Did the Iraq war prevent us from dealing with Iran?

A recurring theme in the comments about Iran is that we could have dealt with Iran if only Bush hadn’t foolishly squandered our resources and our people’s trust with his horrible misadventure in Iraq.

What are we supposed to make of this?

Well, first of all, I’d say that an insurgency and a thousand deaths per year is a small price to pay to keep Muslim fanatics from getting nuclear weapons. If we can bungle Iran four times as badly as Iraq, but ensure there’ll never be any nuclear weapons to find there, we’ll be way ahead of the game. The Iranian government cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons – their officials have made too many flippant comments about the advantages of a nuclear exchange with Israel (a.k.a. the Little Satan; remember who the Great Satan is?), for one thing, and for another thing Iran is known to sponsor terrorist groups that it will have no incentive whatsoever to restrain once it has its own nuclear weapons. Even if they never use nukes on us, how’d you like Iranian sponsored terrorists frequently setting off regular bombs in the US?

So the prospect of “another Iraq disaster” sounds pretty damn good to me compared to the alternatives.

Now, assuming that we decide to use force to deal with Iran, would we be in a better or worse position if we hadn’t dealt with Iraq? Without a large body of troops already in Iraq, how exactly would we invade Iran? Over the mountains of Afghanistan? From Kuwait? Let’s not be silly. Not only that, if you don’t think we can invade Iran with an active insurgency in Iraq, how’d you like to try an invasion and occupation of Iran with Saddam Hussein in power next door? Maybe invade both at once? (Actually, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea two years ago… better to be hung for a sheep, as they say. What’re people going to do, accuse us of imperialism?).

Finally, let’s take a look at this “betrayal” that supposedly has all right thinking people aghast at the very idea of doing any other military operation anywhere in the world…

The one thing we need to understand is that this “insurgency” we’re dealing with would attack anywhere American troops went that they could reach. And if American troops went anywhere that lots of people live, those insurgents would hide among those people. They’d do that not because Americans enrage the population or because Bush is an idiot, but because those tactics make it easier for them to kill American soldiers without getting killed themselves. They’re the enemy, and the enemy is going to go for the strategy that we have the worst time dealing with.

(And they’ve also got a nasty habit of killing civilians that get in their way or show too much enthusiasm for this individual liberty and democracy crap, or take too much candy from us. They’re the bad guys!)

The only open question was how many insurgents there were going to be; how many people would actually pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the cause of slavery and tyranny? This number is not easy to determine beforehand, and it seems this number was underestimated at the outset of the war. Such is war. We’d have had to deal with these characters one way or another eventually; the Iraq war is not the worst way it could have played out.

But what about the missing WMD? First of all, no one ever said that there were definitely WMDs in Iraq. The problem was that we didn’t know what the Iraqis had or what they were working on because they weren’t cooperating with the inspectors charged with finding this out! Second, it’s a good thing we didn’t wait until there were WMDs to find, or else they would have been used against us, and our body count would have been in the tens of thousands two years ago. Third, it’s a damn good thing we didn’t wait until there were WMDs to find in Iraq and a known nuclear program in Iran. Saddam wasn’t going anywhere. His sons weren’t going anywhere. The sanctions weren’t going to last forever any more than they did in the 1930’s. The fact that we went in before we had any real knowledge of WMD progress and found out there was none is not a betrayal! It’s a relief.

(And yeah, there were intelligence reports that suggested there was nothing to find. You think we should have taken them as Gospel? Have you ever heard of a 100% reliable intelligence report? I haven’t.)

Well, what about the fact that we sent too few soldiers or too little equipment? That objection presupposes that we’ve got more soldiers and/or equipment that we could have sent… you think there might be a good strategic reason to hold some of it back in case something else needs dealing with? Something like another tyranny working on WMDs, perhaps?

Let’s keep our eyes on the ball here. The whole area is infested with people who think killing non-Muslims is a good way to get to heaven. Al-Queda was the first group to jump the ocean with a spectacular way to kill lots of infidels; there’s no reason to assume that they’re going to be the last. We’ve got to stop them from getting WMDs (you know, the rationale that everyone supposedly would have accepted for the Iraq war but somehow practically undeniable efforts toward WMDs on Iran’s part don’t justify the exact same thing there…), and we’ve got to somehow pick out and kill the worst of the fanatics before they hatch another mass-murder plot, and we’d really rather do it without incinerating millions of civilians in the process. A military presence in the Middle East, preferably in a good strategic spot such as Iraq, is absolutely imperative, and if it brings the jihadis out of hiding, that makes it easier to find them and kill them. The bad guys are not winning, and we’d need to keep fighting them even if they were.

14 thoughts on “Did the Iraq war prevent us from dealing with Iran?”

  1. The framing of issues is important. We use terms like “the Iraq war,” which makes it seem as though we started it. But Iraq and Afghanistan are better seen as campaigns in a wider war that the other side started Sept. 11, 2001 (if not before).

    If we hadn’t invaded Afghanistan and/or Iraq the war would have progressed much differently. But it would have progressed in any event, and perhaps in ways that would have been highly unfavorable for us in the long run.

    Maybe we have already done enough in the Middle East so that even if we withdraw soon we will have insured our safety for the coming future. I doubt it but it’s conceivable. But half-measures are dangerous in war (e.g., we might not be in Iraq now if we had finished the job in 1991 and gotten rid of Hussein). I suspect we will do much better to go too far now than to risk not going far enough. If we stopped the war after Iraq, everyone would know that we didn’t have what it takes to bring down the “axis of evil.” Our enemies, whose interpretation of events matters at least as much as that of American voters, would see our behavior as a capitulation. We should not let that happen.

    And what do hindsight opponents of the Iraq invasion think we should have done instead of invading? “Contain” Iraq and revert to the status quo anti? As Ken suggests, if we didn’t invade Iraq we would have been unlikely to invade Iran. Sure, our military would be fresher and wouldn’t be tied up in Iraq, but any assault on Iran would require us to divert substantial resources to protecting our flanks from the Hussein regime and its allies. We are in a much stronger position now.

    And don’t overlook the moral component of our strength. One of the reasons we are doing as well as we are doing is that we have followed through on our promises — unlike the past, when at various times we allowed our ally the Shah to fall, betrayed the Kurds, and failed to come to the aid of the Shiites during the 1991 uprising. By our actions since Sept. 11 we have restored some of the credibility we squandered.The fact that we are more trusted now has made it possible for Afghans and Iraqis to flout the fascists and take big steps toward representative government. This is a good time for us not only to use our military leverage to defuse the Iranian nuclear threat, but also to use our moral leverage to aid Iranian (and Syrian and Lebanese, etc.) democrats. Now is a good time for us to use our geopolitial momentum. If we don’t use it, it will dissipate.

  2. We could have dealt w/Iran if peabrain had ordered the Marines to stand their ground and shoot to kill.

    We are still next door to Iran, after all.

    Anyone else have a parnoid thought that just mebbe our “good friends and historic allies” wanted them to get the bomb? We have been and will always be their greatest enemy.

  3. As the saying goes, people prepare for the last war. Afghanistan was popularly supposed to require a Soviet-style occupation, but instead it turned into special-ops surgery. Iraq was supposed to involve an extended air siege ala Desert Storm, but instead it was taken with a swift ground blitzkrieg.

    Iran is a tough nut to crack, and I am wary of any suggested magic bullet. But does all the criticism seem to center on the presumption of a ground invasion and occupation?

  4. We are looking at the same facts and drawing different conclusions. If you think we are in better shape to take on Iran now, with the huge commitment we have going in Iraq, I can only shrug.

    BTW, I did not say that Bush was stupid or wrong to order the invasion of Iraq. But forget what has aleady happened. I will tell you now that the perception is that the USA does not have the capability to invade Iran and we are not going to do so. Aint gonna happen.

  5. “Invasion isn’t the only alternative to appeasement.”

    Now THAT is a very keen insight.

    There’s also using big old cannon from obsolete “battleships”. There’s launching intercontinental missiles from silos in South Dakota. There’s bombing from aircraft older than most of the generals commanding them.

    The U.S. has a whole pot of load of ammunition and equipment that’s basically going to just go to scrapyards sometime real soon now — unless we can find a productive way to put to some use.

    Not that such considerations should drive policy. But that policy should be made considering the resources.

    WE could, of course, wait for the next generation of weapons to enter full scale production. Remote control flying drones with HellFire missiles run by kids using joysticks, armored Segways, I dunno what all.

    I don’t lie awake nights pondering the possibilities.

    But I hope the leadership in Iran, does.

  6. The “Iraq War” is the second pincer in a move to pinch Iran’s mullahs. Put another way, the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were not all about oil. They were all about Iran.

    We are perched on two of Iran’s doorsteps now in a perfect position to enforce the U.N.-sanctioned embargo that’s about to be announced. Yes, I predict Bolton’s going to fire up the derelict Security Council for a test-drive. And he’s going to point it at the terror-nuke-Mullahs (TNM’s).

  7. This reminds me of the guy who told me that “Iraq was a catastrophic mis-direction, but he would’ve supported going into North Korea since they ‘definitely do have WMD’ “.

    Well, after about twenty minutes of laughter, I managed to pick myself up off the floor to respond.

    “You’re telling me the SAME people SCREAMING…. ‘No link, no link,no link, between Saddam and Osama’ are gonna line up behind this President when he decided to go into NORTH KOREA instead of Iraq?!?!? And I’m supposed to buy this gibberish?”

    Note that Cindy Sheehan herself said that Saddam did not attack us, but that if someone DID, “I’d go after him with a rolling pin myself”. Then she proceeded to explain why AFGHANISTAN was “just more US imperialism, and THEY SAY Osama was responsible for 9/11, etc…” (implying Mossad, CIA, or some crap like that.)

    The fact is, 9/11 was worse than Pearl Harbor, and STILL in academia and the fever swamps, we see millions who flat out will not support their country in this or pretty much ANY conflict whatsoever. No matter what.

    I’m not as dismayed by their unwillingness to go after any given target as much as I am by how stupid they must think I am to believe for one nanosecond that they will support ANY effort. If we are at war with A, they will say “Not A, I’d support going against B or C, but not A!!” If it’s B, same line, just switch the letters around. “Iran?!?! What about Saddam, isn’t he the REAL problem, that’s what you’ve been saying for ten years, blah blah blah blah blah.

    Go ahead and oppose it, people, just stop insulting my intelligence when you do so.

  8. I imagine that the conquest of Iran and destruction of it’s infrastructure itself would not be a task much more difficult than that it was for Iraq. Logistically, much easier, I should think. And it may become an easier and easier task as (and if) Iraq becomes a strong enough state to stand alone. And, easier yet as Iran might not recieve the “you broke it you bought it” treatment after an invasion. I mean, historically, it hasn’t been necessary to bless the citizenry of an overthrown regime with a representative form of government.

    It’s the delicate peace-keeping and nation building in Iraq that is time consuming and tedious. GWB is a great president for taking this chance, this gamble that it wasn’t necessary to put in a strong-man regime. I took GWB at his word that it wouldn’t be quick or easy. I agree that the security this (attempt to retain civilization in the mideast) buys our country is worth the price we are paying.

  9. One complication with Iran is that there is substantial pro-West, pro-US sentiment among the ordinary people, especially the young and the educated. An outright invasion would swing them behind whoever was in charge of Iran. If we have the time (debatable), a better course would be to help the Iranians undermine the current regime. Now, though, it’s questionable whether regime change would end the nuke program. It was as much a matter of national pride as a defense measure when Pakistan went nuclear.

    Lucky me that I’m not in charge, because I don’t see a good option here.

  10. yeah, that “complication” (of a hint of reasonableness) in Iran was likely one of the factors that helped make Iraq seem like the most hopeless case in the axis of evil group (when the neo-cons picked the target).

    The best thing may be to make it clear repeatedly that the nuclear development “will not be tolerated” without much further comment. This would leave future options open.

  11. “… questionable whether regime change would end the nuke program.” No question at all. The nuclear program is the one thing that everyone in Iran agrees is necessary. It is a matter of national pride, as you noted.

  12. Perhaps, in Iraq, we also don’t want an absolute victory. Maybe it’s better that we perform at a level that can eventually be surpassed by capabilities developed locally.

    In Iran, I think the question is can Iran institute an effective predictable representative government and select trustworthy leaders, and develope a defensive nuclear policy that its enemies and allies can tolerate?

  13. Well phrased, Aaron.

    In light of your observation, Ken’s question could be rephrased as: Does the Iraq War hinder or assist the development of “an effective predictable representative government” in Iran? I say it assists.

    Following the breakdown of the EU-3 negotiations with Iran, we are in an excellent diplomatic and military position to issue an ultimatum to the mullahcracy: enact representative, democratic government and live up to the NPT, or see your nuclear infrastructure dismantled by any means, and representative government devised for you.

    If anyone needs anymore reasons to get serious with the mullahs, they should check out Captain Ed’s work at Captain’s Quarters to see what the Clinton CIA didn’t want us to know about Iran’s involvement in 9/11.

Comments are closed.