Iraq War taught us tough lessons, but world is better off without Saddam Hussein

Reuters

A U.S. Marine covers the face of a statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with a U.S. flag in Baghdad April 9, 2003.

Article Highlights

  • The world is better off without Saddam Hussein ruling Iraq, and the alternative to what we did wasn’t to do nothing.

    Tweet This

  • The war in Iraq proved so difficult & lasted so long because it took so long to develop a counterinsurgency strategy.

    Tweet This

  • Though it took 4 years to develop, the US counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq produced dramatic results quickly.

    Tweet This

The world is better off without Saddam Hussein ruling Iraq, and the alternative to what we did wasn’t to do nothing. While the extensive investigation by the Iraq Survey Group did not find the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that U.S. (and British and French and other) intelligence services expected we would find, it did confirm that Saddam hadn’t given up on his pursuit of weapons. He fully intended to restart the programs, through which he had produced chemical and biological weapons and pursued nuclear weapons in the past, as soon as sanctions were lifted.

As a strictly military matter, if the war in Iraq had actually ended when we got to Baghdad, it would have been counted an historic victory, akin to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s daring amphibious landing at Inchon in the rear of the invading North Korean army in 1950 during the Korean War.

Also like Inchon, however, the arrival of coalition forces in Baghdad turned out to be not the end but more nearly the beginning of the real war. In the case of Korea, it was China’s entry into the war. In the case of Iraq it was the insurgency, although many saw it as simply “post-conflict” chaos, a result of our having “broken” Iraq.

The principal reason why the war in Iraq proved so difficult and lasted so long is that it took so long to develop a counterinsurgency strategy. The essence of such a strategy is that protecting the population must be the primary focus of the effort, not just killing or capturing the enemy. Because confronting insurgents is so dangerous, particularly for unarmed civilians, U.S. forces need to attend to the security of the population if they want to gain their cooperation and obtain essential intelligence.

Eventually, in 2007, the U.S. did implement a counter-insurgency strategy which became known as “the surge.” While a counter-insurgency strategy required more troops – roughly 30,000 to reach a peak of 170,000, the surge wasn’t primarily about adding more troops. The new strategy was primarily about using those forces in a different way.

If it is surprising that it took the U.S. four years to begin to pursue a counter-insurgency strategy, it is even more surprising that the new strategy produced such dramatic results so quickly. And it did so despite the growth in the insurgency and despite the sectarian violence that had begun to spin out of control after the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006.

Such a rapid reversal is almost unprecedented in the history of guerilla warfare and probably several different factors help to explain it. But the speed with which things turned around in Iraq, even after reaching such a low point, gives an idea of how different things might have been if the U.S. had been pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy from the outset. Those four years of delay cost lives and treasure and lost opportunities.

No matter how much we wish to avoid it, we may have to confront insurgents again someday. If so, we should not have to relearn the lessons acquired at such cost from our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Wolfowitz, now an American Enterprise Institute scholar, was U.S. deputy secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2005.

 

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Paul
Wolfowitz

What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.