If you think that we lost the Iraq “war”, you are mistaken. That is because you are making the error of assuming that the Iraq “war” is seamless, a monolithic construct. The simple fact is that there are three wars or, if you want to be persnickety about it, three distinct, cleanly separable and easily identifiable phases to the “war”. The first of these wars or phases was a victory, the second war never really existed, and the third is in the process of being lost.
The first war, the war well won, began on 19 March 2003 and ended on that April day three weeks later when the heroic statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled from its perch in Baghdad. Militarily it was a straight-forward operation, almost set-piece in its simplicity. Not a perfect operation – there is no such thing in an operation of that size – but still a credit to the care and competence of the battle-staff that conceived it and to the field forces that executed it.
An overwhelmingly powerful US-British coalition fell on the weak and demoralized Iraqi forces much as a bird of prey takes a small rabbit and dismembers it. Air power and smart munitions – the so-called “shock and awe” – destroyed much of the Iraqi infrastructure that had either survived or had been rebuilt in the dozen years since the first war. Ground forces advanced from north and south toward the military and political prize – Baghdad.
In the south, British forces seized Basra and its port area while US forces advanced toward the interior. Following much the same path that Xenophon and his Ten Thousand had taken some twenty-five centuries before, Marines on the east and US Army on the west marched up the ancient river valleys and destroyed or brushed aside what little Iraqi resistance that could be mustered. In the north, US SoF and Kurdish peshmurga “yomped” southward, their advance unaffected by Turkey’s decision deny the US 4th ID passage from their territory.
The advance was remorseless and interrupted only by the weather. A note of grim humor was the almost-Orwellian insistence of the Iraqi Minister of Information – nicknamed “Baghdad Bob” – that US forces were defeated and being mopped up when at the same time video footage showed American armor racing virtually untouched on its “Thunder Run” through the middle of Baghdad.
The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue really marked the end of this very short and very successful war. Weeks and months later, the deaths of Hussein’s two sons and his capture were almost anticlimactic.
The second war, the one that never existed, was the war over the ephemeral weapons of mass destruction and/or the programs that were supposed to produce them. This was the war based on the flimsiest of evidence, the questionable reports of foreign uranium purchases, the claims of former officials of the Iraqi government who had another agenda, and the highly qualified, minimally convincing analysis of the evidence by an intelligence service under pressure to validate administration claims.
The most charitable thing that can be said of this war that was not is that we were fools to be deceived so easily by so little. The least charitable consideration is that there was a criminal conspiracy at the highest level of our current administration to cook the books in order to justify this “splendid little war”. This is the part of the war that the administration, after beating the drum for a year as a danger to us and as perhaps the principal casus belli, has shrugged of as an oh,well – we had other good reasons.
The third war, the war now being lost, is the “nation-building” exercise cobbled together to replace the imploded WMD war-that-never-really-was. This is the war never planned for, because the whole thing was supposed to be a “cakewalk”, a parade wherein the conquering American liberators of the Iraqi people would be greeted with flowers. This is the war that eats the lives of two or three Americans every day and wounds two dozen more, the war that has produced ninety percent of our casualties. This is the war where Iraq is now Humpty-Dumpty after the great fall, something that all of King George’s troops and all of King George’s horses-butts advisers cannot reassemble in a workable fashion.
Yes, the Iraq war is three separate wars rather than a single entity, and history has already placed its seal on the first two. What remains to be seen is how and what becomes of the last war currently being lost.
T. J. Flapsaddle