war plan with expurgated intelligence, the hawks left the ground troops exposed and insufficiently briefed on the fedayeen. Ideology should not shape facts when lives are at stake.”
Retired generals were even more critical of the Rumsfeld doctrine of underwhelming force. The defense chief is so enamored of technology and air power that he overrode the risk of pitting 130,000-strong American ground forces — the vast majority of the front-line troops have never fired at a live enemy before — against 350,000 Iraqi fighters, who have kept their aim sharp on their own people. The incoherence of the battle plan — which some retired generals say is three infantry divisions short — has made the guts and stamina and ingenuity of American forces even more remarkable. . . .
….But in pursuit of what they call a “moral” foreign policy, they stretched and obscured the truth. First, they hyped C.I.A. intelligence to fit their contention that Saddam and Al Qaeda were linked. Then they sent Colin Powell out with hyped evidence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Then, when they were drawing up the battle plan, they soft-pedaled C.I.A. and Pentagon intelligence warnings that U.S. troops would face significant resistance from Saddam’s guerrilla fighters.
In cranking up their war plan with expurgated intelligence, the hawks left the ground troops exposed and insufficiently briefed on the fedayeen. Ideology should not shape facts when lives are at stake.
Asked about General Wallace’s remarks, Donald Rumsfeld shrugged them off, noting that anyone who read Amnesty International reports should have known the Iraqis were barbarians.
Rummy was too busy shaking his fist at Syria and Iran to worry about the shortage of troops in Iraq.
As one administration official marveled: “Hasn’t the guy bitten off enough this week?”
Nicholas D. Kristof
“The Stones of Baghdad”
New York Times, October 4, 2002
“[I]f President Bush thinks our invasion and occupation will go smoothly because Iraqis will welcome us, then [he] is deluding himself.”
From their perch in Washington, President Bush and his advisers seem to have convinced themselves that an invasion will proceed easily because many Iraqis will dance in the streets to welcome American troops. That looks like a potentially catastrophic misreading of Iraq. Consider Dahlia Abdulrahim and Intidhar Abdulrahim, two young women I met at an English-language used-book shop in Baghdad. Dahlia reads romance novels, while Intidhar favors Thomas Hardy. So will they be cheering the American troops rolling through Baghdad?
“I will throw stones at them,” Dahlia said.
“Maybe I will throw knives,” Intidhar said brightly.
Those two women are broadly representative of Iraqis I spoke to. If American military strategy assumes popular support from Iraqis facilitating an invasion and occupation, the White House is making an error that could haunt us for years.
After scores of interviews with ordinary people from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south, I’ve reached two conclusions:
1. Iraqis dislike and distrust Saddam Hussein, particularly outside the Sunni heartland, and many Iraqis will be delighted to see him gone.
2. Iraqis hate the United States government even more than they hate Saddam, and they are even more distrustful of America’s intentions than Saddam’s.
“America is a new colonial power that wants to dominate,” warns Rahim Majid, a farmer from Karbala.
“Americans are not coming to help us, but for our oil,” frets Naseem Jawad, a merchant in Najaf….
….while I found few people willing to fight for Saddam, I encountered plenty of nationalists willing to defend Iraq against Yankee invaders. And while ordinary Iraqis were very friendly toward me, they were enraged at the U.S. after 11 years of economic sanctions….
….So if Saddam thinks the average Iraqi is going to miss him, he’s deluding himself. But if President Bush thinks our invasion and occupation will go smoothly because Iraqis will welcome us, then he too is deluding himself.
“To Iraq and Ruin”
August 25, 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle
“This invasion of Iraq, if it goes off, will join the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert One, Beirut and Somalia in the history of military catastrophe.”
The American people are not committed to a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Cheney’s staff is. Rumsfeld’s deputies are. The White House speech-writing office is. The guys they’re working under are.
But what about the families of those who will do the fighting? What about the country that will have to suffer the casualties that are the wreckage of every war?
A Washington Post/ABC poll found 57 percent of us back a ground attack on Baghdad but that’s if there are no significant casualties. Faced with that prospect, 51 percent oppose it.
Is this a strong base from which to launch a pre-emptive attack on a country on the other side of the world? To send several hundred thousand U.S. service people on a mission to take over a country, remove its political leadership from power and install one of our choosing?
It’s time to recall the Powell doctrine of the 1980s and recall the names that gave it resonance: Vietnam and Beirut.
With memories of those misconceived missions fresh and painful, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and his chief military assistant, Gen. Colin Powell, drafted new criteria for overseas military involvement.
War should be a last resort, undertaken only with precise political and military goals and clear support from the American public and the Congress. There must be a clear exit strategy, and a will to deploy overwhelming force.
Powell condemned the ambiguous mission objectives that led to the 1983 Lebanon fiasco that cost us the lives of so many young Marines:
“When the political objective is important, clearly defined and understood, when the risks are acceptable, and when the use of force can be effectively combined with diplomatic and economic policies, then clear and unambiguous objectives must be given to armed forces,” Powell wrote in his autobiography. “When we use force we should not be equivocal; we should win and win decisively.”
So we drop tens of thousands of airborne troops into Baghdad. We look for Saddam Hussein. We wear gas masks to protect us from whatever chemical and biological weapons the Iraqi leader has stockpiled for just this occasion. A threatened Israel mobilizes for war.
All this against the backdrop of an Arab and Islamic world in riot. In Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak must tighten his grip, igniting even more opposition. Jordan’s King Abdullah joins his country’s Palestinian majority in condemning the attack. The Saudi Arabian royals are silent. The Muslims and anti-war elements of Europe take to the boulevards.
Then comes the messy part.
Our troops in Baghdad morph into a nervous constabulary force. Their mission: guard streets, shoot snipers, arrest the suspicious, keep order, find the Hussein loyalists, round up the members of his ruling party, root out plots, battle the terrorists.
For how long?
How long were we in Beirut before that “peacekeeping” mission ended with a barracks being blown sky-high by a suicide bomber? How long were we in Saigon?
This invasion of Iraq, if it goes off, will join the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert One, Beirut and Somalia in the history of military catastrophe.
What will set it apart, distinguishing it for all time, is the immense — and transparent — political stupidity.
A mission to attack one isolated enemy will end up isolating us. A mission justified by the fight with terrorism will give birth to millions of terrorist-supporting haters. In every cafe from Manila to Casablanca, just whom do you think they will be rooting for? Just whom will their kids be killing themselves for?
BBC’s Newsnight, as reported by Reuters, March 24, 2003
“[W]e could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties.”
Retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, commander of the 24th Infantry Division 12 years ago, said the U.S.-led force faced “a very dicey two to three day battle” as it pushes north toward the Iraqi capital. “We ought to be able to do it (take Baghdad),” he told the Newsnight Program on Britain’s BBC Television late on Monday.
“In the process if they (the Iraqis) actually fight, and that’s one of the assumptions, clearly it’s going to be brutal, dangerous work and we could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties,” said McCaffrey who became one of the most senior ranking members of the U.S. military following the 1991 war.
“So if they (the Americans and British) are unwilling to face up to that, we may have a difficult time of it taking down Baghdad and Tikrit up to the north west.”
McCaffrey said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had misjudged the nature of the conflict. Asked if Rumsfeld made a mistake by not sending more troops to start the offensive, McCaffrey replied: “Yes, sure. I think everybody told him that.”
“I think he thought these were U.S. generals with their feet planted in World War II that didn’t understand the new way of warfare,” he added.
U.S. forces have advanced more than 200 miles into Iraqi territory since the start of the war and are beginning to confront an elite division of the Republican Guards deployed to defend the capital.
“So it ought to be a very dicey two to three day battle out there.” McCaffrey said of the confrontation with the Republican Guards.
He said his personal view was that the invading troops would “take them (the Iraqis) apart.”
“But we’ve never done something like this with this modest a force at such a distance from its bases,” he warned.
April 1, 2003, Slate
“. . . the Pentagon’s failure to send enough troops to take Baghdad fairly quickly could complicate the postwar occupation . . . ”
As the war drags on, any stifled sympathy for the American invasion will tend to evaporate. As more civilians die and more Iraqis see their “resistance” hailed across the Arab world as a watershed in the struggle against Western imperialism, the traditionally despised Saddam could gain appreciable support among his people. So, the Pentagon’s failure to send enough troops to take Baghdad fairly quickly could complicate the postwar occupation, to say nothing of the war itself.