Hopefully lessons learned
A decade ago today U.S. troops began the invasion of Iraq, an ideologically inspired misadventure for which human and financial costs continue to climb.
Buoyed by the earlier, limited gulf war that had seemed to vanquish the ghosts of Vietnam, the Bush administration launched a supposedly preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein's Iraq that was based on false premises and ignorance of Iraqi culture, religion and regional politics.
Although U.S. troops have been out of Iraq for nearly two years, the war there is unresolved. The sectarian and tribal strife that continues to claim hundreds, the fractured governance, the inability to equitably distribute oil wealth, ongoing retribution for ancient grievances, the emergence of Iranian influence in the absence of an antagonistic regime in Baghdad, the emigration of nearly the entire Christian population, the deaths of more than 4,000 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, costs to American taxpayers that ultimately may exceed $2 trillion, the squandering of tens of billions of dollars in reconstruction funds, and much more, are testament to the failure of the Iraq occupation.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration misread the strategic context of Iraq and the tactical requirements for prosecuting the war. The result, far from the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner in front of which President George W. Bush posed on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, is closer to the title of one of many books on the era: "Fiasco."
Now the question is what lesson future administrations will take from Iraq. President Obama clearly is far less willing to engage in major military operations, having refrained from direct engagement in Libya and trying to maintain distance from the Syrian civil war.
Perhaps those ghosts of Vietnam remain instructive: define an objective; understand the culture; know how to get out.