OIF Original Aims

Five years and going, the Iraq War has been subject to more spin, hyperbole and misinformation that anything else in our time. According to Douglas Feith, in his new book War and Decision, the two biggest errors of the Bush administration were: (1) Not communicating clearly the multifaceted reasons for going to Iraq and (2) allowing an occupation government (i.e. the CPA) to be set up, something which we had intentionally avoided in Afghanistan.

He notes that although the issue of physical stockpiles of WMD have been the main point of criticism, it was one of many reasons for neutralizing Saddam’s Iraq. Until 9/11 the aim of terrorism was primarily political and thus attacks were generally small in scale and in body count. However, 9/11 changed marked the beginning of a new phase, namely, that terrorists sought mass-casualties for their own sake. With that in mind, WMD and state support became central issues as WMD were the most attractive means of a massive attack. Hence, the Axis of Evil speech, in which the President outlined the three states of most concern in both areas. Iraq came to the forefront because diplomacy may still have a chance with Iran and North Korea, two states with which the United States has had little diplomatic contact whereas Iraq had defied over a decade of UN sanctions and had clearly demonstrated that no amount of reason, bargaining or diplomacy could disarm Saddam.

On the issue of a massive failure of public relations and strategic communication, contrast the following quote, which according to Feith, were the reasons for eliminating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, with conventional wisdom (page 460):

“We aimed to bring into being an Iraq that would seek peace, remain unified, develop its economy, abandon Saddam’s WMD and long-range missile programs, and oppose terrorism. We did not promise to put in place a stable democracy for the Iraqis; rather, we stated the more realistic aim of ‘a representative government that builds democratic institutions and is respectful of its diverse population.’”

saddam_alf.jpgHe notes that the reasons for liberating Iraq were that he maintained WMD capability (different from stockpiles) including numerous dual use facilities, teams of scientists researching biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, actively intended to produce WMD, was actively working to undermine sanctions after which he could continue his programs, was actively attacking British and American planes patrolling the no-fly-zone and actively supporting (including direct training and allowing them to use Iraqi territory) terrorist groups (Mujahedin-e Khalq, PKK, Abu Nidal organization, PLF, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Arab Liberation Front) and much more[1]. All these, however, have been obscured by the failure to find physical stockpiles of WMD.

Readers, with 5 years of hindsight, an Iraq which is beginning to make progress and new memoirs by figures such as Feith, Paul Bremer, George Tenet and Tommy Franks, how do you feel about Iraq, the decision to remove Saddam, our progress and the future of the war on terror.?

* To download a 3 hour interview with Douglas Feith about his book, click here.

[1] To view a detailed but not exhaustive list of Saddams many illegal activities click here for “A Decade of Deception and Defiance.”

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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11 Responses to OIF Original Aims

  1. alex says:

    Five years on Iraq is a mess. Where is the progress? Unless progress means the progress of violence. The cost in human lives lost and ruined is terrible. It’s true there would have been costs in leaving Saddam. This appears more and more to have been the lesser of two evils.

  2. IJ says:

    Even more background.

    In addition to the transcript, we also have a very short version – Jon Stewart’s interview with Douglas Feith posted on SWJ.

  3. Chirol says:

    Thanks for the Jon Stewart link. Didn’t know about it!

  4. lirelou says:

    Perhaps the lesson learned is that we need to revisit the War Powers provisions of the Constitution and scrap the War Powers Act for a clarifying law that defines the differences between war and contingency operations, reserving the latter, which could have included limited operations to take out Saddam Hussein, to the President while the former, anything which requires mobilization of the nations resources, to include the National Guard, is reserved for the Congress to act upon by formally declaring war. It all started with Truman, and it isn’t going to get resolved until some power forces both the Executive and Legislature not only to read the Constitution, but to adhere to its spirit.

    As for Iraq, our moment of opportunity faded when those Iraqi divisions began surrendering en masse during the Gulf War. Instead of sending our Special Forces in to cadre them up, turn them around, and coordinate their advance on Baghdad as part of a coalition force, we placed them in detention centers and sent our special forces off to storm empty U.S. embassies. (OK, a bit of ironic overstatement here, but not much.)

  5. kende says:

    bq.Where is the progress?

    Try looking for it by reading about it and observing the trendlines over the past 2 years here:

    “Long War Journal”:http://www.longwarjournal.org/
    “Michael Yon”:http://michaelyon-online.com/
    “Michael Totten”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/
    “Small Wars Journal”:http://smallwarsjournal.com/

    Or watch:

    “Outside The Wire”:http://outsidethewire.com/

    I would certainly call the continuing process of dismantling of Al Qaeda in Iraq “progress”. The replacement of totalitarian Ba’athist rule with the present Iraqi government, no matter how slow it’s progress may be, is a night and day difference. Clearly there is more work to be done, and much more than far too many had hoped (realistically or not). I think Chirol’s post makes that plenty clear in the first place, and specifically points out that a massive failure of communication and botched decisions following the invasion phase both made dramatic progress much harder to attain that it could have, in far less than perfect hindsight, been. Even so, the progress made over the “Surge” time period has been tremendous. Just ask those who have been reporting the good, the bad, and the very ugly from the front lines the entire time.

  6. Michael says:

    The question in my mind in 2003 was: Why are we invading Iraq when we’re already hearing about troop shortages in Afganistan? Fast forward several years, we’re facing troop shortages in both areas and successes are too often fleeting. Be nice if I could feel vindicated on a pleasant prediction:P

  7. Baltimoron says:


    Reihan Salam makes a case for progress in Basra

    Although I accept Salam’s argument about a situation that cold be termed “progress”, this is what the US and Iraq need to do to draw even and win. No one can call this a well-crafted strategy. It’s akin to the myth, that the Union was destined to prevail, because of its superior industry and manpower advantage. No, the Union won because Lincoln was a better executive than Davis, both Scott and Grant/Sherman devised better strategies than Davis, and states’ right ideology undermines Confederate nationalism. The initial US strategy for Iraq was quixotic, and now Petraeus’ COIN strategy is regaining lost time and ground. The Bush administration is lucky, that’s it!


    Thankfully, Feith realizes now about the difference between stockpiles and capabilities. The Bush administration didn’t know that before, or else they would not have had units scouring Iraq for stockpiles, not capabilities. Thomas Ricks argues ironically, that the Clinton administration’s Desert Fox actually succeeded so well, that it both eliminated US capability to know what had happened in Iraq, and Hussein freaked so badly, he eliminated intelligence sources expecting a follow-on operation. So, the Bush administration operated in the dark.

    lirelou’s point is excellent. Barnett does a wonderful job of describing how the US stumbled after 1989 to articulate a post-Berlin Wall security policy, but forced democratization for the benefit of American corporations is not it. The liberal hawks and the neocons agree on the American example and the use of force if necessary, but democratization comes from sovereign states and their local electorates and interests. Feith avoids the freshman college mistake the Bush administration made believing the Iraqis would just rise up and create a whole new government, when the one Iraq had was competent enough to keep the power and water running even in the midst of sanctions. Al-Qaeda are anarchists; the US should instruct bureaucracies how to govern, not execute them for a loyalty oath. After all, Lincoln and the US Army forgave a lot of Confederates, and Andrew Johnson was impeached for continuing the clemency. Now, replace the executive with the radical Republicans. The constitutional relationship needs to be adjusted again, and oversight restored.

    I also recall from Woodward’s State of Denial, that SecDef Rumsfeld had reinterpreted statutes to control JCS access to the Oval Office, arguing that the chain of command ran from him to the President. That statute needs to be reaffirmed, and access to the Oval Office restored.

    Overall, I think Feith is sneak in what the Bush administration learned and pass it off as a strategy, when it’s a blessing something worse didn’t happen. It’s like the insight, that the US makes mistakes, but learns quickly. OK, Mr. President, since your guys fumbled so badly, the learning curve will probably take the US well past the point of failure. But, that’s no substitute for doing the right thing, the right way, the first time out!

  8. Ralph Hitchens says:

    In the words of that great literary character Captain Jack Aubrey, RN, this was a matter of choosing the “lesser of two weevils.” Saddam was a problem, but a manageable one. While most of the intelligence community & the administration believed that he had _some_ WMD, I suspect that a majority within the IC believed that it was limited to chemical weapon stocks, which are small potatoes as WMDs go. The notion that Saddam constituted a significant threat to the USA was preposterous, and even his regional threat potential was a pale shadow of its pre-1991 self. The “war on terror” was being won in Afghanistan and in the growing international cooperation on counterterrorism. The invasion of Iraq diluted the former effort and drove political wedges into the latter. That no one in a position of serious influence foresaw an explosion of ethnic strife once Saddam was removed represents a staggering failure of analysis. (Do the words “former Yugoslavia” mean anything to anyone?) Bottom line, this was a major-league policy error, not compensated for by whatever success the “surge” may enjoy. Feith’s as entitled as the next man to do what he can to cover his ass, so long as we all recognize that’s what he’s doing.

  9. Chirol says:

    Baltimoron: What you forgot is that WMD capability was just as dangerous as stockpiles and factored into the decision for war as well. Considering that some biological and chemical weapons could be produced in a short period of time, that Saddam still sought nuclear weapons and that he was actively trying to undermind and end sanctions after which he could return to his bad behavior, the decision was hardly an error.

    As they say hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to cite revisionist versions of history to support one’s theory, however, at the time, both the US and Europe and even many of Saddam’s own people believed both that he had WMD and that he continued to seek them out.

    Saddam’s long and violent history hardly justifies simply leaving someone so dangerous in power and merely hoping he behaves.

  10. Baltimoron says:


    I would respond, firstly, with Ralph Hitchens’ comment: Saddam Hussein was a manageable problem. Desert Fox nearly chopped Hussein’s knees off, but it was so successful, the US lost its ability to gain intelligence. It’s also striking how the US and the EU managed to coordinate their Libya sanctions polciies after decades of disagrement, and finally were able to produce the”smoking gun” that forced Quaddafi to capitulate.

    Which brings me to another point raised by Frantz and Collins in “Nuclear Jihadist”, about A.Q. Khan. The CIA had information about Khan, and his activities throughout the region and DPRK, including Libya and Iraq. The authors’ main argument is, that short-term expediency always undermined American non-proliferation strategy, e.g. in Afghanistan most pointedly. The CIA refused to share information with the IAEA, which also had information on Iraq. Together, the two agencies could have busted both Iraq and Libya earlier. This is not hindsight, this is willful and hypocritical obstruction by both Democratic and republican administrations to advance short-term expediencies. So, if the Bush administration was suddenly so concerned with proliferation, it had the smoking gun from Day One. If non-proliferation was such a priority and the US was so vulnerable, the Bush administration had almost 25 years of evidence linking Khan to every non-proliferation problem it needed to expose, or unite international support. It didn’t even need inspections to make a case for action. The paper trail was what damned Libya, and Iraq’s paper trail was as damning.

    Iraq was the smallest part of Khan’s activities, and the juiciest morsels were In Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Reagan administration backed off on its khan efforts because the ISI was doing our business in Afghanistan. We now know they backed the wrong people, and the US didn’t even know it. Kahn got an extra decade and more to feed Libya, iran, iraq, and even the Gulf States.

    America’s non-WMD Iraq policy has more to do with Iran, and Eurasian policy as a whole. The US now, like Britain in the 50s, fears an Iranian regime that can affect oil prices and gain regional status. The WMD angle, tied with the overblown rhetoric comparing Hussein to Hitler, is for public consumption. It neatly cut across America’s dealings with both states since America got involved in Iran with Mossadegh, its fostering of Hussein and the Ba’ath party as a bulwark, its vacillations when Iran went sour in the late 70s and the US used Iranian radicals to infiltrate Iraq (one of the earliest teething grounds for what would become Hezbollah in other Mideast states), and its vacillations during the Iran-Iraq War. America has been right about West Asia. But, it could have neatly eliminated the nuclear problem, if it just hadn’t tried continually to catch its tail in the region.

    (And, I will say it, the US has no credibility with WMD when it can’t get Israel to declare its status. If you want to go balls to wall in West Asia, and drop this ridiculous charade about non-proliferation, let’s just declare Israel nuclear right now officially, deny any nuclear program to the same states Khan supplied, take our little slice of East Med territory around tel Aviv as sacred ground, and let the region go to hell! Washington doesn’t have the cahones for it! The dithering leading to occasional wars and crises is just too lucrative and politically valuable!)