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Losing By "winning": America's Wars In Afghanistan, Iraq, And Syria

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#21 Josh

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1502 PM

Drilled down to one thing, it was probably failing to hire and pay the 'clean' members of the Iraqi army and Republican Guard that was the fatal mistake.


+1. The whole war was unnecessary to begin with in retrospect, but if there was one single largest failure of the effort it was this.

ETA: and this was blatantly apparent even at the time - I was a critic of this decision in realtime, not hindsight.

Edited by Josh, 15 August 2018 - 1503 PM.

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#22 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1507 PM

 

Drilled down to one thing, it was probably failing to hire and pay the 'clean' members of the Iraqi army and Republican Guard that was the fatal mistake.


+1. The whole war was unnecessary to begin with in retrospect, but if there was one single largest failure of the effort it was this.

ETA: and this was blatantly apparent even at the time - I was a critic of this decision in realtime, not hindsight.

 

 

A lot more people were critical of our handling of the aftermath than they were of the decision to go to war in the first place (I'm in that camp). The part I'm still wrestling with is that the stupidity of going to war in the first place should have been a lot more obvious to us.


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#23 rmgill

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1743 PM

The allies went in with plans how to control both countries and keep public order. In both cases jaanese and germans were japanese and german and carried on with their orderly societies, so the MP divisions that had been stood up were effectively not needed. Also the cold war stabilised the situation. Us or the bolsheviks? certainly helped to stabilise the situation.
 
Whereas in Iraq they dreamt of fucking it all up and dismantling all state structures like civil admin or police and out of the chaos peace love and happines  were to arise or something.


Yeah. Though I have to observe that throwing out old manuals/plans on how we did something before and re-inventing the wheel isn't a peculiarity to the Bush '43 administration.
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#24 NickM

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 2047 PM

First people need to understand that a communist insurgency is something completely different to a religious motivated insurgency. Communism is a Western invention and therefore it is not totally alien to the western world in its core values. The driving idea is still about the distribution of wealth and the living standard of the people, but apart from that it is quite progressive when it comes to human rights, women rights or education. The ideology was never based on centuries old traditions of the local people and was always a new "imported" idea.

So you can beat it by controlling the military side and improving the living conditions of the people, as you can reduce the motivation for a person to join the insurgency.

 

A religious based insurgency is different. They have no interest in improving the living conditions on earth, they have no interest in values like human rights or women rights. They do not have to achieve anything for their followers, as rewards will be granted in paradise. They are deeply connected to the old traditional culture of the local people. Wealth or education do not necessarily  influence the support for the insurgency in a negative way. Imho you can not beat them from the outside, only when the local population is sick of them and that way of living, they can be overthrown, but a forgein force in the country telling the locals what do do, is probably the least likely way for success.

 

The only way to victory is the Syrian way, where you need a large enough force, strongly opposed to the religious forces and willing to exterminate them and all their followers with unlimited force and cruelty. No western country can afford to support this though. (yet)

If we can be swift & sneaky we can use..The 'Gengene'.


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#25 NickM

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 2053 PM

I think the problem is every lesson about COIN ever learned has been willfully forgotten by successive administrations. The way to do it was visible as long ago as Malaya. You put in enough troops to stabilize, get order, build up the local forces and over 10-15 years, slowly withdraw when they get a handle on it. Simples.

 

In Afghanistan we went in determined ot have a 'win', got sidetracked by Iraq and started pulling out troops, doubled up on Afghanistan when it started to go south, lost interest under a new administration and pulled out too quickly, started to go south again, put in more troops, then started to get disinterested again. There is no consistency, and no plan that can be passed across multiple administrations. Even the early military sweeps and battalion outposts seemed to be an attempt to emulate the failed policies of the Soviets, whom never had enough troops to do the job they set themselves either.

 

With all that, im really surprised we are doing as well as we are actually.

 

To be honest, Malaysia had the added advantage of the tangos not having an 'external patron' providing sanctuary and arms/supplies. Good thing Sukharno didn't 'gut up' until the 1960s--although, to be honest, the SAS's sneaky cross border campaign against Sukharno's (Half assed/ lackluster) efforts to absorb the Malay Federation were 'clever'.


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#26 Josh

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 2355 PM

A lot more people were critical of our handling of the aftermath than they were of the decision to go to war in the first place (I'm in that camp). The part I'm still wrestling with is that the stupidity of going to war in the first place should have been a lot more obvious to us.


I admit that is one my most embarrassing personal failures - thinking that Saddam was sufficiently enough of an asshole that fuck it, lets just take him out. I had zero understanding of the mideast at the time outside the very narrow confines of arab-israeli war and no understanding of the culture. On the other hand at the time I was a chemist transitioning to IT consultant, so it wasn't exactly my specialty to understand Iraqi regional tribalism and the different between different Muslim sects. I thought the WMD argument was bullshit; I just thought Saddam was enough of an asshole I wouldn't mind seeing him hang. At the time I thought that would be purely a figurative idea, not a literal one.
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#27 KV7

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Posted 16 August 2018 - 0001 AM

The US has no idea about doing nation building elsewhere, because it has given up doing it domestically.

The post war operations in Europe and Japan were in a different era, when state led improvements were considered more than just an opportunity for pork barreling and juicy contracts.


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#28 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 16 August 2018 - 0205 AM

 

Our main failure as I see it, is completely over estimating our patience and willigness to take casualties.

 
 
It's the exact opposite. Nobody would have guessed back in 2000 or 2001 that the West would have the patience to participate in an Afghan civil war for 18 years and suffer more than a 3,000+ dead in the process.
The very idea was INSANE.
 
What you're writing here is unhinged IMO, bizarro world-ish.


And that "side tracked by Iraq" stuff sounds eerily like "job not finished" Gulf War talk.

A myth in the making, TOTALLY free-floating from any contact to thinking about what, when, where, why going to war makes sense. Kindergarten-level intellectualism.

 

 

Thank you, clearly I fit into Tanknet much better than I thought I did. :)

 

Side Tracked, well they were pulling troops out of Afghanistan to make Iraq happen, at just the time when they needed to be there. By 2006 the situation that looked so promising in 2002 was going to hell in a handcart. The two events are clearly connected. Yes, the Taliban would have resurged anyway. But we would likely have made further progress in rebuilding the Afghan state and be ready for it. And we werent. We were spread fighting 2 COIN wars, when one would have fully taxed us. In the event, we didnt win in Iraq at all. We just gave the insurgents a place in Government and they stopped fighting. That should have freed up forces to double down on Afghanistan, but as it turned out, the opposite happened. People had enough of foreign involvements, and the new president gave them what they wanted. Im surprised Afghanistan didnt collapse right then.

 

Back in 1999 or so, Bill Clinton launched a cruise missile attack on Afghanistan. We thought that would be the limit of Western Involvement. In September 2001 we learned that tickling the problem with standoff weapons was not going to work. The intervention that followed was inevitable, and as it happened, fairly cheap. What nobody envisaged was quite how long the afterwork would be, and how little resolve there would be for it.

 

You can read on this site 10 years ago Americans lamenting that Americans had already forgotten 911 and hence had lost resolve. They were right.


Edited by Stuart Galbraith, 16 August 2018 - 0205 AM.

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#29 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 16 August 2018 - 0613 AM

 

A lot more people were critical of our handling of the aftermath than they were of the decision to go to war in the first place (I'm in that camp). The part I'm still wrestling with is that the stupidity of going to war in the first place should have been a lot more obvious to us.


I admit that is one my most embarrassing personal failures - thinking that Saddam was sufficiently enough of an asshole that fuck it, lets just take him out. I had zero understanding of the mideast at the time outside the very narrow confines of arab-israeli war and no understanding of the culture. On the other hand at the time I was a chemist transitioning to IT consultant, so it wasn't exactly my specialty to understand Iraqi regional tribalism and the different between different Muslim sects. I thought the WMD argument was bullshit; I just thought Saddam was enough of an asshole I wouldn't mind seeing him hang. At the time I thought that would be purely a figurative idea, not a literal one.

 

 

Yeah, I sort of felt the same way too re Saddam, plus frankly there was a sense that just invading Afghanistan wasn't enough ass-kicking in retaliation for 9/11. Honestly I never bought the WMD argument, I think pretty much everybody understood that that was an excuse not a reason. 

 

I always figured that the aftermath was going to be the tough part (hell, there were small-town newspaper editorials making that point, it was a common assumption), but I thought that the administration understood that as well and must have had a really good plan for dealing with it. Oops.


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#30 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 16 August 2018 - 0625 AM

I too was in favour of the Iraq war, though I did buy the WMD arguments. I thought they were just plausible enough to be viable. I would have done well to have looked at intelligence failures in the Cold War, because some of them are distinctly comparable.

 

One British journalist called John Simpson (whom was very nearly killed by a US bomb in 2003, so he is  not entirely impartial) said the Iraq war was a means of the US finding its self respect again, and proving it could still crack heads after 911. I dont think it was actually conceived as such, but that it may have been a psychological motivation among America's leaders, particularly after Afghanistan proved so easy, I dont entirely reject.

 

It was a classic example of Imperial overreach. I guess we are still waiting to see what the long term consequences of that will be.


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#31 seahawk

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Posted 16 August 2018 - 0722 AM

 

First people need to understand that a communist insurgency is something completely different to a religious motivated insurgency. Communism is a Western invention and therefore it is not totally alien to the western world in its core values. The driving idea is still about the distribution of wealth and the living standard of the people, but apart from that it is quite progressive when it comes to human rights, women rights or education. The ideology was never based on centuries old traditions of the local people and was always a new "imported" idea.

So you can beat it by controlling the military side and improving the living conditions of the people, as you can reduce the motivation for a person to join the insurgency.

 

A religious based insurgency is different....

 

Communist or religious, underneath you'll still find all the same tribal and haves vs. have nots crap as in every other such conflict.

 

For us the most significant difference between communist vs. religious opposition is probably the fact that during the Cold War communist opposition identified with the Communist Soviet Union, which then proceeded to arm the opposition.  Religious rebels these days do not associate with either Russia or China, so do not receive the same level or quality of military support.  (Both the wars in Iraq and A-stan would have been, IMO, unsustainable if the Cold War doctrines of armed support been in play).  

 

For example, in talking to my cousin on the weekend he said in A-stan that they had set up a check point to search culverts for IED's.  Some cars approached and were ordered to stop, and did so.  But one car came over the hill at a distance, stopped, then turned around and left.  A while later it came back, approaching gradually and ignoring orders to stop.  So they opened fire on it - one of the occupants in the car was found to have had a suicide vest.  I said that if they'd had anti-tank missiles, they'd not have bothered with that, they'd have just popped over the ridge concealed and hit the Canadian position from some distance.  He said they couldn't because didn't have anything like that type of weaponry - a lack of Great Power support from the fact that these are religious groups and the Powers tend to get along better these days.  But all that may be changing.

 

 

That is how they fight, not why they fight.


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#32 Paul G.

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Posted 19 August 2018 - 1002 AM


another book review to think about:
(or read the book)
https://warontherock...-future-of-war/
  "Why We Get It Wrong: Reflections on Predicting the Future of War"


Inliked this comment..

Good strategists also ought to be desperate paranoiacs, constantly fearful a trap door is going to open underneath them, always crafting back-up plans for how to prevent being dumped into the sewer that waits below.


Also most poingent.

Freedman cautions that the most dangerous and destabilizing contemporary factor would be a decision by the United States to disentangle itself from its alliance commitments. This is particularly poignant given President Donald Trumps recent disgraceful behavior toward Americas NATO allies. The world may now be seeing unfold the future that this great scholar of warfare worries most about.


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#33 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 19 August 2018 - 1557 PM

I too was in favour of the Iraq war, though I did buy the WMD arguments. I thought they were just plausible enough to be viable. I would have done well to have looked at intelligence failures in the Cold War, because some of them are distinctly comparable.

 

One British journalist called John Simpson (whom was very nearly killed by a US bomb in 2003, so he is  not entirely impartial) said the Iraq war was a means of the US finding its self respect again, and proving it could still crack heads after 911. I dont think it was actually conceived as such, but that it may have been a psychological motivation among America's leaders, particularly after Afghanistan proved so easy, I dont entirely reject.

 

It was a classic example of Imperial overreach. I guess we are still waiting to see what the long term consequences of that will be.

 

I was getting my MA at a fancy-pants foreign policy grad school at the time. Both the student body and the professors (including some pretty big names) were pretty split across the political spectrum, but overall they were about 70-30 in favor of invading Iraq. The arguments for invasion typically didn't revolve around WMD, because everybody understood that we can't go around invading everybody who has WMD; they were much more about the install-happy-democracy stuff. Common argument was "what, you think Arabs don't want democracy? What are you, some kinda racist?"

 

Interestingly enough, some of the most vocal people in favor of invading were Democrats (interventionist foreign-policy types), and some of the people who were most wary about it were Republicans (people who were in the military/government in Vietnam). I think it's certainly true that the Bush administration doesn't completely own the decision to go to war, although they certainly own the failure to take care of the aftermath.

 

The craziest part for me (which also has echoes of Vietnam) is that the team running the show were some of the most brilliant, experienced foreign policy minds the US has ever produced, and they got it completely wrong. I guess part of it was the fact that we were riding high after what (we thought at the time) was a brilliant victory in Afghanistan, but that's not enough of a reason. 


Edited by Brian Kennedy, 19 August 2018 - 1558 PM.

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#34 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 0221 AM

 

I too was in favour of the Iraq war, though I did buy the WMD arguments. I thought they were just plausible enough to be viable. I would have done well to have looked at intelligence failures in the Cold War, because some of them are distinctly comparable.

 

One British journalist called John Simpson (whom was very nearly killed by a US bomb in 2003, so he is  not entirely impartial) said the Iraq war was a means of the US finding its self respect again, and proving it could still crack heads after 911. I dont think it was actually conceived as such, but that it may have been a psychological motivation among America's leaders, particularly after Afghanistan proved so easy, I dont entirely reject.

 

It was a classic example of Imperial overreach. I guess we are still waiting to see what the long term consequences of that will be.

 

I was getting my MA at a fancy-pants foreign policy grad school at the time. Both the student body and the professors (including some pretty big names) were pretty split across the political spectrum, but overall they were about 70-30 in favor of invading Iraq. The arguments for invasion typically didn't revolve around WMD, because everybody understood that we can't go around invading everybody who has WMD; they were much more about the install-happy-democracy stuff. Common argument was "what, you think Arabs don't want democracy? What are you, some kinda racist?"

 

Interestingly enough, some of the most vocal people in favor of invading were Democrats (interventionist foreign-policy types), and some of the people who were most wary about it were Republicans (people who were in the military/government in Vietnam). I think it's certainly true that the Bush administration doesn't completely own the decision to go to war, although they certainly own the failure to take care of the aftermath.

 

The craziest part for me (which also has echoes of Vietnam) is that the team running the show were some of the most brilliant, experienced foreign policy minds the US has ever produced, and they got it completely wrong. I guess part of it was the fact that we were riding high after what (we thought at the time) was a brilliant victory in Afghanistan, but that's not enough of a reason. 

 

 

Thats an interesting point, and shows quite how much we were projecting of how much we expected the Arabs to be like us. Even John Simpson thought the Iraqi's would welcome the change, and he was against the war on the grounds given. Everyone was seemingly surprised by this, other perhaps than fellow arabs.

 

Confirmation bias. If you are smart, and the guy in the opposite chair is just as smart and agrees with you, you figured you are collectively right, and anyone else that disagrees with you is wrong. Simpson wrote that the only person that disagreed in a debate on BBC Tv with the Iraq war was Bianca Jagger, whom he poured scorn on because she hadnt spent as much time in the middle east. But the Journalists, with their hundreds of hours in the middle east, misunderstood the situation on the ground  more than a socialite whose only memorable contribution to history was being knocked up by Mick Jagger.

 

Im reminded in Tuchman's 'Guns of August', the only Frenchman whom foresaw it would be a long, bloody war was a general that was ignored because he was regarded as being a poor commander. When the actual fighting started, he turned out to be  a poor commander, just as predicted. Which just goes to show, vision is often wasted on the least deserving of it. A point I try to remind myself every time I put someone on ignore on tanknet. :D


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#35 Yama

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 0504 AM

 

Our main failure as I see it, is completely over estimating our patience and willigness to take casualties.

 
It's the exact opposite. Nobody would have guessed back in 2000 or 2001 that the West would have the patience to participate in an Afghan civil war for 18 years and suffer more than a 3,000+ dead in the process.
The very idea was INSANE.

 


"General Tommy Franks, then-commanding general of Central Command (CENTCOM), initially proposed to President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the U.S. invade Afghanistan using a conventional force of 60,000 troops, preceded by six months of preparation. Rumsfield and Bush feared that a conventional invasion of Afghanistan could bog down as had happened to the Soviets and the British."

 

US went to Afghanistan to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and defeat Al Qaeda. Mission accomplished - even though it was much longer and harder fight than predicted, and it could be argued that is because initial force was insufficient for the task.

Rest of it is largely because of prestige. It would be embarrassment for US and the West in general, if Taliban returns to power once they pull out. I think that war aims in Iraq - which were distinctly different and more ambitious - somehow spilled over to OEF side too.

 

I guess it would be easy to blame Rumsfeld from his obsession for 'light and quick'. But for the initial phase, much of it made sense. Taliban's grip over the country was relatively weak and based on local deals with tribal forces, which quickly evaporated when it became obvious there was bigger dog in the house. Drawn-out preparation would have given them time to make preparations too, for OBL to escape and so on. With hindsight, big mistake was the follow-up, Anaconda etc. where forces were just grossly insufficient for the task.


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#36 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 0539 AM

The actual attack worked brilliantly. I dont fault that (even though it was a mistake in Iraq).The real failure was not to keep dumping forces into Afghanistan and keep them there till the Taliban disappeared for good. We piled on too slow, and pulled out too quick.

 

Im not sure just leaving was ever an option. As soon as Bin Laden was not found, the suspicion was he was either there or in the hills of Pakistan. It took 9 further years to get him. If we had had left, he would just have gone back to Afghanistan and proclaimed victory at driving out the infidels. And the whole brutal mess would have started again, till someone dealt with it properly.

 

Afghanistan might be a mess, but staying there kept AQ out and allowed it to be destroyed. The question arises do we still need to be there, and will not a security vacuum give rise to something else like AQ. Looking at Syria and iraq, the best guess is 'yes'.


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#37 KV7

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 0659 AM

 

 

I too was in favour of the Iraq war, though I did buy the WMD arguments. I thought they were just plausible enough to be viable. I would have done well to have looked at intelligence failures in the Cold War, because some of them are distinctly comparable.

 

One British journalist called John Simpson (whom was very nearly killed by a US bomb in 2003, so he is  not entirely impartial) said the Iraq war was a means of the US finding its self respect again, and proving it could still crack heads after 911. I dont think it was actually conceived as such, but that it may have been a psychological motivation among America's leaders, particularly after Afghanistan proved so easy, I dont entirely reject.

 

It was a classic example of Imperial overreach. I guess we are still waiting to see what the long term consequences of that will be.

 

I was getting my MA at a fancy-pants foreign policy grad school at the time. Both the student body and the professors (including some pretty big names) were pretty split across the political spectrum, but overall they were about 70-30 in favor of invading Iraq. The arguments for invasion typically didn't revolve around WMD, because everybody understood that we can't go around invading everybody who has WMD; they were much more about the install-happy-democracy stuff. Common argument was "what, you think Arabs don't want democracy? What are you, some kinda racist?"

 

Interestingly enough, some of the most vocal people in favor of invading were Democrats (interventionist foreign-policy types), and some of the people who were most wary about it were Republicans (people who were in the military/government in Vietnam). I think it's certainly true that the Bush administration doesn't completely own the decision to go to war, although they certainly own the failure to take care of the aftermath.

 

The craziest part for me (which also has echoes of Vietnam) is that the team running the show were some of the most brilliant, experienced foreign policy minds the US has ever produced, and they got it completely wrong. I guess part of it was the fact that we were riding high after what (we thought at the time) was a brilliant victory in Afghanistan, but that's not enough of a reason. 

 

 

Thats an interesting point, and shows quite how much we were projecting of how much we expected the Arabs to be like us. Even John Simpson thought the Iraqi's would welcome the change, and he was against the war on the grounds given. Everyone was seemingly surprised by this, other perhaps than fellow arabs.

 

Confirmation bias. If you are smart, and the guy in the opposite chair is just as smart and agrees with you, you figured you are collectively right, and anyone else that disagrees with you is wrong. Simpson wrote that the only person that disagreed in a debate on BBC Tv with the Iraq war was Bianca Jagger, whom he poured scorn on because she hadnt spent as much time in the middle east. But the Journalists, with their hundreds of hours in the middle east, misunderstood the situation on the ground  more than a socialite whose only memorable contribution to history was being knocked up by Mick Jagger.

 

Im reminded in Tuchman's 'Guns of August', the only Frenchman whom foresaw it would be a long, bloody war was a general that was ignored because he was regarded as being a poor commander. When the actual fighting started, he turned out to be  a poor commander, just as predicted. Which just goes to show, vision is often wasted on the least deserving of it. A point I try to remind myself every time I put someone on ignore on tanknet. :D

 

The problem is they (the centrist liberal imperialist) were insufficiently cynical.

Having the opportunity to 'be like us.' was never on offer, what was on offer was being a US dependency with no real democracy, and poor prospects for national development. Democracy was out as no major political current supported US control, and the poor prospects for development is evidenced by the shambolic approach to reconstruction, from restoring basic services to creating jobs and rebuilding housing.

Anyone who was able to take a not totally partial view of the world would have seen that this would have been the case. 

If Iraqi's really wanted to 'live like us' then they would have needed to get a measure of Independence and vote in /impose a government that was competent and had a national development objective, if they further want to see some measure of civil rights, then they probably also need to get a secular and progressive leadership.

All up al-Sadr is probably the best that is on offer.



 


Edited by KV7, 20 August 2018 - 0700 AM.

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