War in Iraq, then and now | VailDaily.com

War in Iraq, then and now

Sometimes it’s necessary to set the record straight, so here goes. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have supported the President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. But at the same time, I didn’t have an alternate strategy to fight and win the broader war on terror. But let’s start at the beginning. On the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, the strategic goal of the administration was to prevent further attacks upon our country arising from the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. To have viewed that threat otherwise would have been a dereliction of duty.The moment al Qaeda declared war upon the United States, the end game was defeat for them or us. Ideologies that embrace martyrdom have no middle ground, they don’t negotiate, and there are no truces.The administration chose to go on the offensive versus treating the attacks as a law enforcement matter. But to take the offensive, it understood that fighting a transnational, stateless enemy required Islamic allies because Western intelligence agencies could never penetrate al Qaeda’s the way an Islamic nation could. Obtaining good intelligence is the greatest challenge in fighting this war. But in the wake of 9/11, U.S. intelligence on al Qaeda was minimal. However, the Saudis and Pakistanis had a ton of actionable information. So the question became how does a Christian nation persuade Islamic governments that fear al Qaeda retaliation to cooperate? The administration had to influence, coerce and/or intimidate the Saudis and Pakistanis to assist us. And that’s precisely what the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq did. The invasion of Afghanistan induced Pakistan’s President Musharraf to increase cooperation with the United States, which subsequently helped us disrupt al Qaeda’s base of operations, destabilize its leadership and put it on the defensive. Then in March 2003, the invasion of Iraq had enormous influence on the Saudi government. Convinced that the U.S. was finally taking terrorism seriously and fearing that the U.S. could just as easily topple the kingdom as it could Saddam, the Saudis quickly changed their position toward the United States vis-a-vis al Qaeda. Since that time, the information the Saudis have provided has been instrumental in allowing us to disrupt al Qaeda’s operations globally. While incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq greatly increased the amount of intelligence and support our government has used very effectively against al Qaeda, we paid a price for that cooperation. The same strategy that allowed us to disrupt al Qaeda also placed U.S. forces in the middle of two brutal insurgencies.Those who contend the administration should have carried out the Afghanistan operation without invading Iraq fail to explain how it would have obtained the critical intelligence and support to fight al Qaeda around the globe – a detail you will never hear coherently addressed by the war’s detractors. George Friedman said it best, “The administration’s critics, who argue that Iraq particularly diverted attention from fighting al Qaeda, fail to appreciate the complex matrix of relationships the United States was trying to adjust with its invasion of Iraq.” In other words, there are innumerable political, diplomatic, military, economic, financial, intelligence and psychological interconnections between the war in Iraq and the failure of al Qaeda to attack us since 9/11. Nevertheless, after the fall of Baghdad, the administration’s mistakes in handling the war were so profound that its goal of building an Iraq capable of defending itself and joining us in the broader war on terror now appear unattainable. While no war ever goes as planned, we do expect our leaders to make adjustments. In that vein, the post-Cold War military George Bush inherited was designed on the assumption that extended ground combat operations were a thing of the past. The Army in particular was reduced in size with many of its critical components and specialties shifted to Reserve and National Guard units. The problem however, was not with a reconfigured Army, but rather with the administration’s failure to acknowledge this reality, redress it, and then modify its plan for what it believed would be a short war. As columnist Jonah Goldberg has written, “The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue. The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, though calling Saddam’s bluff was the right thing to do.” A more important intelligence failure, however, was underestimating what it would take to pacify and rebuild Iraq after the fall of Saddam. It is for these failures that we have a new secretary of defense. But at the same time, those who say Iraq is not now the central front in the broader war on terror (regardless of how we got there) are really in denial.So what’s next? While there aren’t many viable options, here are two. Have the Iraqis vote on whether we should pull our troops out. Recent polling indicates the majority of Iraqis want us to leave. However, polling without consequences is simply a complaint. But as Mr. Goldberg opines, perhaps when confronted with imminent consequences, the Iraqis might feel differently.If the Iraqis vote for us to stay, we’d have a mandate to do what’s necessary to win, including the demand for more Iraqi participation. If they said “go,” we could leave with honor knowing we had done what we could to help them achieve democracy. The second option: Make a deal with the devil, Iran. There are a thousand moving parts in this cultural-sectarian-political conflict, and Iran controls most of them. We may not like it, but engaging in direct talks with Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs may now be our best option.Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. You can e-mail him at bmazz68@earthlink.net Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO

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