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)
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.
(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:
- The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
- Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
- 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.
“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
Sunday Shows to be filled with guests saying we should invade Iraq to fix the chaos we created by invading Iraq. And no one will even blink.
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) June 13, 2014
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)
For More Information
See these Reference Pages for a wealth of information and links:
- Posts about our wars in Iraq, Af-Pak & elsewhere
- The iraq war — other valuable articles and reports
- Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq.
COIN by foreign armies almost always fails:
- More paths to failure in Iraq, 16 December 2006 — Myths about COIN in Iraq
- How often do insurgents win? How much time does successful COIN require?, 29 May 2008
- 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.
- 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.
- A look at the history of victories over insurgents, 30 June 2010
- COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure., 7 August 2012