Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Iraq's bitter lessons

It has been 10 years since then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's U.N. speech on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. I watched the secretary's presentation intently on assignment to Fort Jackson, S.C. that day. The presentation, of course, would make the final case for war with Iraq before the world, Congress and, arguably most importantly, the American people.

Like many of my colleagues on active duty, I had been highly skeptical of this pretext for war while serving as a military planner, particularly over what many regarded as plausible exaggerations and outright distortions. The latter, by all indications — and certainly among planners on the inside of the process — took on increasing intensity in the months following 9/11. Iraq, of course, was initially implicated in the attack itself — with at least one senior administration official, Paul Wolfowitz, arguing for a regime takedown in the days immediately following the attacks, according to accounts. There soon followed stories (never confirmed) of 9/11 hijackers who met with Iraqi intelligence agents in Czechoslovakia, and later of the Iraqi agent code-named "Curveball," who first proclaimed the existence of the mobile weapons labs cited by Secretary Powell. Many Americans would wrongly come to believe Iraq was behind 9/11, and this was no accident.

Mr. Wolfowitz, known as an intellectual architect of the war as deputy secretary of defense, and others brought into government by Vice President Dick Cheney were said to have been intent on doing something about Iraq from the outset of the Bush administration, after a decade of sanctions and no-fly enforcement that were of limited effectiveness. That this intention would soon take the form of building a case for a ground war in Iraq on the heels of 9/11, and would find a receptive audience in the White House, astounded many of us, especially with military planning at the time indicating possibly five years or more of a costly, bloody ground war, probably involving several hundred thousand troops. Mr. Wolfowitz later indicated that the possibility of weapons of mass destruction was "the only thing we could all agree on" as the case for war was made. That possibility, eventually advertised as a virtual certainty, became the casus belli.

In April 2003, I was in attendance at the Army War College Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle, Pa. On April 9, the day Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad was taken down, the keynote speaker for the conference was Richard Perle, another so-called intellectual architect of the war, as a previous assistant defense secretary and later as chairman of the Defense Policy Board (and frequent talk show guest). When, at the conclusion of his remarks (which centered on the elimination of the strategic threat posed by Hussein's WMDs), I asked him, "What's next?" he replied, "Iran or Syria — take your pick." I countered that there was a very high likelihood that the cost and duration of the Iraq war would never enable that, and that many unforeseen difficulties would soon arise. This was greeted hostilely by speaker and audience alike. The rest is history, however, and bears no repeating here.

Whatever the actual, versus the articulated, motivation for the war with Iraq, the likelihood that a misbegotten military adventure like this one — costing America over 4,000 dead, over 30,000 wounded and well in excess of a trillion dollars — will be repeated anytime soon is, thankfully, very low if not altogether non-existent. Americans have once again had to learn, the hard way, to be skeptical of the policy process, particularly where the cost to America, and ordinary Americans, can be extraordinarily high. That's the side of history where I want to stand.

 Ralph Masi, a collegiate professor at University of Maryland University College, studied the Iraq war following a career on active duty. His email is ralph.masi@faculty.umuc.edu.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
    Related Content
    • Iraqis give away U.S. weapons

      Iraqis give away U.S. weapons

      Observing the Iraqi forces fighting ISIS running away every time they engage ISIS is one thing, but it is entirely another thing for the Iraqis to abandon their American weapons every time they retreat in a panic ("Islamic State seizes part of ancient town of Palmyra in Syria," May 20).

    • Obama's costly foreign policy failures

      Obama's costly foreign policy failures

      Peter Morici produced a fine piece of writing and logic ("The poverty of Obama's foreign policy," May 20). But he should give some credit to President Barack Obama's self-proclaimed "successes" in Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

    • In Iraq, a de facto U.S.-Iran alliance

      In Iraq, a de facto U.S.-Iran alliance

      In principle, the Obama administration's strategy for confronting the Islamic State made perfect sense: The U.S. would conduct military airstrikes against insurgent strongholds in Syria and Iraq in support of coordinated attacks on the ground by troops fielded by our regional allies. The goal was...

    • Obama takes radical Islam too lightly

      Obama takes radical Islam too lightly

      I give The Sun's editorial board credit for using the correct term — "radical Islam" ("Radical Islam in Africa," April 13) to describe the terrorist attack in Kenya. But you really can't expect the Obama administration to do one thing since President Barack Obama described al-Qaida as "one the...

    • Only Muslims can defeat radical Islam

      Only Muslims can defeat radical Islam

      Commentator Huma Munir offered an excellent portrayal of the Qur'anic vision that has been corrupted to justify a violent political reality ("Real Muslims don't terrorize," April 7).

    • Mideast Christians risk persecution and death for their faith

      Mideast Christians risk persecution and death for their faith

      One of the terrible by-products of the rise of Islamic radicalism is the destruction of Christian communities of the Middle East ("Islamic State seizes Christians," Feb. 25).

    • Obama ended the Iraq war, which was what voters elected him to do

      Obama ended the Iraq war, which was what voters elected him to do

      In response to reader Jay Hilgartner's letter, Bud Adams asserts that the "disaster of nation building in Iraq" occurred when President Obama removed all U.S. troops from the country in 2011, against the advice of his military advisers and at a time when the country was calm and stable ("Republican...

    • Confronting terrorism requires force

      Confronting terrorism requires force

      Regarding Barbara Risacher's recent letter on the war on terror, the least attractive option is to fail to respond forcibly to terror — a view the writer apparently favors ("New thinking in war on terror," Feb. 26).

    Comments
    Loading

    79°