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text 2014-09-15 19:30
The Iraq War in Perspective

The following is an article written in 2008 by the late Christopher Hitchens and is reprinted from an article in Slate Magazine:

 

 

An "anniversary" of a "war" is in many ways the least useful occasion on which to take stock of something like the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq, if only because any such formal observance involves the assumption that a) this is, in fact, a war and b) it is by that definition an exception from the rest of our engagement with that country and that region. I am one of those who, for example, believes that the global conflict that began in August 1914 did not conclusively end, despite a series of "fragile truces," until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is not at all to redefine warfare and still less to contextualize it out of existence. But when I wrote the essays that go to make up A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, I was expressing an impatience with those who thought that hostilities had not really "begun" until George W. Bush gave a certain order in the spring of 2003.

 

Anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with Iraq would have to know that a heavy U.S. involvement in the affairs of that country began no later than 1968, with the role played by the CIA in the coup that ultimately brought Saddam Hussein's wing of the Baath Party to power. Not much more than a decade later, we come across persuasive evidence that the United States at the very least acquiesced in the Iraqi invasion of Iran, a decision that helped inflict moral and material damage of an order to dwarf anything that has occurred in either country recently. In between, we might note minor episodes such as Henry Kissinger's faux support to Kurdish revolutionaries, encouraging them to believe in American support and then abandoning and betraying them in the most brutal and cynical fashion.

 

If you can bear to keep watching this flickering newsreel, it will take you all the way up to the moment when Saddam Hussein, too, switches sides and courts Washington, being most in favor in our nation's capital at the precise moment when he is engaged in a campaign of extermination in the northern provinces and retaining this same favor until the very moment when he decides to "engulf" his small Kuwaiti neighbor. In every decision taken subsequent to that, from the decision to recover Kuwait and the decision to leave Saddam in power to the decisions to impose international sanctions on Iraq and the decision to pass the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, stating that long-term coexistence with Saddam's regime was neither possible nor desirable, there was a really quite high level of public participation in our foreign policy. We were never, if we are honest with ourselves, "lied into war." We became steadily more aware that the option was continued collusion with Saddam Hussein or a decision to have done with him. The president's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, laying out the considered case that it was time to face the Iraqi tyrant, too, with this choice, was easily the best speech of his two-term tenure and by far the most misunderstood.

 

That speech is widely and wrongly believed to have focused on only two aspects of the problem, namely the refusal of Saddam's regime to come into compliance on the resolutions concerning weapons of mass destruction and the involvement of the Baathists with a whole nexus of nihilist and Islamist terror groups. Baghdad's outrageous flouting of the resolutions on compliance (if not necessarily the maintenance of blatant, as opposed to latent, WMD capacity) remains a huge and easily demonstrable breach of international law. The role of Baathist Iraq in forwarding and aiding the merchants of suicide terror actually proves to be deeper and worse, on the latest professional estimate, than most people had ever believed or than the Bush administration had ever suggested.

 

This is all overshadowed by the unarguable hash that was made of the intervention itself. But I would nonetheless maintain that this incompetence doesn't condemn the enterprise wholesale. A much-wanted war criminal was put on public trial. The Kurdish and Shiite majority was rescued from the ever-present threat of a renewed genocide. A huge, hideous military and party apparatus, directed at internal repression and external aggression was (perhaps overhastily) dismantled. The largest wetlands in the region, habitat of the historic Marsh Arabs, have been largely recuperated. Huge fresh oilfields have been found, including in formerly oil free Sunni provinces, and some important initial investment in them made. Elections have been held, and the outline of a federal system has been proposed as the only alternative to a) a sectarian despotism and b) a sectarian partition and fragmentation. Not unimportantly, a battlefield defeat has been inflicted on al-Qaida and its surrogates, who (not without some Baathist collaboration) had hoped to constitute the successor regime in a failed state and an imploded society. Further afield, a perfectly defensible case can be made that the Syrian Baathists would not have evacuated Lebanon, nor would the Qaddafi gang have turned over Libya's (much higher than anticipated) stock of WMD if not for the ripple effect of the removal of the region's keystone dictatorship.

 

None of these positive developments took place without a good deal of bungling and cruelty and unintended consequences of their own. I don't know of a satisfactory way of evaluating one against the other any more than I quite know how to balance the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, say, against the digging up of Saddam's immense network of mass graves. There is, however, one position that nobody can honestly hold but that many people try their best to hold. And that is what I call the Bishop Berkeley theory of Iraq, whereby if a country collapses and succumbs to trauma, and it's not our immediate fault or direct responsibility, then it doesn't count, and we are not involved. Nonetheless, the very thing that most repels people when they contemplate Iraq, which is the chaos and misery and fragmentation (and the deliberate intensification and augmentation of all this by the jihadists), invites the inescapable question: What would post-Saddam Iraq have looked like without a coalition presence?

 

The past years have seen us both shamed and threatened by the implications of the Berkeleyan attitude, from Burma to Rwanda to Darfur. Had we decided to attempt the right thing in those cases (you will notice that I say "attempt" rather than "do," which cannot be known in advance), we could as glibly have been accused of embarking on "a war of choice." But the thing to remember about Iraq is that all or most choice had already been forfeited. We were already deeply involved in the life-and-death struggle of that country, and March 2003 happens to mark the only time that we ever decided to intervene, after a protracted and open public debate, on the right side and for the right reasons. This must, and still does, count for something.

 

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review 2014-05-08 23:32
If you only read one book on the Persian Gulf War....
The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf - Michael R. Gordon,General Bernard E. Trainor

....this should be it. Granted, I had to read this book as it was a textbook (along with Rick Atkinson's Crusade), but I devoured the book rather than index read. There is politics, international chess play, and military maneuvers that are explained in a way non-military historians/buffs can understand. The number of people involved is quite a lot, so I made a list of people and their jobs (especially when the author was describing cabinet-level meetings); however, President Bush, CJCS Colin Powell, Sec of Defense Dick Cheney (yep, that one) and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. are the ones that are the major players. There was no real villain or hero; the authors took great pains to ensure they represented the people as humans, with warts and genius ideas. Persian Gulf War is also known as Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

 

Unlike the American foreign policy of today, the Persian Gulf/Middle East region was not such a hot topic in the minds of Washington in the late 1980s/early 1990. With the fall of the USSR, American policy makers were concerned about the break up countries and possible outbreak of hostilities as ethnic groups fight for their independence (well hello, dear future UN peacekeeping missions); there was also a focus on the Far East and certain African states that had the potential for failed state status (again, hello 1990s UN peacekeeping missions). Gordon and Trainor travel back to beginning of the war to 1979 and a report from a bipartisan committee that forewarned of possible trouble in the PG/ME region....and that no one heeded because USSR! USSR! Gordon and Trainor also detailed how the Iraq/Iran war was a factor in dealing with Hussein.

 

Gordon and Trainor detailed people, events, geography, and analysis so thoroughly, but wrote to make it accessible and engrossing narrative. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in political science, foreign policy, ME studies...well anyone. I wish more attention was paid to PGW and its consequences, especially by more recent policy makers and political elites. 5/5 stars.

 

P.S. Atkinson's book is also very good and so recommended, but is written for the military member/military historian. There is an emphasis on weapon systems and military assets and how we won PGW. You may need some background knowledge before jumping into Crusade.

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review 2014-02-25 00:00
Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War
Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War - Edwin E. Moïse Did not finish it. A bit too detailed for me at present. But well written
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review 2012-09-25 00:00
Every Man A Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign (Commander Series)
Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign (Commanders) - Tom Clancy,Chuck Horner,Tony Koltz Every Man A Tiger primarily covers the planning, the problems, and execution of the Gulf War air campaign through writing of Tom Clancy and it's commander General Chuck Horner. Instead of giving a blow-by-blow account of the Gulf War's air operations from August 1990 to March 1991, Clancy and Horner decided to give background of not only it's commander (Horner) but of the U.S. Air Force that deployed to Saudi Arabia in the fall of 1990. The quick, but thorough biography of Horner went hand in hand with a history of the Air Force especially on how the service almost collapsed during and immediately after Vietnam then how it was rebuilt into an effective fighting force by the time of the Gulf War.This background information served well as Clancy and Horner described the planning of the Air Campaign, primarily how Horner along with other Vietnam veterans wanted to avoid the mistakes of the past as well as tackling the challenges of creating a Coalition Air Force. Once the war started, the authors wrote about various challenges that Horner and his command faced throughout the six weeks of exclusive air operations before the ground war began.The thoroughness of this process is a highlight of this book. I have seen some reviews that dislike the biographical portion of Ever Man A Tiger and while I understand some of their compliants, however Horner's biography and the accompany history of the U.S. Air Force was integral in knowing why the air campaign was planned as it was. I will admit that I did get bogged down at times when the details got too technical, but those times were few and far between. Overall I recommend this book for anyone interested in an in-depth look at the planning and execution of military affairs related to the Gulf War or the Air Force.
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review 2005-02-15 00:00
Jarhead : A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles
Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles - Anthony Swofford I read this back in 2005 on the recommendation of a coworker of mine at the previous job, a former marine himself, who described it as "that is the way it is." It is interesting and moving at times. It is a very fast read with dark humor as well as depressing moments. Probably more young people should read it to balance some of the more "rah rah" accounts of the military out there.
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