Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rebutting the Iraq War Critics - Part I

[by Mr.Hengist]

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast of Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Robin Wright, who was promoting her book, “Dreams and Shadows.”

Hewitt is marvelous when he interviews book authors; it’s clear that he’s read their book in-depth and has detailed notes upon which he draws to ask insightful questions. Despite having spent the entire show on the interview he left some assertions she made on the Iraq war stand unchallenged. Bothered me, it did, as I’ve heard the gist of them repeated (and refuted) for years, and while they’re common currency amongst Liberals I say they’re bunk.

Bunk, I say. I’ve got my keyboard, I’ve got my pajamas, and I’ve got the time, so I’ll have at it.

Wright begins her complaints:
“[…] the steps we took at the early stage to disband the government were serious mistakes. I think there’s universal agreement on that. That includes disbanding the army, leaving 400,000 people without jobs, without being able to support their families, and no alternatives in place.”
Wright says she thinks there’s universal agreement on this; when I hear a Liberal claim that an assertion they make is universally agreed upon, it usually means it’s a universal belief amongst their fellow Liberals. That’s why we call it the “Liberal bubble.” I know it all too well. I lived in one for many years.

At any rate, the Iraqi Army disbanded itself. Unlike Gulf War I when Iraqi soldiers surrendered by the tens of thousands, in 2003 Iraqi soldiers were literally casting off their uniforms and abandoning their positions, so that by the time Baghdad fell there was no Iraqi Army.

What irks me the most about this meme is that it the Bush Administration made what was obviously the better choice between the alternatives. As if Sadr’s ragtag “Mahdi Army” militia weren’t bad enough, Liberals are implicitly asking us to believe that having been reconstituted, rearmed, and refielded, the Iraqi Army would not then have taken the opportunity to insurrect. As we rebuilt the Iraqi army up from scratch we allowed former Iraqi Army members into the new Iraqi Army after they were vetted and spent weeks under the close personal supervision and training of the Coalition. It’s true that the process is susceptible to failure, as no screening procedures can be perfect. Everyone from the top down in CENTCOM knows it, and the Liberal MSM frequently reports on it in their efforts to undermine war support. I don’t deny that infiltration is a problem in the Iraqi Army, I’m just downplaying it as a decisive factor in that conflict, and contrasting it with the absurd idea that we should have restored Saddam’s army of thugs, as if that would have been a better plan than what we did and are doing.

For the sake of argument I’ll grant the supposition that we could have resurrected the Iraqi Army and they would not have insurrected. In a best-case scenario we would have put ourselves in charge of the incompetent, corrupt instrument of Saddam’s brutal oppression. We would have had to weed out the incorrigible thugs and killers – putting them out on the street, unemployed – and until they could be identified and ejected or prosecuted we would have been responsible for every act of brutality they inflicted upon the Iraqi people. It is implausible that anti-war Liberals would not have held the Bush Administration to account for any and all Iraqi soldiers who committed an act of atrocity on an Iraqi or a member of the allied Coalition. It takes no stretch of the imagination to hear the accusations that we had taken ownership of and were the new masters over an army of oppression, as if it were merely a change in management but not function. If that weren’t bad enough, I can’t imagine how difficult a sell it would have been to convince the Iraqi people that we wanted to help them create a better way of life by putting their former oppressors in charge of their security.

I have some sympathy for her lament that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers were left unemployed. However, it’s disingenuous of anti-war critics to make this argument because, had they been successful in stopping the war before it began, these soldiers would still be enforcing the Saddamist tyranny by brutalizing the Iraqi people, which hardly seems to be the better alternative.

So, yes, we put Saddam’s army of oppression out of a job. Cry me a river.

Wright continues:
“Disbanding the Baath party was also a mistake, because a little bit like communist regimes, to get a job as a schoolteacher, any kind of civil service job, you had to be a member of the party. And that put a lot of people on the streets, or disqualified them from getting any kind of job at a time there were no alternatives. And that set us up for an insurgency.”
It may have been unintentionally apt of Wright to have compared the way both the Baathists and Communists required membership in the party in order to get a decent government job. Both parties shared ideological roots and common methods and were, from my Western Capitalist perspective, more closely matched as variations of a like kind. Wright could also have analogized this to similar practices of the German Nazi party of the early-mid twentieth century, which also shares a common ideological basis with both Baathism and Communism, but Wright is trying to generate sympathy for these ex-Baathists. Thus, she gives them a light whitewash with the Baathists being only a little like the Communists.

At any rate, her assertion regarding employment was not entirely true in that these Baathists were only disqualified from employment in the new Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government was not the sole employer in the state of Iraq, although there were not enough jobs for everyone who got kicked out of a government job and needed a new one. I’d be willing to entertain her criticism as being valid if Wright would have gone on to explain how we could have quickly and easily distinguished these harmless just-tryin’-ta-get-me-a-job Baathists from the hard-core, oppressive bastards who had tyrannized Iraq for the previous thirty years. Absent that, the better course of action is to keep the lot of them out of the positions of power en masse during the critical early formative years of the Iraqi government.


TigerHawk said...

On these two questions the left/media narrative is usually incomplete in some way that makes it sound stupid. However, it is possible to express roughly the same criticism in terms that are more realistic. For example, the mistake was not in the disarming of the old Iraqi army, it was in the failure to employ it. There is a big difference. Yes, much of the Army had slipped away. If, however, Paul Bremer had announced that all former Iraqi soldiers would have a job if they only step forward with their weapons, and if we had indeed re-enrolled them (those that did step forward), and pay them $100 a month to do unarmed security, reconstruction work, or other make work (conditioned on them showing up for roll call and the like), the result might have been much better. So the problem was not in disarming the army, but in not making a post hoc attempt to recruit it and co-opt it. This attempt would not have been 100% successful even if carried out perfectly, but it probably would have made the next three or four years quite a bit easier in terms of blood and treasure. Remember, the problem of unemployed soldiers is a famous one in the history of war; the clear lesson of history is that they are to be avoided at all costs. Hire the soldiers first, not last, seems to have been missed by Bremer and his crowd.

Mr.Hengist said...

TigerHawk, I think you’re right, although I’m skeptical that Wright meant to imply that the Iraqi Army should been employed in a capacity other than as a standing army because she used the word “disbanded.” Nevertheless, I would agree that we should have preferentially hired ex-IA for constructive work for the reasons you’ve given, and in retrospect I should probably have talked about that in my post. If Wright meant that the IA should have been disarmed and stood down as a military force and offered jobs then I concede the point entirely.