Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 16:02 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 16:02 | SYDNEY

Refighting the Iraq war

This post is part of the Defining victory in Iraq debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

9 February 2010 09:57

This post is part of the Defining victory in Iraq debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Rodger Shanahan has locked horns on the subject of victory in Iraq, a small aspect of Chris Kenny's article on how tough Barack Obama is. (Ed. note: here's Kenny's reply to Shanahan.)

Of course the stated aim of the war was related to WMD and there were no WMD. Of course there were probably other ways (over the long term) of isolating Iraq, controlling or finding out about WMD, and they were not used. Of course the cost to the participants was high in terms of life and treasure, and there is no point (particularly for the families) in mentioning that by duration, size and intensity, this must be one of the lowest casualty wars in history. Of course you cannot wage war with the aim of regime change and expect ethical endorsement.

But it was reasonable at the time to suspect that Saddam had, or had the capability to produce, WMD, having previously developed and used them. Who can say, even with the wisdom of hindsight, that the errors that the US Administration made in removing the regime resulted in a better or worse world situation than not taking action.

And which Iraq war are we still complaining about – the three weeks of invasion or the eight years of recovery from error? In my view, the invasion was a strategic disaster and the counter insurgency is finally, as wars go, a success.

There is no real gain in this kind of narrow emotional exchange because we have not addressed the real issue of what people call 'The Iraq War'. To have pulled out of the war after the invasion would have compounded the errors of starting it – yet so many people were incapable of assessing the counterinsurgency separately from the invasion. This caused immense problems in then waging the counterinsurgency.

To have expected perfection in the first year of the war (when so many chances of an early termination were missed by statesmen because once again they refused to commit adequate resources in a coherent strategy) would be to expect something of this war that has never evidenced itself in any other war – no war goes well to begin with. 

And what almost everyone misses is that, if more countries had supported the US and UK in their efforts at containment for the full period, the war may not have occurred. As Michael Walzer points out in a foreword to a new edition of his classic 'Just and Unjust Wars':

The states that opposed war on the grounds that containment was working were not themselves making it work…Had there been many states or even just a few more states, enforcing the embargo, insisting on inspections and flying planes over northern and southern Iraq, the unilateral abrogation of the containment system by the US would not have been possible (or at least it would not have been as easy as it was).

Which brings us back to Chris Kenny. Chris argues that our PM should encourage the President to take a 'stronger, less populist path to maintain US influence and power…' Of course, the PM cannot take Obama on, for the same reasons that we all are a bit to blame for the Iraq war — because we did not support containment when it had a chance of success in containing both Iraq and the US.

If PM Rudd encourages President Obama to toughen up when Obama visits in March, the President might just start by asking Australia to put its money where its mouth is, and provide a meaningful contribution to operations in Afghanistan. And then we would hear more moaning from those who moaned about 'The Iraq War'.

Photo by Flickr user Ammar Abd Rabbo, used under a Creative Commons license.