Strategic Success

We have won our war with Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. That’s who we declared it against and we won it.

We have won the peace after that war insofar as Iraq’s post-Saddam political arrangements are broadly democratic and not exclusively sectarian based. The authoritarians of the region do not like this and it is a good sign.

The objections to Iraq at this point seem to be that we have not had an outbreak of unicorns and free beer in the region and different countries who are badly ruled have not immediately seen the error of their ways. By that standard, the US did not win WW II because Stalin and Mao did not turn into just rulers and were also not overthrown.

We have budgeted for a certain size foreign policy mouth, that is a certain capacity to take on major problems and solve them. We have fully engaged said mouth and are chewing in our usual mix of brilliance and incompetence. It is our enemies’ strategy to induce us to over-extend ourselves and thus fail on all fronts. We should not go a bridge too far.

It is in our best interest regarding Iran that it be a full member of the civilized community of nations, that it fully exploit its energy resources and its geographic position to transit central asian energy resources to world markets. This is orthogonal to the issue of Iran being a nuclear power. Russia’s interest is to have Iran a pariah, forcing central asian energy flows to go through it. The PRC’s interest is also for Iran not to have central asian energy transit flows. Our major beef with Iran is that its internal stability currently depends on it being a pariah. Too much global connectivity leads to regime change and the mullahs know it. They will threaten and do any sort of thing to maintain tensions sufficient for them to continue to rule. Add nuclear weapons to this mix and you have a danger to the US because, for historical reasons, we are convenient scapegoat number one.

So let us not adopt the intellectual framework of our enemies. Our strategic task as americans and allies is to conceive of how to limit our reach to go no further than our grasp. So far we haven’t made this mistake. That’s what victory looks like for a military hegemon.

14 thoughts on “Strategic Success”

  1. You make compelling arguments, TM Lutas, but I think the peace part of it is still being worked out (naturally.)

    The bit about unicorns and free beer isn’t really a fair characterization of the critics, is it? There are serious concerns about how the peace will hold, and how it will look, and what it will mean. I suppose in that sense, we must have won because we are now talking about phase II!

    BTW, the Lee Smith “rebuttal” Jonathan discusses below is being discussed in the comments section at the Inkspot blob, too.

    I will state, here, what I stated there: I don’t know about the peace part of it….

    – Madhu

  2. ==>That’s who we declared it against

    We did? What was the date of this famous event?

  3. Onparkstreet – I started this post as a comment to Jonathan’s Strategic Failure but I figured out that it worked better as a paired post. While I’m very sure there are serious critics that don’t fall into the ‘unicorns and free beer’ trap I mention, Lee Smith does not appear to be one of them. The Bush administration wisely identified a key piece in the Middle East that could be somewhat separated out due to its sanctions status and other unique features and it broke it down and helped build it back up in a configuration that would constantly rub the authoritarian neighbors raw until they adjusted their own societies in a way that was more compatible with free societies. The desired, and achieved, result is what we have right now. Freedom lovers have additional arguments to apply domestically every time Iraq solves one more “unsolvable” mid-east problem. It’s not supposed to be possible to have peaceful power transfers but Iraq has had several, fairly quickly. It’s not supposed to be possible to have a free press in the mid-east but Iraq manages it, etc. etc.

    By its very existence, Iraq is a powerful irritant as the US has been a powerful irritant for tyrannies. No “shaping” of Syria or Iran will change that without overthrowing the Iraqi system because, as planned, the US is beside the point now. It is Iraqi ambition and desire that does and will continue to sustain their system and since we are generally ok with the desires of free people, US goals are served well.

    Smitty – October 10, 2002

  4. @TM, makes no mention of a Declaration of War.
    According to
    “The last time United States passed a bill with the title “Declaration of War” was in 1942, against Romania. Since then, the United States has used the term ‘Authorization to use Military Force’ as in the case against Iraq in 2003.”
    I’ll take the hit if you think this argument overly pedantic.
    However, I submit it’s just another brick in the mausoleum of the Constitution, as yet another crucial separation point of powers is weakened.

  5. I was always a supporter of the Iraq War because Iraq could be a rich country and just might solve the Sunni-Shia issue if they have enough time. By the way, I recommend Amir Teheri’s book, The Persian NIght for many reasons but the biggest one is the explanation of the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam. For similar reasons, I think Afghanistan not worth the lives it will cost or the treasure it will consume. I feel for the Afghans, just as I did for the Somalis before Mogadishu.

  6. Smitty – I actually think that we’ve screwed up the way we declare wars since 1942. Due to the time constraints of nuclear missile launches a declaration of war triggers a great many nasty things like an automatic draft and martial law. It’s set up so that the Congress can quickly get the whole country on emergency war footing in under 20 minutes. But this particular adjustment is *very* far down my list of “things I’d like to fix about how we interpret the Constitution”. I would much prefer to fix privileges and immunities, our 2nd amendment jurisprudence (that seems to be on the way) our 4th amendment jurisprudence, reinvigorate and make real intrastate commerce. I would even think that fixing our 3rd amendment jurisprudence comes ahead of this one.

    Michael Kennedy – Ultimately I think that the local rising powers, most prominently India are going to need to step up on Afghanistan. I deeply regret Obama’s abandonment of India in favor of Pakistan. Afghanistan needs to have a real option to select India over Pakistan and with US support that might have happened. It’s Obama’s biggest misstep there so far.

  7. TM Lutas, you are reasonable as usual.

    I agree that we did the right thing in Iraq. However, I don’t think we went far enough. The game doesn’t end merely because we no longer want to play. I fear that we are repeating, on a larger scale, our blunder (as I see it) of 1991 when we decided not to depose Saddam Hussein.

    In the best case, which may happen, the Iranian dictatorship falls of its own weight and the post-dictatorship govt abandons its WMD programs and imperial ambitions. But that may not be what happens, and we should prepare for the worst.

    Perhaps our incoherence in long-term planning is simply a weakness of democracy.

  8. Smitty and TM,

    Can you explain how an AUMF is not a declaration of war? The Constitution doesn’t specify any required wording.

  9. Jonathan – The best way to win the game is to promote other players who promote what you want at no cost to you. You can then win without cost which is what we are setting up in Iraq. Sistani’s war on Iran’s theological underpinnings will go on so long as Najaf is free. That’s as close to a geopolitical freebie as we’re likely to see. Kurdistan’s semi-independent status in Iraq is going to put pressure against dictatorial neighbors (Iran and Syria) and will help stop Turkey from drifting away from us. That’s another near freebie.

    And if Iraq can really get its act together and serve as a regional sheriff, they may just solve our Syrian issues for us because they need to do it for their own reasons. And that’s likely to be an even bigger freebie.

    These freebies are going to play out on a decadal time scale, so long as Iraq remains free and continues on the path of training up a viable, democratic, political class. We’re playing a bigger game here than it seems and all we need do is maintain a security guarantee that will become ever cheaper for us to supply and the continuation of free elections which all the major factions already want.

    Kirk Parker – If you’re having the discussion of whether or not it’s a war declaration, you’ve fouled up the war declaration. Declarations of war should be simple, to the point, and clear so that nobody misunderstands. They are a statement of fundamental failure of the international system and an announcement of upcoming madness and violence until the international system can start working again and give us not-war and hopefully peace.

    We declare war on the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and seek to liberate the people of Iraq so that a noble and distinguished people are no longer led against us by a brutal dictator contrary to their own common sense.

    There you have it, short, to the point, and unlikely to be debated several years later as to whether it is a declaration of war. But as I understand things, that sentence would impose martial law on the US domestically and trip a whole raft of consequences that would be entirely inappropriate. There’s something profoundly bad if that’s truly the case.

  10. TM Lutas:

    I certainly hope so. What you are describing are best case scenarios, however, and you speak so confidently – as if you know the future? Perhaps all that you say will be so. I’m not trying to snark, it’s just that I feel I’ve been burned the past few years by the confident assertions of our foreign policy community – right and left both (so, I’m really responding to other things that’ I’ve read….)

    If Iraq can put pressure on surrounding regimes, so too can surrounding regimes put pressure on Iraq – particularly a nuclear-armed Iran that could play a long term Pakistan-like spoiler – and its fledgling democracy. To think about worse case scenarios, in addition to best case scenarios, and to try and plan for them a bit, doesn’t strike me as terrible.

    Proxies can cause a fair amount of regional instability – witness India and Pakistan.

    We shall see.

    – Madhu

    PS: In terms of India “stepping up,” in Afghanistan, what else would you have them do? Serious question, not rhetorical: I am curious. There is aid money, close ties with Karzai’s government, training of civil servants in India, and successful aid programs with the building of infrastructure (hospitals, roads, etc.) The Iranian port deal? I don’t know where to fit that in.

    All of this is already making Pakistan nervous, to the extent that General McChrystal’s assessment specifically called that aspect of it out.

  11. Oops, sorry, my PS was responding to you Afghanistan points, not Iraq obviously. Sorry, I tried to fit in two different responses in one comment and it didn’t quite work.

    – Madhu

    PS: Good discussion!

  12. If you’re having the discussion of whether or not it’s a war declaration, you’ve fouled up the war declaration.

    I certainly understand the concern, though I’m not sure I’d put it in those terms myself.

    Perhaps it would help if I clarified what I think matters in this realm. That is, primarily, that the President can’t “go to war” without the consent of Congress and thus, by (theoretical) extension, without the approval of the American people. Secondarily, it’s both useful and morally proper to let the objects of your military force know that they have crossed a line with you that you intend to redress. Notably absent–ok, make that completely absent–is the slightest concern for what the folks in Brussels or Turtle Bay may think of the affair.

    So long as the traditional understanding obtains (that the President can use the Navy and Marines for urgent matters that arise, but that any serious, ongoing war-fighting endeavor requires Congressional approval), I’m quite happy to consider that the sorts of AUMF’s that have been passed in recent decades adequately fulfill the Constitutional requirement. And especially since the AUMF/Iraq/2002 came after we moved against the Taliban, Sadaam could hardly make a credible claim that he didn’t have adequate notice of our intentions.

    Now, when you speak of domestic consequences, I find I’m less informed here than I should be. Can you point me to whatever it is in the US Code that would trigger martial law, etc?

Comments are closed.