“Blind Into Baghdad”, by James Fallows, was the lead article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine of January 2004. The article, well written and carefully researched (as one would expect from both Fallows and The Atlantic) was published as it became apparent that almost everything that could have gone wrong with the post-invasion occupation of Iraq had, in fact, gone wrong. It chronicled the broad-based and detailed pre-war planning, by government and non-government agencies, and the Bush administration’s reaction to it. In reviewing the article for this blog, it seemed to me that the article should have been entitled Choosing To Go Blind Into Baghdad.
In President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, he described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” three nations he claimed were aiding terrorists and acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Events of the last decade suggest he was right about North Korea and Iran, but dead wrong about Iraq. In my opinion, it was more than coincidental that Iraq, the country he was dead wrong about, was the most vulnerable of the three to military action. I also can’t stop wondering if the fact that his father (Pres. Bush 41) failed or declined to conquer Iraq(points of view differ), had a bearing on subsequent events. It has often been said that President Bush 43 was preoccupied with Iraq from the beginning of his Presidency, and that the 9/11 attacks gave superficial legitimacy to that pre-existing preoccupation.
There had been concern about Iraq’s efforts to acquire nuclear material, and about Saddam’s acquisition and retention of biological and chemical WMDs. He’d used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds before the Gulf War, and after the war, had been forced to agree to destroy his arsenal. In fairness, it must be said that Saddam acted as if he was violating that agreement, given how he frustrated American and U.N. inspectors. Some attribute this behavior to his desire to make other countries in the region think he had WMDs, so they’d fear him. It was also a way of making him appear strong and defiant to his domestic political rivals, who were emboldened after his forces collapsed in the “hundred hours war” with the United States. These motives were quite apparent at the time, however, and as noted in previous posts, there was little credible evidence that he actually had WMD’s.
Whether or not Saddam fooled anyone he was trying to fool, he played into the hands of Bush 43 Administration neocons, by making their claims about his WMDs sound credible. As the confrontation sharpened between Saddam and the Bush administration, U.S. government agencies, military planners, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all contributed to a growing body of research and analysis about problems that would arise during an invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and how these problems might be averted.
The article details the progressive accumulation of available knowledge about Iraq, from a year before the war to the invasion and its immediate aftermath. More important than the specifics (the article is available online at Blind Into Baghdad – James Fallows – The Atlantic) are two overarching themes: (1) The research from all quarters uniformly concluded that the military aspect of the invasion would be relatively easy, while the post-invasion occupation would be difficult and complicated, requiring careful planning and substantial resources; (2) The Bush Administration was antagonistic to the later recommendations, contradicted them without any supportive evidence, and retaliated against administration and military officials who spoke publicly about the difficulties of occupation and the resources it would require. Fallows concluded (and I agree wholeheartedly) that the Bush Administration was hostile to post-war planning and recommendations because it highlighted the serious difficulties and high projected costs of post-war occupation, making the war less palatable to the public, who would pay for and fight it.
Why would senior administration officials choose to initiate an avoidable war when all available knowledge indicated that the post-war occupation would be very costly and its success uncertain? The simple answer is that they had pre-conceived ideas about what they wanted to do, and didn’t want to be deterred by the facts.* These pre-conceived ideas were part of their Neoconservative ideology (they called themselves “neocons”) the foreign policy aspect of which urged aggressive promotion of American interests, by military means if necessary (and they often felt it was necessary). The merits and weaknesses of Neoconservatism are beyond the scope of this blog. I firmly believe, however, that giving precedence to pre-conceived ideas (ideology, theology, or otherwise) over facts and reality is a recipe for disaster, as it was in the case of the Iraq war.
I’ve gone through all this because, as I reviewed the Fallows article, I began to re-think one of my conclusions in Post #2, supra. There I concluded, and still believe, that Odysseus tried to avoid joining the war because a Greek power base on the Dardanelles would be of little value to an insignificant island kingdom in the Ionian Sea. But we also have to remember that the Greek coalition was there for ten years, though they vastly outnumbered the Trojans and their allies, and even then, they won by cunning rather than their superior might. I doubt that Bronze Age Greece had a vast intelligence apparatus, or government agencies analyzing data and making recommendations, but the Greeks must have known something about Troy. Greek merchant ships undoubtedly went there on their way to the Black Sea, and had to deal with Troy as it exploited its position and its surrounding geography. Those Greek merchant seamen (and, in all likelihood, military personnel) had more opportunity than they probably wanted to experience Troy, the strength of its walls, it’s strategic location, its military power and its wealth. They probably knew how difficult an attack on Troy was likely to be, or at least had sufficient information to make a well reasoned assessment. What if Agamemnon used his economic and military leverage to pressure other Greek states into invading because the retrieval of Helen provided a convenient justification, even though all the available information told them that their military power would be of little advantage in a siege of Troy? Agamemnon, as described in the Iliad, is the kind of leader who might ignore the facts when they didn’t suit his purposes.That would parallel the United States invading Iraq with a force that was inadequate to handle the occupation, when all available information highlighted that danger. In both cases, preconceived notions and the ideologies of leaders took precedence over facts, and led to disastrous consequences. In the Iliad, an enormous invading force bogged down for a decade because its leader ignored the available information. In Iraq, the successful invasion dissolved into a failed occupation for the same reason. Leaders determined to ignore the obvious would explain why the Greek invasion was thwarted for ten years. Odysseus, cunning as he was, and geographically far away from Agamemnon and Corinth, may have seen the invasion as a fool’s undertaking. That might be another reason why he feigned insanity so he could keep little Ithaca out of the coalition.
*See “They will welcome us as liberators”i in the People, Places, and Things Sequence or Index pages .