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Move On, But Don’t Forget

February 26th, 2006

Just because we have no choice in a matter does not mean that the right choices led to this impasse, nor that we should forget the errors made.

There is a strange phenomenon that I’ve observed with the war in Iraq: that having no good options left and being forced to choose a horrific course of action in order to avoid a catastrophic one is somehow being played as “we did the right thing.” Add to that a great deal of “the past is past, so ignore it and be optimistic about the future,” and you’ve got what many people are saying about the war.

On this site, I have been scolded several times by people who say that prognosticating a bad outcome, even though it is rather obvious to see, is a big no-no, and that complaining about the past will serve no purpose.

I beg to differ.

First off, I am a strong believer in learning from your mistakes, and am a stronger believer in not letting politicians get away with them, else they feel comfortable doing so. The Iraq War was a huge and terrible mistake. What’s more, it was not hard to see.

The Bush administration either lied about it or was so foolishly optimistic as to be a bunch of bright-eyed idiots. They said the war would cost no more than $2 billion. Opponents (like me) said it would “easily cost $80 billion, probably much more than that.” We were right: it cost more than $80 billion in just the first year, and now is over $240 billion, with the administration asking for money to put the cost over $300 billion. Think of the schools we could have built with that money.

The Bush administration lied about how easy it would be: they said we’d be greeted as liberators, the people of Iraq throwing flowers at the feet of our soldiers. The critics, again like myself, pointed out that people in the region “do not and never have reacted kindly to U.S. intervention.” Cheney said that “extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad,” while people like me said that “an unsupported attack by America on an Arab nation would generate such fear and hostility in so many people that extremists would be swamped with volunteers willing to die for their cause.” Guess who was right? The war has inflamed the region, the country is on the brink of massive civil war, and the ranks of al Qaeda have swelled to more than 18,000, new recruits made passionate because of Bush’s war.

The Bush administration claimed that they could get a strong coalition and that the U.S. would not suffer in international respect or reputation. Critics again disagreed, saying, like I did, that “not only is there no coalition, but it appears that at this point, a coalition would be impossible to form,” and that we “would also pay in terms of lost reputation, international respect and influence in world affairs.” Again, we were right, they were wrong. The “coalition of the willing” was just as lame as the name it bore, and lacked support of most of the world. Basically, it was the U.S. and Great Britain, with a few other militarily smaller countries throwing in token forces.

The Bush administration painted Iraq as a grave threat, warning of “mushroom clouds” in the State of the Union speech, and claiming that they had solid evidence that Hussein was 6 months away from completing a nuclear weapon. Critics denied this, like the point I made that there was no evidence of a nuclear program and the fact that before the first Gulf War, the Bush 41 administration made the exact same fake claims in their own justification.

The Bush administration said that their planning was good and they did all they needed to; critics warned that the Bush administration had no exit strategy. I wrote, “what is the exit strategy? How long will it take? How many of our troops will die? How many Iraqis … will we end up killing? How long will our troops be there? How deeply will we become involved in rooting out everyone there who violently disagrees with our occupation? And how will the nation-building succeed?” Do I even need to point out that every one of those concerns has been proven to be a major concern, and that Bush’s lack of an exit strategy has now made each one of these points a painful area of loss? No thought was given to any of these points by Bush; it was purely a case of wanting something and not giving a damn about the cost.

My overall point here? That this was not a mistake that anyone could have made. This was not a mistake that no one could have foreseen. It is critical that we remember the fact that all the mistakes the Bush administration made in this war were foreseen well before the war started, and warnings were loudly given. We did know that this was a mistake, it’s just that the Bush administration was so blinded, so foolish, and so single-minded that they did not believe and/or care that they were making these errors.

Whatever the case, it is now the right of the critics who were correct to step forward and point out that the Bush administration was wrong, that they made terrible blunders though thoroughly warned, and they they are fully responsible for everything that happened. And it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to acknowledge these mistakes–though we all know that this is the last thing they will ever do.

Already, I can foresee the comments to this point: “but that’s in the past! We gain nothing by obsessing with things we can’t change, and that doesn’t help us now.” Hell yes, it helps us. It helps us avoid doing this again, and it helps us because it proves that the Bush administration is dangerously stupid and that we should not believe or trust them. That we should instead put into place a Congress that will serve as an opposition to them, and to pay attention to critics when they point out the wrongness of what the administration wants to do next.

But, as I have been scolded before and likely will be again, “you’re just being pessimistic. If we have a negative outlook on what will happen, it will just bleed into our actions and assure our loss. We have to be optimistic and support the administration.” Like hell. There is a difference between harmful pessimism and pragmatic realism. Being an optimist will not prevent Iraq from descending into civil war. Being an optimist will not make the insurgency crumble. Being an optimist instead of a realist will only repeat the same mistakes that Bush made when he pushed us into this war.

The realistic view of this war is that we’re screwed. I’m sorry, I wish it were otherwise, but when there writing is on the wall you don’t just ignore it. That’s the dangerous course of action. To close your eyes to reality and wish real hard for a good outcome, that’s what’ll lead to more disaster. To pretend that if we just hope and see things as ending well, that such will turn about our fortunes is, forgive me, foolishly naive.

Think I’m wrong? Well, I was right before the war. What makes you think that I’m wrong now?

The tragedy here is that if it were ever possible to have made things work out in Iraq, the time to make that happen is long past. One turning point would have been before the war, to work with our allies instead of bullying them and build a real coalition; at the start of the war, to have used enough troops to do the job right, stopping the looting and fighting the insurgency before it started; right after the initial military success, not to have disassembled the Iraqi military, and to have immediately brought in U.N. and Arab-nation overseers and managers, instead of greedily grabbing all the goodies and business contracts for ourselves. But time after time, despite warnings, despite advice to the contrary, Bush made mistake after mistake. And now, as much as we all would rather have it be otherwise, it is just too damned late.

The only thing we can do now is to realize the mistakes that were made, make sure that those who committed them are held responsible and are not allowed to repeat them. Then we clean our wounds, get out as gracefully as we can, and never do something this stupid ever again.

Unfortunately, that last paragraph was the expression of wide-eyed optimism. The pragmatic realist in me realizes that we probably won’t do any of that.

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  1. John
    February 27th, 2006 at 06:02 | #1

    Your right. The entire war is a mistake. However, we are in it still. And since we are stuck in this war until it is over, we should remain there and continue fighting until things do work out. If we cut and run now, then the entire group of Iraqi insurgents will follow behind to do more damage than the 9-11 attacks. No one can take on a fight and then just run in the middle without being considered a chicken. In most cases, the other opponent will follow just to finish the fight that was started. Who said that Iraq wouldn’t do the same if we left? Despite the fact that we just spent way too much money on this war from the beginning, we are going to have to spend more until it is over. We went into this fight because of pride, and pride normally makes fools out of a lot of people. Bush is an excelent example of that. But our soldiers are over there fighting whether you like it or not. You have choices you can make, find some way to support this war or be completely against it. But reminiscing about the past is not going to change what is currently going on.

  2. Luis
    February 27th, 2006 at 17:58 | #2

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that we went in for pride. We may stay in because of pride, and there may have been many reasons Bush took us in, but I don’t think pride was one of them. Control of oil, a desire to dominate the Arab world, business opportunities, the Neocon agenda, political gain in an election year, and probably others. But pride was not one of the reasons.

    As for staying in, there’s not much to gain. Is pride reason enough for us to lose the lives of thousands more soldiers, hundreds of billions of dollars, and what little reputation we have left, when the outcome will probably be the same no matter what? This war Bush has stuck us with is not a winnable one; at least Clinton had the good sense to cut our losses and pull us out of Somalia (which Bush 41 got us into, if you’ll recall). Bush didn’t, instead he kept our hands in the fire, and we got burnt.

    Iraq can’t be won. It will disintegrate and fall into internecine war. Our troops staying in will not change that, it’ll only make it bloodier for us, and might even prolong the conflict. Like I said, our choices are between “horrific” and “catastrophic,” in other words we lose either way. But to “stay the course” and just stay until we “win” is not the answer. Sometimes you have to know when to fold. It may be humiliating, but Bush has given us no choice–unless you consider sacrificing thousands more of our soldiers for nothing more than useless pride a “choice.”

    But reminiscing about the past is not going to change what is currently going on.

    No, but as I said, it’ll enable us to hold Bush responsible for the acts he’s committed, it will help us realize we should not trust him or do a damn thing he tells us to do, and not to commit the same blunders in the future. More than enough reason to “reminisce,” as you so enormously understate it.

    Instead, what will likely happen is that Bush will keep us in until he leaves office, leaving the decision to pull out to the next president–and if it’s a Democrat, then the GOP will blame him/her for “losing” the war.

  3. Howard roberts
    March 3rd, 2006 at 12:05 | #3

    The plan I am sending you has been approved by many prominent thinkers and
    activists in the field. Which includes: Benjamin Ferencz, Chief Prosecutor
    at the Nuremburg Trials, Tom Hayden, Matthew Rothschild, Danny Schecter,
    Tony Benn- Former Member of the British parliment ,Reggie Rivers,
    Robert Jenkins, Andrew Bard Schmookler and others.
    I formulated this plan in September 2004, based on a comprehensive
    study of the issues. For my plan to be successful it must be implemented
    with all seven points beginning to happen within a very short period of
    I have run up against a wall of doubt about my plan due to it’s
    rational nature ,and due to it’s adherence to placing the blame on the
    invaders, and then trying to formulate a process of extrication which would
    put all entities in this conflict face to face, to begin to finally solve
    the dilemmas that exist.
    If you read my plan you will see that it is guided by a reasonable
    and practical compromise that could end this war and alleviate the
    internecine civil violence that is confronting Iraq at this juncture in it’s
    I am making a plea for my plan to be put into action on a wide-scale.
    I need you to circulate it and use all the persuasion you have to bring it
    to the attention of those in power.
    Just reading my plan and sending off an e-mail to me that you received
    it will not be enough.

    This war must end-we who oppose it can do this by using my plan.
    We must fight the power and end the killing.

    If you would like to view some comments and criticism about my plan
    I direct you to my blog: sevenpointman

    Thank you my dear friend,

    Howard Roberts

    A Seven-point plan for an Exit Strategy in Iraq

    1) A timetable for the complete withdrawal of American and British forces
    must be announced.
    I envision the following procedure, but suitable fine-tuning can be
    applied by all the people involved.

    A) A ceasefire should be offered by the Occupying side to
    representatives of both the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite community. These
    representatives would be guaranteed safe passage, to any meetings. The
    individual insurgency groups would designate who would attend.
    At this meeting a written document declaring a one-month ceasefire,
    witnessed by a United Nations authority, will be fashioned and eventually
    signed. This document will be released in full, to all Iraqi newspapers, the
    foreign press, and the Internet.
    B) US and British command will make public its withdrawal, within
    sixth-months of 80 % of their troops.

    C) Every month, a team of United Nations observers will verify the
    effectiveness of the ceasefire.
    All incidences on both sides will be reported.

    D) Combined representative armed forces of both the Occupying
    nations and the insurgency organizations that agreed to the cease fire will
    protect the Iraqi people from actions by terrorist cells.

    E) Combined representative armed forces from both the Occupying
    nations and the insurgency organizations will begin creating a new military
    and police force. Those who served, without extenuating circumstances, in
    the previous Iraqi military or police, will be given the first option to

    F) After the second month of the ceasefire, and thereafter, in
    increments of 10-20% ,a total of 80% will be withdrawn, to enclaves in Qatar
    and Bahrain. The governments of these countries will work out a temporary
    land-lease housing arrangement for these troops. During the time the troops
    will be in these countries they will not stand down, and can be re-activated
    in the theater, if both the chain of the command still in Iraq, the newly
    formed Iraqi military, the leaders of the insurgency, and two international
    ombudsman (one from the Arab League, one from the United Nations), as a
    majority, deem it necessary.

    G) One-half of those troops in enclaves will leave three-months after they
    arrive, for the United States or other locations, not including Iraq.

    H) The other half of the troops in enclaves will leave after

    I) The remaining 20 % of the Occupying troops will, during this six
    month interval, be used as peace-keepers, and will work with all the
    designated organizations, to aid in reconstruction and nation-building.

    J) After four months they will be moved to enclaves in the above
    mentioned countries.
    They will remain, still active, for two month, until their return to
    the States, Britain and the other involved nations.

    2) At the beginning of this period the United States will file a letter with
    the Secretary General of the Security Council of the United Nations, making
    null and void all written and proscribed orders by the CPA, under R. Paul
    Bremer. This will be announced and duly noted.

    3) At the beginning of this period all contracts signed by foreign countries
    will be considered in abeyance until a system of fair bidding, by both
    Iraqi and foreign countries, will be implemented ,by an interim Productivity
    and Investment Board, chosen from pertinent sectors of the Iraqi economy.
    Local representatives of the 18 provinces of Iraq will put this board
    together, in local elections.

    4) At the beginning of this period, the United Nations will declare that
    Iraq is a sovereign state again, and will be forming a Union of 18
    autonomous regions. Each region will, with the help of international
    experts, and local bureaucrats, do a census as a first step toward the
    creation of a municipal government for all 18 provinces. After the census, a
    voting roll will be completed. Any group that gets a list of 15% of the
    names on this census will be able to nominate a slate of representatives.
    When all the parties have chosen their slates, a period of one-month will be
    allowed for campaigning.
    Then in a popular election the group with the most votes will represent that
    When the voters choose a slate, they will also be asked to choose five
    individual members of any of the slates.
    The individuals who have the five highest vote counts will represent a
    National government.
    This whole process, in every province, will be watched by international
    observers as well as the local bureaucrats.

    During this process of local elections, a central governing board, made up
    of United Nations, election governing experts, insurgency organizations, US
    and British peacekeepers, and Arab league representatives, will assume the
    temporary duties of administering Baghdad, and the central duties of

    When the ninety representatives are elected they will assume the legislative
    duties of Iraq for two years.

    Within three months the parties that have at least 15% of the
    representatives will nominate candidates for President and Prime Minister.

    A national wide election for these offices will be held within three months
    from their nomination.

    The President and the Vice President and the Prime Minister will choose
    their cabinet, after the election.

    5) All debts accrued by Iraq will be rescheduled to begin payment, on the
    principal after one year, and on the interest after two years. If Iraq is
    able to handle another loan during this period she should be given a grace
    period of two years, from the taking of the loan, to comply with any
    structural adjustments.

    6) The United States and the United Kingdom shall pay Iraq reparations for
    its invasion in the total of 120 billion dollars over a period of twenty
    years for damages to its infrastructure. This money can be defrayed as
    investment, if the return does not exceed 6.5 %.

    7) During the beginning period Saddam Hussein and any other prisoners who
    are deemed by a Council of Iraqi Judges, elected by the National
    representative body, as having committed crimes will be put up for trial.
    The trial of Saddam Hussein will be before seven judges, chosen from this
    Council of Judges.
    One judge, one jury, again chosen by this Council, will try all other
    All defendants will have the right to present any evidence they want, and to
    choose freely their own lawyers.

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