Outside View: Iraq war was total failure

By ANTHONY H. CORDESMAN, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  March 20, 2006 at 11:12 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- Let me preface the following points with the statement that I do not oppose the Iraq war, and that I believe we have an obligation to the Iraqi people to pursue our current strategy, to try to end the insurrection and prevent civil war, and help them create an inclusive and stable government.

I believe that we have made major advances in creating effective Iraqi

forces, that the U.S. Embassy is now pursuing the best political approach it can in trying to create the government Iraq needs, and that we are making slow progress towards taking the aid process out of disastrously incompetent U.S. hands in Washington and making Iraqis responsible for their own economic progress.

But, this should not blind us to the strategic consequences of the war to

date. We may well fail in all our efforts because they came far too slowly,

involved years of inept execution, and we face a scale of problems that we still tend to deny. There is a real risk that Iraq will degenerate into full-scale civil war or a level of divisiveness that will paralyze or limit Iraq's progress for years to come.

It is also clear that creating a unity government with a small Sunni minority isn't going to stop the insurrection or risk of a major civil war during 2006, and perhaps for years to come. At best, it will take years to create a fully stable and functioning new political structure and defeat the insurgency.

As a result, I believe it is time to look quite frankly at the war in terms of how well it has or has not achieved it is original its objectives after three years. It is also time to consider what the resulting lessons mean in terms of the need to avoid rushing into wars we do not really understand -- or properly prepare for -- in the future:

Objective One: Get Rid of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: We achieved our objective long before the war. The main stated objective of the war was pointless.

Objective Two: Liberate Iraq: If crime, insurgency, and sectarian/ethnic

violence are all considered, security for the average Iraq is now worse than under

Saddam Hussein. Iraqis are freer, but the new political freedom is essentially the

freedom to vote for sectarian and ethnic divisions. Some progress to be sure, but much more limited than the Administration claims. It will be 2007-2008 at the earliest before stability can be established -- if it can. We essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop, without a meaningful plan to deal with the consequences. We have tried to fix the resulting problems, but we still don't know whether we can salvage our early mistakes, and give Iraqis both real security and real freedom.

Objective Three: End the Terrorist Threat in Iraq: There was no meaningful

threat in the first place. Neo-Salafi terrorism now dominates the insurgency and is a far worse threat. Al-Qaida now has serious involvement in Iraq, and native Neo-Salafi extremists will be a threat for years to come. The impact on the region has alienated many Arabs and Muslims and has aided extremists. The war may create Iraq Shiite extremists as a lasting regional problem, and has already given Iran leverage that has added a new risk of Shi'ite extremism.

Objective Four: Stabilize the Gulf Region and Middle East: The war has been extremely divisive. It has created a major new source of anger against the U.S. and new tensions over the U.S. military presence in the region. Iran, Turkey, and neighboring Arab states have all become involved in destabilizing ways.

Objective Five: Ensure Secure Energy Exports: There have been consistently

lower Iraqi exports than under Saddam. The predicted increases in Iraqi

production during 2003-2005 have never occurred, and will not for years to come. There has been no meaningful renovation of oil fields and export facilities and serious further wartime disruption. The previous problems have spilled over into the other Gulf exporting states.

Objective Six: Make Iraq a Democratic Example that Transforms the Middle East: Iraq is not a model of anything. Public opinion polls in region show that our invasion of Iraq, our inept public diplomacy, and our poorly handled efforts to inspire regional reform, have created new Arab fears of U.S., and serious distrust of U.S. efforts at reform in other countries.

Objective Seven: Help Iraq Become a Modern Economy: The flood of wartime

spending, oil for food money, and aid money has put tens of billions of dollars into the Iraqi economy and raised the GDP and per capita income on paper. So have record oil revenues. Even the latest Department of Defense quarterly status report has oil export revenues dominating the Iraqi portion of the GDP, projects this percentage will rise sharply in the future instead of Iraq moving towards balanced development. Most new businesses are shells, minor starts ups or war related. Youth unemployment easily averages more than 30 percent nationwide and is 40-60 percent in the troubled Sunni areas. As yet, no meaningful sectorial reform in agriculture, state industries, or the energy sector. A shift to focused short

term aid and letting the Iraqis manage more of the money may help, but our

efforts to date have largely been a wasteful, and highly ideological and

bureaucratic, failure.

In short, the Iraqi war shows being a superpower, ideology, and good

intentions are no substitute for realism and objectivity. Fighting wars successfully requires both a realistic grand strategy, having the real-world the ability to implement it, and providing the necessary resources from the start. We may salvage the Iraq War to the degree we defeat the insurgency and give the Iraqis something approaching a unified and pluralistic government, although the odds are at best even. There is little or no chance of salvaging the war in terms of our broader strategic objectives.

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