Sunday, March 30, 2008

5th Anniversary: Rights and Wrongs of the Iraq War

It is 5 years since US and British forces attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Until the surge drafted by Frederick Kagan, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jack Kean, Retired General of the US Army, Iraq had been implemented, the US-led coalition had been facing critical difficulties. However, things have improved since then, particularly in the Sunni triangle, the dangerous areas in Iraq. In the presidential election this year, Iraq is one of the key issues. Therefore, it is vital that we discuss rights and wrongs in the Iraq War, and explore necessary measures for victory.

Has the surge really succeeded? Prior to the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War, the United Nations released a report on human rights in Iraq, saying that violent attacks dwindled significantly in the Baghdad area. Also, the United Nations welcome the decision of the Iraqi government to join the UN Convention against the Torture (“Iraq: UN report on rights violations says violent attacks in decline”; UN News Centre; March 15, 2008).

Shortly after the release of this report, Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain visited Iraq to hail progress in defeating terrorists. On March 19, President George W. Bush delivered a speech on Iraq and the War on Terror to proclaim success of the war despite substantial difficulties, and advocate steadfast commitment until the mission completes. Regarding post Saddam turmoil, President Bush addressed the following.

My administration understood that America could not retreat in the face of terror. And we knew that if we did not act, the violence that had been consuming Iraq would worsen, and spread, and could eventually reach genocidal levels. Baghdad could have disintegrated into a contagion of killing, and Iraq could have descended into full-blown sectarian warfare.

So we reviewed the strategy -- and changed course in Iraq. We sent reinforcements into the country in a dramatic policy shift that is now known as "the surge." General David Petraeus took command with a new mission: Work with Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pressure [sic] the enemy into strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country. And that is precisely what we have done.

The President emphasized that terrorists and Iran would be emboldened, if the United States left Iraq at the mercy of their vandalism.

As if challenging American leaders, Shiite militia’s uprising is being intensified in the Basra area since the presidential speech (“More than 100 Dead in Two Days of Iraq Fighting”; CNN; March 26, 2008). Jessica Matthews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that stability in early March this year was founded on fragile political compromise among ethnic and religious sects. She casts doubt on effectiveness of the surge, and stresses importance of political process.

However, it is apparent that premature withdrawal is no help for stability in Iraq. In view of recent uprising in Basra, Britain has changed its decision to cut troops there. As the Iraqi Forces failed to defeat Shiite militants in the Southern region, Prime Minister Gordon Brown needs to scrap the troop reduction plan last October. Ministry of Defence does not rule out sending a small force, in addition to currently staying troops (“Basra Crisis Leaves British Withdrawal in Ruins”; The Times; March 28, 2008). Although David Hamilton, Labour Member of Parliament on the Commons Defence Committee, agree to scarp the troop reduction plan, he worries that fighting both in Iraq and Afghanistan poses substantial burden to Britain (“Iraq violence puts pull-out of 1,500 UK troops in doubt”; The Scotsman; 29 March, 2008).

Richard Perle, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, evaluates rights and wrongs in the Iraq War (“We Made Mistakes in Iraq, but I Still Believe the War Was Just”; Sunday Telegraph; 16 March, 2008). He says that the war itself was the right decision as the Coalition defeated Saddam Hussein in just 21 days. However, Perle points out some critical errors in the occupation. The seminal mistake, he believes, is that the Coalition did not hand Iraq to an interim government when Baghdad fell. As a result, Iraqis see US Forces occupiers rather than liberators, and insurgents ―― both Al Qaeda and ex-Baathists ―― made use of such antipathy to Americans.

Despite unexpected difficulties, Richard Perle mentions positive consequences of US occupation. Iraqis did not yield to obstruction by terrorists, and voted in the first free election in the Arab world. In addition, partnership with traditional leaders has made the surge successful.

Frederick Kagan, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an architect of the surge, points out that US Forces attack the right target with heavy firepower thanks to close cooperation with local leaders (“The Army Grew into the Job”; New York Times; March 16, 2008).

Finally, I would like to mention an article by Peter D. Feaver, ex-Alexander F. Hehmeyer professor of political science at Duke University (“Why We Went Into Iraq: The question McCain must answer”; Weekly Standard; March 24, 2008). Feaver argues that McCain be steadfast to advocate the case for the original decision to invade Iraq. This will encourage pro-war citizens in America. According to Feaver, President Bush failed to appeal the original case for the invasion, and talked about how to manage on going turmoil in Iraq. It appeared a guilty plea to the public. Feaver insists McCain not repeat this mistake.

On the other hand, Peter Feaver criticizes war opponents for the following reasons. Though nuclear weapons were not found, they also believed Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat with nuclear bombs. They have no qualification to blame information “errors”. In addition, Feaver points out that Barack Obama showed no idea to deal with Saddam Hussein in 2002, when no inspectors stayed in Iraq and UN sanctions were falling apart. Though the threat of US Forces reinvigorated the Security Council and the inspection regime, Obama opposed this power-oriented approach, Feaver says.

Having reviewed articles and news reports mentioned here, I conclude that the Coalition and the global society must be relentless to defeat insurgents in Iraq. Downsizing of British troops has lead to current turmoil around Basra. As Peter Feaver points out, arguments by war-critics are poorly founded. It is important to learn lessons from past wrongs, but the endeavor in Iraq should be steadfast, never apologetic.