Thursday, May 03, 2007

VDH: What Mistakes?

Victor Davis Hanson:

What Mistakes?

Everyone talks about key mistakes in the war—the disbanding of the Iraqi army, Abu Ghraib, the proconsulship of Paul Bremmer, the sending of too few troops, etc. I don’t want to concentrate on these old questions and old debates, and have already written about most of them. But there seems to me to have been five critical and pivotal crises that were turning-points of sorts, and have been left relatively unmentioned, both in and beyond our power.

1. The decision of Turkey on March 5th-6th 2003, just days before the invasion, to deny some 60,000 American troops, including the 4th ID Mechanized Division, passage into northern Iraq. Such a simultaneous north and south approach would have brought thousands of Americans in the very first few days of the war right down into Anbar Province, the heart of the later insurrection.

2. The resignation of Tommy Franks as Centcom Commander in July 2003, just as the insurrection was starting. I think his successor Gen. Abizaid was by far the more gifted commander, but the departure of the most senior theater commander a little more than 60 days after the fall of Saddam’s statue, to seek a lucrative post-Army speaking and writing career, gave the wrong impression: he was to be praised for winning Iraq and then retired just as the supposed achievement was increasingly in question. Again, it gave the demoralizing impression that Franks was getting out of town before the proverbial something hit the fan, a sense reiterated when newly appointed Gen. Abizaid almost immediately announced for the first time that we were facing a classic insurgency.

3. The April 18, 2004 decision by the new Zapatero government in Madrid to withdraw Spanish troops. It wasn’t the number or capability of such an ally that mattered. Rather the Madrid train bombing toppled the Aznar government, and then proved that such terrorism could not only end a Prime Ministership, but, worse, force a nation to flee Iraq in fear—which only gave the jihadists more credibility and set the stage for more efforts to fracture the coalition.

4. The April 2004 assault on Fallujah, abrupt cessation, and then turning security over to the so-called Fallujah Brigade. That initially successful assault, and then subsequent withdrawal, gave the impression of American weakness, and worse, that our military efficacy could be nullified by over concern for pre-election public relations. When Fallujah later became a “no-go” zone sanctuary for bomb-making and terrorists rearmament, the stage was set for another, more costly siege, and a permanent impression that we talked toughed but carried a little stick.

5. The reprieve in August-September 2004 given to Moqtadar Al-Sadr when his Mahdi army was surrounded and nearly crushed. By letting him go, we took all the criticism for confronting him, and yet ensured that he would come back emboldened for years to come, reassured that even in extremis he would always have a pardon.

I don’t know whether at present our effort in Iraq would be far easier had we barreled down from Turkey in the very beginning, or had Franks at least stayed on through the insurgency and apprised his staff of its significance, or Spain defiantly stayed on and set an example of an imperviousness to blackmail, or had we crushed those in Fallujah the first time, or eliminated Sadr, but all that couldn’t have hurt.

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