There are always lessons to be learned after a war. Often governments and pundits focus only on lessons having to do with military strategies and tactics, such as troop deployments, engagement in battles, bombing targets and the effectiveness of different weapons systems. There are, of course, far bigger lessons to be learned, and here are some of the principal ones from the Iraq War.
1. In the eyes of the Bush administration, the relevance of international organizations such as the United Nations depends primarily upon their willingness to rubberstamp US policy, legal or illegal, moral or immoral.
2. The Bush Doctrine of Preemptive War may be employed against threats that have no basis in fact.
3. The American people appear to take little notice of the “bait and switch” tactic of initiating a war to prevent use of weapons of mass destruction and then celebrating regime change when no such weapons are found.
4. A country that spends $400 billion a year on its military, providing them with the latest in high-tech weaponry, can achieve clear military victory over a country that spends 1/400th of that amount and possesses virtually no high-tech weaponry.
5. Embedding journalists with troops leads to reporters providing only perspectives sanctioned by the military in their reports to the public. It is analogous to the imprinting of ducklings.
6. The American people can be easily manipulated, with the help of both embedded and non-embedded media, to support an illegal war.
7. An imperial presidency does not require Congress to exercise its Constitutional authority to declare war; it requires only a compliant Congress to provide increasingly large sums of money for foreign wars.
8. It is far easier to destroy a dictatorial regime by military might than it is to rebuild a country as a functioning democracy.
9. If other countries wish to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein and Iraq, they better develop strong arsenals of weapons of mass destruction for protection against potential US aggression.
10. In all wars it is the innocent who suffer most. Thus, Saddam Hussein remains unaccounted for and George Bush stages a jet flight to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, while Ali Ismaeel Abbas lies in a hospital bed without his parents and brother, who were killed in a US attack, and without his arms.
The most important lessons of the Iraq War may be as yet unrevealed, but there is a sense that American unilateralism is likely to continue to alienate important allies, while the triumphalism of the Bush administration is likely to taunt terrorists, making them more numerous and tenacious in their commitment to violent retaliation.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).
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I must however caution you on any suggestion that Iraq didn’t have WMD. I’m 100% confident they will eventually be found….even if they have to be planted by US special opps. Personally, from all I’ve read and followed prior to 9-11 and Iraq war I have no doubt that Saddam was developing biological weapons throughout the 90’s. When you suggest Iraq didn’t or doesn’t have them you risk losing credibility. You got too many other important and accurate points to make. I’d hate to think others will discredit you or your ideas because of one factual error.
Chuck, Washingotn DC
Author’s Reply: I appreciate your comments and concern. The administration did seem fairly certain before the war that they could identify where the weapons were, which has proven to be bogus. If the US were to plant weapons of mass destruction in Iraq I don’t think that should be discrediting. Best regards. David
I think there will be an 11th lesson: that in an era of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of non-governmental militias like al Qaeda and many others, there is no deterence nor is there any defense against them without addressing them respectfully to negotiate a cease-fire, like the UK did with the IRA. To learn this lesson, I fear the U.S. public will require losses orders of magnitude larger than 9-11 . . . likely what Japan or Germany had to endure during WWII . . . unless there is another way for the public to learn that we just increased, in the attack on Iraq, the likelihood of nuclear/radiological attacks against U.S. cities. Any ideas? (I’m looking but don’t know any.)
I found your Ten Lessons of the War quite apt. However, I think item #4 is a bit ambiguous. The experience of the Vietnam war suggests that while it is true, as you write, that “a country that spends $400 billion a year on its military, providing them with the latest in high-tech weaponry, CAN achieve clear military victory over a country that spends 1/400th of that amount and possesses virtually no high-tech weaponry,” victory is not necessarily a foregone conclusion!
Author’s Reply: You are right. I wonder, though, whether the high-tech weaponry of today along with strategies of “decapitation” might not have changed the conditions of the Vietnam War. I’m not sure. I was surprised, though, by how quickly the Iraqis capitulated.