I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why the Iraq war was lost

There seems to be a growing consensus that Bush mis-adventure in Iraq is lost. While that is a good thing there is a general mis-understanding of why which is dangerous because it may encourage future mis-adventures. It should now be obvious that the Iraq war was never winnable except in the delusional dreams of the neocons and Bush cultists. Michael Schwartz at the Asia Times explains it much better than I can in What went wrong in Iraq? Wrong answer. He begins with a rundown of the reasons commonly given for the loss by those who initially supported the debacle.
For example, the question of "what went wrong" in Iraq is now almost universally answered as follows:

The invasion was initially successful, but the plan for the peace was faulty. Bush administration officials misestimated the amount of resistance they would find in the wake of Baghdad's fall. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his civilian officials in the Pentagon ignored military warnings and did not deploy sufficient soldiers to handle this initial resistance. As a result, the occupation was unable to quell the rebellion when it was small.

This first blunder allowed what was at best a modest insurgency to grow to formidable proportions, at which point occupation officials committed a second disastrous blunder, dismantling the Iraqi army, which otherwise could have been deployed to smash the rebellion.

Bottom line: former army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki was right. If the US had deployed the several hundred thousand troops that he insisted were needed to lock down the country (instead of hustling him into retirement), then the war would have been short and sweet, and the US would now be well on its way both to victory and withdrawal.

This, I think, is a fair summary of the thinking on Iraq currently dominant in the mainstream media and, because it ignores the fundamental cause of the war-after-the-war - the American attempt to neo-liberalize Iraq - it is also profoundly wrong.
So what really went wrong? or it's the privatization stupid.

I quoted Charley Reese the other day:
The end result of government, a wise man once said, is a family eating their evening meal in peace in their home. That's what the Iraqi people are craving right now. They want security. They want the electricity back on. They want the sewage and water plants to function. They want jobs.
As Schwartz points out everything the Bush administration did in Iraq after the invasion worked against the above and this was the root cause of the chaos and insurgency that followed.
Within six months, for example, the American occupation government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), had promulgated all manner of laws designed to privatize everything in Iraq except established oil reserves. (New oil discoveries, however, were to be privatized.) All restrictions were also taken off foreign corporations intent on buying full control of Iraqi enterprises; nor were demands to be made of those companies to reinvest any of their profits in Iraq.

At the same time, state-owned enterprises were to be demobilized and sidelined. They were to be prevented from participating either in repairing facilities damaged during the invasion (or degraded by the decade of sanctions that preceded it) or in any of the initially ambitious reconstruction projects the US commissioned.

This policy was so strict that even state-owned enterprises with specific expertise in Iraqi electrical, sanitation and water purification systems - not to speak of Iraq's massive cement industry - were forbidden from obtaining subcontracts from the multinational corporations placed in charge of rejuvenating the country's infrastructure.

The elimination of all protections for local commerce quickly threw the market wide open to large multinational marketing companies. This resulted in an immediate surge of sales to the Iraqi middle class of previously unobtainable goods such as air conditioners, cell phones and all manner of electronic devices. Though few remember this today, many American journalists reported the influx of such goods as an early sign of coming prosperity - and of how successful an economy could begin to be once freed from the oppressive binds of state control and state ownership.

As it happened, though, this surge did not last into the winter of 2003-4. The problem, it turned out, was that the CPA-induced economic "opening" to multinational competition administered a series of death blows to locally based enterprises. First of all, shops selling any item that could be imported by foreign companies found themselves in the unenviable position of competing with lower-priced goods that the multinationals could either provide at such prices or afford to sell at a loss to capture the market (ie, run the local competition out of business). So a depression swept through small business in Iraq, leaving neighborhoods without their normal complement of shops and without the income that they plowed back into communities.
This combined with the complete dissolution of the Army resulted in massive unemployment which resulted in accelerating the insurgency. The attempts to put down the insurgency, destroying villages and cites, killing innocent Iraqis etc. further fired the chaos.

I think that Schwartz's explanation is better than the one commonly given blaming Rumsfeld but it still seems to assume the war could have been won and ignores the fact that the US was seen as invaders rather than liberators.

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