Will lies shape our actions in the last chapter of our war in Iraq?

Summary: In war, as in golf and baseball, the follow-through is a vital part of the swing. How will we react to the denouement to our expedition in Iraq, the civil war we helped ignite (there was no al Qaeda in Iraq until our occupation)? What lessons will we learn from this sad history? We, collectively, are deciding now.


Retroactive continuity (aka retcon): a break in the continuity of a story or series by the change of previously established facts.

Pannenberg’s conception of retroactive continuity ultimately means that history flows fundamentally from the future into the past, that the future is not basically a product of the past.”
The theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg by Elgin Frank Tupper (1974)

Iraq burning
The story of our Expedition to Iraq


America can do without prophecy, the ability to see the future. We can do without omniscience, the ability to clearly and fully see the present. But a great nation cannot survive without memory of the past. Amnesia prevents learning, and in our rapidly changing world that might prevent prosperity — or even imperil our survival.

The bouts of amnesia affecting us (described in these posts) result from our unwillingness to confront past failures, substituting dreams for painful learning. But even more so they result from elites reconning our past to manipulate us, controlling our future. It’s consensual. We allow them to do so to avoid painful realities. They exploit our pride and arrogance.

Our 9-11 Wars display these things vividly, madly. These wars began with lies about the Taliban’s role in 9-11, about Saddham’s nukes and relations with al Qaeda. They were executed with stunning incompetence (see The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders). The cost was high in borrowed money squandered while America’s infrastructure decays. It was even high in years of lives spent in vain, in injuries suffered, in crippled bodies and minds, in lives lost.

Now comes the next phase, as we’re told that it’s not our fault. Certainly not the fault of those who advocated, advised, and led these wars. This requires reconning our history, for which a regiment of lies are deployed. Here are a few of the most absurd.

(1)  Lie: we abandoned Iraq.

No, we were kicked out. Iraq’s government refused our conditions for a Status of Forces agreement (the legal basis for our military operations) allowing the war to continue.  The SOFA we signed was quite clear:


Article One: Scope and Purpose

This Agreement shall determine the principal provisions and requirements that regulate the temporary presence, activities, and withdrawal of the United States Forces from Iraq. …

Article 24: Withdrawal of the United States Forces from Iraq

1. All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011. …

(2) Lie: Obama abandoned Iraq

The SOFA was negotiated by the Bush Administration, and signed on 17 November 2008. The Iraq government refused all offers by Bush and Obama officials to renegotiate it.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

(3)  Lie: this civil war in Iraq was unexpected

This outcome was widely predicted in 2007-2008, during the hysteria about the “surge” and “Anwar Awakening”. I wrote about it:

  1. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
  2. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
  3. Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008

These things were even clearer to people with actual knowledge & expertise (but not shilling for the war).

The events of 2007-2008 created an opportunity for the US to help negotiate a settlement among the peoples of Iraq. We squandered it, running our usual (and usually ineffective) play of establishing a local “strongman”, helping him crush all opposition. That failed. Despite Maliki’s temporary success at pushing back the Kurd’s and breaking the Sunni Arabs (e.g., ethnic cleansing in Baghdad), he gained only temporary ascendency while breeding more virulent opposition.

We failed on another level. We failed to obtain use of Iraq as a base from which to project power over the Middle East, or gain preferential access to its oil.

What next?

“Our nation has been led to war by the arts of imposition, by its own credulity, through means of false hope, false pride, and promised advantages of the most romantic and improbable nature.”
Lord Chatham (Pitt the elder) to Parliament on 11 December 1777

Our window for military adventures in the Middle East has closed. The neocons and DoD will agitate for more involvement, spinning yet more fantasies in vain.

As for Iraq, the civil war has begun and will run its course. Such things can not be reliably predicted, but some form of partition in Iraq seems a likely outcome — either separate states or a loose federation.  We can only guess at how much blood will be spent to produce the new regime.

For America the most important questions concern our ability to learn from our failed expeditions to the Middle East. The architects of these disasters remain on the public stage, giving yet more bad advice. Will we continue to listen to them? Will they pay a price in lost public confidence — or electoral defeat — for their failures? Will American foreign policy change as a result? Each of us plays a part in crafting the answers.

“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.”
— John Maynard Keynes, preface to The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936)

Looking Toward The Future

For More Information

See these Reference Pages for a wealth of information and links:

  1. Posts about our wars in Iraq, Af-Pak & elsewhere
  2. The iraq war — other valuable articles and reports
  3. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq.

COIN by foreign armies almost always fails:

  1. More paths to failure in Iraq, 16 December 2006 — Myths about COIN in Iraq
  2. How often do insurgents win?  How much time does successful COIN require?, 29 May 2008
  3. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., 21 June 2010 — Boot discusses 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies.
  4. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, 28 June 2010 — Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) points us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard.  She examines the present and past analysis of  counter-insurgency.  This could change the course of American foreign policy, if we pay attention.
  5. A look at the history of victories over insurgents, 30 June 2010
  6. COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure., 7 August 2012



28 thoughts on “Will lies shape our actions in the last chapter of our war in Iraq?”

  1. American foreign policy is divide and conquer. So Isis is perfect for our interests as it is a threat to the Syria, Iran, Iraq, shi’a, Russian, power block that has been developing.

    1. FM: “Interestingly, who are allies of ISIS? It’s a truly revolutionary movement in that it has few allies.”

      I’m not entirely sure that is accurate. Descriptions of the fighting in Mosul make the operation sound very similar to the standard Maoist guerrilla doctrine where the military/police were first politically and then physically isolated before the battle began. The ISIS fighters are described as well-trained and heavily armed (which can mean anything from ISIS soldiers having AK-47s to ISIS forming an army with tanks) but that takes time, money, and discipline.

      Frontline ran an interesting story some months ago indicating that one of the major challenges facing the independent Syrian rebels was that ISIS preferred to attack them over Syrian government targets. The Western theory at the time was that ISIS sought to unify the rebels before attacking the Syrian government. Now the Syrian independent rebels have been smashed and ISIS chooses to involve itself in northern Iraq instead of fighting the Syrian government.

      ISIS grew out of the remnants of the Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) movement after the US Surge and the so-called Anbar Awakening (when the local tribal leaders finally figured out that AQI were a bunch of psychopaths without a valid political agenda) destroyed the original movement. AQI was believed to have connections to the Syrian government.

      Also the deeply discontent Saudi royal family (where a lot of people get money and power but only few people get to decide how the government will work) has funded more than a few crackpot organizations that have motives contrary to the stated goals of the Saudi government.

      For that matter, the Saudi government would probably not be adverse to the formation of an Arab state between Syria and the Shi’a that is deeply hostile to both. Israel would probably agree.

      My point isn’t to make an argument for any one ally of ISIS but to note that there are quite a large number of potential allies, all of whom have deep pockets and time. Only time will tell if any of them (or perhaps a combination) are involved.

    2. Really, look in the mirror for the answer to this. As long as they were going after Assad in Syria we look the other way. As soon as they turn on Iraq, well, oops, no, no we don’t want that! This is that blowback thing all over again.

  2. The simple answer I am afraid is yes and “we” will believe the lies. But on a more complex level who are “we”. There are plenty of voices including your own pointing out a reality different then the one presented by the elites. The questions I ask is have voters turned off Main Stream Media and are they hurting enough yet? More importantly how many of we or us realize that “There Is An Alternative” I am sad to say not enough yet. (If I could I would post a picture of “we” at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina of people useing Golf Carts to get around the campground and take their kids to the beach.

  3. FM,

    It might be helpful to explain that Iraq is now in Phase III of Mao’s People’s War,

    “In China, the Maoist Theory of People’s War divides warfare into three phases. In Phase One, the guerrillas earn population’s support by distributing propaganda and attacking the organs of government. In Phase Two, escalating attacks are launched against the government’s military forces and vital institutions. In Phase Three, conventional warfare and fighting are used to seize cities, overthrow the government, and assume control of the country. Mao’s doctrine anticipated that circumstances may require shifting between phases in either directions and that the phases may not be uniform and evenly paced throughout the countryside.”


    Next, we could see consolidation and control OR a movement back to Phase Two for preservation purposes.

  4. “some form of partition in Iraq seems a likely outcome — either separate states or a loose federation”

    Iraq has been de-facto partitioned with Kurdistan autonomous for two decades.

    On pure statistical grounds, it is doubtful whether a further partitioning of Iraq is likelier than a continued Iraqi state in its present configuration.

    How many bloody civil wars resulted in a country partitioning like is suggested here since 1945? Yugoslavia, Cyprus, South-Sudan, Bangladesh (from Pakistan), the India/Pakistan partition, Georgia, Moldavia, Ethiopia (Eritrea), Somalia.

    For each case, we have other countries with long, bloody, heavily communitarian/sectarian/ethnic conflicts that did not result in a partition: Lebanon, Congo, Nigeria (Biafra), Sri-Lanka, Turkey (Kurdistan), Tajikistan, Angola, Pakistan (Baluchistan, Kashmir), Afghanistan, Morocco (Western Sahara)…

    Crucially, in the case of partitions, either the parties involved where fairly well-balanced (e.g. Yugoslavia), or one a smaller seceding party had a powerful external sponsor (e.g. Bangladesh had India, Abkhazia had Russia). Which is not the case in Iraq — the Sunnis are a minority, do not have an obvious powerful external sponsor, and are arrayed against the majority of Shia, supported by Iran, and the resilient Kurds. I do not see a durable partition (temporary at most) taking place as long as these conditions prevail.

    1. Guest,

      Correct, but I would not limit this to Iraq’s current borders. In the endgame, it’s redrawing the boundaries of the Sykes-Picote Treaty from the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

      We may well see a a. Shia Area of Southern Syria/Southern and Central Iraq, b. a Sunni Area of Northern Iraq and Northern Syria, and c. a bigger Kurdistan.

      Fighting in NE of Baquba in Diyala Province, Kirkuk, and Baghdad will dictate the borders. That, and the last 20 years of forced population resettlement from many sides.

      As far as external backing goes, the guerrilla force we’re calling the ISIS has gotten people from the Middle East and North Africa, arms from the US, and money from Mosul.

  5. FM,

    “there was no al Qaeda in Iraq until our occupation.”

    “Interestingly, who are allies of ISIS? It’s a truly revolutionary movement in that it has few allies.”

    These two thoughts are intertwined. I’d recommend discarding the names (AQI, QJBR, AQIZ, ISIS, etc….). Look at the people and the ideology.

    I fought these folks for a year in Diyala, and others fought them in Samarra. The Salafist community has been in Iraq for thirty years. Under Saddam, they were either suppressed or brokered deals with Saddam.

    Instead, I would focus on looking at the people. Mainly, the Sunni political contingent and Baathtist that lost political power after the fall of Saddam.


    1. Mike ,

      That’s a powerful and useful point, analytically.

      However, in terms of domestic politics the label “Al Qaeda” or “linked to” or “affiliate of” provides the magic. Which is why our geopolitical community adheres to this convention, even when fantasy necessary to support it. The noble lie is essential for the elites when their people become dogs.

      More broadly, I wonder if something changed in the Islamic community since 2000 (an arbitrary date, chosen to unlike it specifically to 9-11). Esp in the Middle East (broadly defined). Parts of it seem to have become revolutionary in nature, which might reflect large-scale but perhaps invisible changes in the whole.

    2. FM,

      1. Who’s in charge of the Iraq Resistance? My bet is that it’s Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam’s number two. He long evaded us while the US was there.


      2. “More broadly, I wonder if something changed in the Islamic community since 2000 (an arbitrary date, chosen to unlike it specifically to 9-11). Esp in the Middle East (broadly defined).”

      Absolutely. I think that it’s a political and religious reformation and will take a century. The spark was the removal of Saddam and folks learning how to live without a strongman. Before, the strongmen of the ME were seen as invincible.

  6. “We cannot solve problems by using the kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
    — Albert Einstein {Ed note: attributed to Einstein}

    I find that when I make a comment on foreign affairs I must “stand on the shoulders of men & women greater than myself.” Unlike Einstein, I do not have the genius to understand the insanity of both the Bush and Obama’s military politics (not policies). Oil (Iraq) and minerals (Afghanistan) is this nation’s drug of choice.

    In Alcoholics Anonymous it’s called insanity – doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results and yet, the results are always the same.

  7. One of your best articles, FM. The first paragraph in particular deserves to be chiseled on Mount Rushmore. True wisdom.

    While we’re on the subject of political Alzheimer’s, this tweet yesterday by Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer exemplifies America’s amnesia perfectly: he can’t even remember what year his deluded incompetent administration invaded Iraq.

    For the rest of us, the year 2003 got burned into our brains as the year of descent into a decade of madness of self-destructive delusion in the middle east, but for this paid media whore, it doesn’t even matter. And since he qualifies as a card-carrying member of the top 1%, why should it? Doubtless Fleischer is too busy using his neocon bribe money to snort coke off some underage whore’s butt to care.

    John Maynard Keynes remains a great source for memorable quotes. The one I particularly like, which seems particularly appropriate here, is:

    Attempts to humour or placate the Americans or anyone else seem quite futile, and I personally despair from anything but violent and ruthless truth-telling — that will work in the end, even if slowly.
    — John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919

    1. Thomas,

      Lord Keynes was one of the great minds of the 20th century!

      As for 2003, that was the year I confronted the immense popularity of our wars with what I saw as clear failure — as predicted by the theoretical analysis of Martin van Creveld and the 4GW “community”. My articles predicted that the insurgents would prove to be determined and difficult foes. Here are a few excerpts from my posts.

      From the very first FM post: Scorecard #1, 22 September 2003:

      By all accounts opposition attacks steadily grow more sophisticated. Note the increasing number and sophistication in opposition use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). War is the ultimate form of Darwinian evolution. Guerillas learn swiftly; only the most capable survive.

      From Scorecard #2, 31 October 2003 — Note that even today our war advocates often get this key point wrong (ie, foreign armies fighting local insurgencies usually lose).

      Coalition forces appear to have lost the vital connection between strategy and tactics. Clear and feasible goals drive strategy, which drives tactics. … What are the Coalition’s goals and strategy? If these are in fact uncertain, as they were in the Viet Nam war, development of successful tactics becomes difficult. Maintaining domestic support and confidence becomes problematic.

      Fortunately, the public in Coalition nations does not seem to know the odds against us. In modern times, insurgents’ successes far outnumber the few successes of western nations.

      From Scorecard #3, 9 November 2003:

      What do we know of the enemy?

      “There are former regime members who want to disrupt the successes achieved here in the north,” Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said. There are also “criminals … who are willing to be guns for hire,” in addition to “some foreigners who have come in small numbers and have been involved in this as well. (Associated Press, 9 November 2003)

      General Petraeus’ opinion deserves respect. But describing insurgents as bandits goes back to the Chinese revolution, and probably beyond. Perhaps natural bravado, but lack of respect for one’s opponents is a bad sign. Especially given their progress in achieving objectives and their growing tactic skills. If they continue to develop at this rate, soon “insurgency” will no longer be a correct label. Per Webster’s: a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency.

      … Worse, reports like following foreshadow a next (perhaps distant) phase for the insurgency, where insurgents have effective control of some areas, into which only well-armed Coalition forces can penetrate …

  8. Stranger in a Strange Land

    I believe that the following fable, as told by Somerset Maugham, perfectly summarizes the predicament of the US in the Mideast…

    Death speaks:

    There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said,

    “Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me.”

    The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

    Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

    “That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

    1. Stranger in a Strange Land

      I think the more appropriate term would be “as retold by Somerset Maugham”.

  9. Fantasy stuff.. as if you count any longer and have any ‘influence in the ME., except the US helps arm, train, supports ISIS… and continues to do so..

    The only thing the US is ‘useful’ for is doing.is creating chaos in the ME at the bidding of Saudi Arabia and Israel… now it is totally powerless.. plus the US Govt system is out of control, some back and arm ISIS some the other side.

    And all back anti-Russian things.. NATO troops in Ukraine in July.. what are you out the loop.. FM, publically announced……

    And you are facing down Russia right now.. the US propaganda beyond silly.. and you back the ‘bad boys’ all the time. ISIS, so bad AQ fights against them, Nazis in the Ukraine…….

    And as I predicted. years ago.,. check your archives.. “The US elites unlike the UK and USSR ones will not go down without a fight, scorched earth is their preferred option.. We are in a race between US bankruptcy and WW3.’..

  10. It quite frankly shocks me to see that in all this discussion about retroactive continuity and the dangers of historical amnesia — especially when that amnesia is being deliberately, disingenuously fostered for the sake of a political agenda — not one person has brought up George Orwell’s “1984”, because this is a strategy which has practically been taken straight from the Ingsoc handbook (Ingsoc being the political party of Big Brother). This is by no means the first time I’ve observed that numerous people in our government and our media appear to regard “1984” as an instruction manual instead of the cautionary tale Orwell intended it to be.

    To put it bluntly, the use of retconning essentially creates a virtual “memory hole.” In “1984”, the memory hole is an incinerator which Winston Smith and all other employees at the Ministry of Truth (which lies to people and publishes propaganda) use to erase all physical records of any past events that do not concur with whatever message the government wants the people to believe at any given moment. A false representation of the past which supports the present message is created, and any documentation of the real event intentionally withheld (or in “1984”, destroyed). Anyone who continues to consciously acknowledge the discrepancy instead of mindlessly accepting the new message is penalized. In Orwell’s novel, Big Brother (as represented by the members of the Inner Party) is well aware of the political advantage of retconning — mainly, preserving the image of an political entity which is virtually godlike in its omniscience and infallibility (an assertion which seems almost pathological in its extreme arrogance) — and exploits this to such an extent that it has become a party maxim…

    “Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past.”

    Of course, in Orwell’s novel, the consummate irony of this is that the new message will eventually suffer the same fate in its turn and be destroyed in favor of a “new and improved” message — Oceania is at war with Eurasia and Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia (that is, except for those times when they’ve grown tired of that and decided to focus their efforts on fighting Eurasia again for the umpteenth time). Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose — the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    When you apply this to our present real-life situation, considering that the neoconservatives are part of a political entity that claims to speak for God and have God on its side as a matter of course…it does not actually seem all that surprising that they would attempt to claim at least a little of that divine omniscience and infallibility for themselves. After all, if you believe that God is omniscient and infallible and that you speak for him, then you must by association be omniscient and infallible yourself. Of course, if you’re omniscient and infallible, then it follows that the current situation in an area which you decided to invade ten years ago against the wishes and advice an reasoning of just about everyone else in the world couldn’t possibly be your fault and must be someone else’s fault. Ergo, the re-emergence of that tired and hackneyed excuse from the days of the Bush administration that “nobody could have predicted” civil war in Iraq and the implication that this is somehow all Obama’s fault despite the fact that the previous administration created a truly godawful mess which they couldn’t fix themselves and left it behind for others to clean up. Is it really any wonder that I regard neoconservatives collectively as suffering from a severe case of arrested development??? The egotism, the arrogance, the irresponsibility, the magical thinking, the thirst for control…it all fits.

    1. Bluestocking,

      While I agree with your analysis, IMO it’s not an operationally useful perspective on events. It’s a third-person view.

      We live in the first person, singular and plural. Why do these methods work! Because we allow them. The state of America, the building of a New America, is a consensual project (but not a joint project, as was the First and Second Republics).

      America is our responsibility, and the success of these techniques is our fault. That realization, which we so fiercely fight, is the key to reform. The battle is first and foremost in our own minds and hearts.

      That is the message of mist posts on the FMwebsite. It is not a popular one.

    2. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why these methods work is because the American people no longer seem to read anything of real substance, appear to have the attention span of your average gnat, and evidently have more interest in sensationalist entertainment or celebrity trivia than they do in anything remotely educational.

      I agree that the battlefield is in our own minds and hearts…but it’s not only a war which we are losing but one which a substantial percentage of the American people have quite clearly already surrendered to the enemy.

      1. Bluestocking,

        Do you have supporting evidence for these assertions? All those political newspapers, magazines, websites — even the next-gen news media. Somebody must be reading them.

        Plus all. Those folks at the Occupy and Tea Party meetings.

        I think you exaggerate.

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