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Columbia International Affairs Online: Iraq: "The Wrong War at the Wrong Time with the Wrong Strategy"

Author: Dan Caldwell
August 5, 2007

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Summary:

Through the entire war, President Bush has consistently been optimistic about the results of the war assuring aides that the United States was going to win because "we have no other option."  Such optimism in the face of the brutal facts on the ground is at a minimum delusional, if not irresponsible.  But the president does not bear responsibility alone.  Who or what is responsible for the mistaken assumptions, faulty intelligence and outright mistakes? 

Excerpt:

For his part, President Bush has been unwilling to assess the war or the decisions leading to it; according to him, "I have not looked back on one decision I have made and wished I had made it a different way."  Perhaps, one can understand the president's hesitance to engage in assessment and evaluation in the midst of war, but if the United States is to learn from the mistakes of this war, then evaluation, assessment and criticism are essential.  A problem in the evaluation of contemporary policy, however, is that many policymakers and academics are hesitant to engage in a robust, searching criticism of policy issues.  Why?  Strong criticism by current policymakers could end promotions or even careers.  Indeed, in the Navy, adopting and voicing a strong opinion that goes against the interests of the Navy, such as opposing the building of more aircraft carriers, is known as "falling on your sword," that is committing professional hari kari.  Academics in universities and think tanks are also hesitant to criticize strongly current U.S. government policies because of possible contracts with governmental agencies or potential interest in serving in government service sometime in the future.  Strong criticism could result in the cancellation or non-renewal of research or consulting contracts or could preclude government service in the future.

If we are to hope to avoid costly mistakes like the Iraq war in the future, then it is essential to evaluate what went wrong in Iraq, and that is the central objective of this paper.  I focus on the mistaken assumptions of those who planned the war, U.S. relations with other countries in planning and prosecuting the war, faulty intelligence, the military war plan and campaign, and postwar mistakes.  The temporal focus is on the period from September 11, 2001, until 2007.  Having no government contracts or consultancies and no desire to serve in a future U.S. governmental position, I attempt to be as honest, direct and even blunt as possible.  The human and economic costs of war demand that.

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