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July 15, 2014



Professor Nacos: "trillions of dollars in debt"

That's simply not possible unless the US is borrowing money from a loan shark with the worst interest rate of all time.

From http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2014/05/operation-iraqi-freedom-faq.html

Q: Did Operation Iraqi Freedom really cost X trillions of dollars?

A: No.

According to the Congressional Research Service report, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11" (March 29, 2011), which measured the "cumulative total [for] ... war operations, diplomatic operations, and medical care for Iraq and Afghan war veterans", covering DOD, State/USAID, and VA Medical costs, all costs for Iraq totaled 805.5 billion dollars through FY2011 and 823.2 billion dollars estimated through FY2012. The report states the DOD-specific total cost as 757.8 billion through FY2011 and 768.8 billion dollars estimated through FY2012.

That's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it's also not X trillions of dollars.

For further perspective, the FY2008 peak year spending for Iraq of 138.5 billion dollars, which paid for the Counterinsurgency "Surge", was 1% GDP. By that admittedly narrow metric, the only cheaper US wars have been Operation Enduring Freedom and the Gulf War. The Iraq budget dropped progressively and sharply every year following FY2008. The next cheapest war by peak year spending is the Spanish American War, which cost 1.1% GDP in 1899. That fact is not dispositive about the cost of OIF, of course; however, it does illustrate relative dollar figures don’t look the same as isolated dollar figures.


Professor Nacos,

This piece should help you understand the Iraq enforcement. At least, it was the piece - along with, of course, the 06MAR03 UNMOVIC Cluster Document that reported "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues" - that fully convinced me that Operation Iraqi Freedom was justified.

From the Iraq Survey Group's Duelfer Report:
"Saddam had direct command of the Iraqi intelligence services and the armed forces, including direct authority over plans and operations of both. ... The IIS also ran a large covert procurement program, undeclared chemical laboratories, and supported denial and deception operations."

Each of those violations by itself justifies Operation Iraqi Freedom. In fact, the Duelfer Report is rife with Iraqi violations.

Further, recall President Bush's 2003 State of the Union:
"Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. ... Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option."

The IIS was, obviously, Saddam's regime arm that was notorious for working with terrorists and handling Saddam's in-house black ops.

While it doesn't appear that the IIS's "large covert procurement program" and "undeclared chemical laboratories" were set up to produce a military battlefield amount of stock, they were certainly capable of and likely intended for producing the amount of weapon needed for a precision clandestine attack, eg, a terrorist act.

Bush and Clinton were right about Saddam: "If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond ... mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them." (Clinton, Dec 1998)

More to the point, it appears that although our intel had some indicators of IIS activity, we did not have a full and precise knowledge of IIS activity, eg, the IIS chemical laboratories. It also doesn't appear that before the war UNMOVIC came across the IIS activity that was uncovered by the Iraq Survey Group after regime change.

Keep in mind that Hans Blix's proposed change and indefinite extension of the UNMOVIC mission (which relied on the unrealistic expectation of a concurrent indefinitely extended credible military threat of regime change to underlie the "work programme" and compel Saddam's cooperation) was to work with Saddam on resolving the issues in the Cluster Document, not find anything new.

However, Iraq had failed to meet the mandated standard of cooperation and accountability, including disclosure, during the UNMOVIC inspection period, and indeed, the Duelfer Report shows that Iraq's weapons violations exceeded UNMOVIC's findings.

Blix's alternative to OIF, even if it were realistic to implement, would have failed to actually disarm Saddam - even had Blix eventually certified Saddam as compliant on the weapons standards.

The clandestine active IIS program was pretty much exactly what Bush warned us about in the 2003 State of the Union:
"Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. ... Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option."

Professor, if you haven't read them already, I recommend the UNMOVIC Cluster Document and the ISG Duelfer Report.

They show that OIF was justified. Bush was right. Remember, the entire burden in the Gulf War ceasefire was on Saddam to prove Iraq was compliant and disarmed. The truth is Saddam was noncompliant and rearming.


Professor Nacos: "Cheney ... [claimed] that the Bush administration left Iraq in good shape and that the present crisis is Obama’s (and PM Maliki’s) fault because the president left no stay-behind force in Iraq."

Excerpt from http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2004/10/perspective-on-operation-iraqi-freedom.html :

In the singular historic moment that sure-handed American leadership could have accomplished the most good, Obama's feckless 'lead from behind' approach to the Arab Spring, instead, opened gaps for the terrorists to resurge. Iraq is suffering the consequences.

Misinformation and mischaracterization have distorted the public's understanding of the context, stakes, and achievements of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement that President Bush carried forward from President Clinton and the ground-breaking peace operations by the US military in post-Saddam Iraq. The corrupted public perception of the Iraq mission has enabled Obama's elementary, catastrophic errors, undermined the enforcement of international norms, and curtailed the further development of peace operations.

Security is the necessary condition for securing and building the peace, and under the umbrella of vital American security, Iraq had turned the corner when Bush handed OIF over to Obama.

To wit, in May 2011, President Obama marked Iraq's "promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy ... poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress":

"Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner."

In the same vein, the welcome statement on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad website anticipated "Iraq emerge as a strategic partner in a tumultuous region ... that can act as a force for moderation ... in the national security interests of the United States":

"After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic partner in a tumultuous region. A sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq that can act as a force for moderation is profoundly in the national security interests of the United States and will ensure that Iraq can realize its full potential as a democratic society. Our civilian-led presence is helping us strengthen the strong strategic partnership that has developed up to this point."

President Bush was right to enforce the Gulf War ceasefire and stay to secure the peace in Iraq in the same way that the US stayed to secure the peace in Europe and Asia after World War 2. President Obama was wrong to bungle the SOFA negotiation and prematurely leave Iraq while America's protection was needed for the welfare of the Iraqi people and the continued progression of Iraq’s pluralistic liberal reform and constructive role in the Middle East.


Professor Nacos: "Again, he spoke about the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the context of the right decision to invade Iraq after 9/11. The same old lies."

Excerpt from UNSC Resolution 687 (1991):

Deploring threats made by Iraq during the recent conflict to make use of terrorism against targets outside Iraq ... Requires Iraq to inform the Security Council that it will not commit or support any act of international terrorism or allow any organization directed towards commission of such acts to operate within its territory and to condemn unequivocally and renounce all acts, methods and practices of terrorism;

Excerpt from http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2014/05/operation-iraqi-freedom-faq.html :

Q: Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq?

A: No.

One, President Bush's presentation of intelligence did not and could not trigger OIF. By procedure, only Iraq’s noncompliance could trigger enforcement, and only Iraq’s compliance could switch off the enforcement.

The popular myth that OIF was based on lies relies on a false foundational premise shifting the burden to the US President to prove Iraq possessed WMD. In fact, the US held no burden of proof in the Iraq enforcement. The entire burden was on Saddam to prove Iraq was compliant and disarmed. The question of "Where is Iraq's WMD?" was never for the US President to answer; it was always one of the questions Saddam was required to answer satisfactorily in order to prove Iraq was compliant and disarmed.

Iraq's guilt was established as fact from the outset of the Gulf War ceasefire and presumed in the enforcement of the UNSC resolutions. The imprecision of intelligence due to Saddam's deception was a known issue from the start and accounted for with Iraq’s presumption of guilt and burden of proof. In other words, if Bush had presented no intelligence on Iraq's weapons, the compliance-based enforcement procedure would have been the same because Saddam was guilty until he proved Iraq was compliant.

Two, it is undisputed that Iraq was noncompliant at the decision point for OIF. Reports throughout the inspection period made clear Iraq had failed to sufficiently account for documented NBC stocks along with other violations. On March 7, 2003, UNMOVIC reported to the UN Security Council that Iraq presented "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues".

The public controversy is over Bush's presentation of intelligence on latter Iraqi NBC stocks and programs. In the context of the Saddam problem, Clinton and Bush officials were obligated to judge the intelligence in an unfavorable light for Iraq, and 9/11 compelled US officials to increase their wariness due to Saddam’s belligerence and guilt on terrorism.

The intelligence that Bush presented was the intelligence that was available. Bush’s mistake was presenting the intelligence inapposite of its actual, circumscribed role in the Iraq ceasefire enforcement. For ODF, President Clinton had cited only to Iraq’s noncompliance when he declared “Iraq has abused its final chance” and classified Saddam as a "clear and present danger". Clinton's citation of noncompliance as the reason for bombing Iraq matched the operative enforcement procedure.

Bush cited properly to Iraq’s noncompliance as Clinton had done for ODF, but Bush also cited to the intelligence, despite that the intelligence could not trigger enforcement. Propagandists pounced on Bush’s error of presentation, but the mistake does not change that Iraq was noncompliant at the decision point for OIF and Bush properly applied the enforcement procedure.

Three, it is undisputed that Saddam was in violation on non-weapons issues, such as illicit trade outside the Oil for Food program (which funded Saddam's weapons procurement) and humanitarian and terrorism standards. They were also triggers for the military enforcement. Saddam's non-weapons obligations are often overlooked, yet they were as serious as Iraq's weapons obligations. For example, the no-fly zones were the most visible, dangerous, invasive, and provocative component of the 'containment', yet the no-fly zones were not part of weapons-related enforcement. Rather, they helped enforce UNSC Resolution 688, which demanded an immediate end to the repression of the Iraqi civilian population.

Four, albeit irrelevant to the enforcement procedure at the decision point for OIF, the post-war findings in the Duelfer Report corroborate Iraq was in broad violation of its weapons obligations - just not precisely the same way suggested by the pre-war intelligence.

A rough analogy is a father who has a son with a greedy sweet tooth and a habit of breaking house rules by squirrelling food in his room, which attracts vermin, and lying about it. The son also, dangerously, feeds the stolen snacks to his diabetic younger sibling. The father confronts his son with the belief, based on present indicators and his son’s past, that his son is hiding cupcakes in his closet, but then discovers that his son actually is hiding doughnuts and candy in his desk and toy chest, instead. His son remains guilty of violating the rules, just not precisely the same way as the father first thought.

The truth is Saddam was noncompliant and rearming.


Regarding Rand Paul, his brand of libertarian is a direct descendant of the WW2-era America First Committee radical isolationists who, along with the American Friends Service Committee radical pacifists, tried their best to keep America out of World War 2 and WW2's post-war occupations.

In Paul's worldview, Europe ought to be Fascist and/or Communist right now and Asia should be under imperial Japanese and/or Communist control.

Regarding Paul's substantive point, our main problem in post-war Iraq was, indeed, insufficient method (strategy, plans, tactics, techniques, procedures, etc.) for an effective post-war occupation, rather than troop numbers or funding. (Our post-war troop level in Iraq peaked at 157,800 in FY2008.)

Despite the modern history of successful American-led post-war nation-building occupations, the regular Army of 2003 simply was not prepared to do a nation-building occupation of the kind needed for Iraq. The Army's post-war shortcomings were mainly due to an institutional mindset deeply rooted in the fall-out of the Vietnam War, exemplified by the Powell Doctrine, that was averse to nation-building occupation. Before 9/11, when the Army was tasked to do a mission on the spectrum of civil affairs or peace operations, it was done ad hoc as an "operation other than war". Given the military's aversion to dedicated peace operations before OIF, the only way the Army could develop a sufficient peace-operations doctrine, capability, and more fundamentally, a proper civil-affairs mindset for occupying post-war Iraq was to actually occupy post-war Iraq and learn through necessity. Ergo, the conception and birth of the Petraeus-led Counterinsurgency "Surge".

That's normal, though. The standard of perfect preemptive anticipation, preparation, accounting, and execution that critics like Paul apply to OIF is ahistorical. I agree we should do what we can beforehand to prepare. However, that the learning curve for victory in Iraq was driven by necessity on the ground is consistent with military history. The US military has always undergone steep learning curves in war. OIF just demanded a steeper learning curve for the peace operations of the post-war.

Moreover, the US historically has followed victory in war with a long-term presence and comprehensive investment in the post-war. As the World War 2 victors, we learned the importance of securing the peace after the war and not repeating the post-war mistakes made by the World War 1 victors.

We gain little from war itself because war is destruction. The prize of war is the power to build the peace on our terms. The long-term gains we historically associate with wars have actually been realized from our peace-building following those wars. To resolve the Saddam problem and then leave Iraq without first responsibly securing the peace would have been a contradiction of all our acquired wisdom as leader of the free world, an inhumane abandonment of the Iraqi people, and a short-sighted, enormously risky gamble that invited new problems.

Our long-term post-Saddam, peace-building mission in Iraq was normal. Leaving Iraq prematurely in an unsafe environment like we did was abnormal.


Professor Nacos: "ISIS is by far strongest force of the Syrian resistance against the Assad regime. How, then, would Cheney support the Syrian National Coalition and prevail?"

Actually, President Obama has intervened in Libya and Syria, but just not in ways that have made a positive difference.

Indeed, it may well be too late now for us to make a positive difference even with a belated course correction. However, if Obama had simply stayed course from Bush, built on the hard-won progress made in Iraq, and carried forward the Bush Freedom Agenda, the US could have made a pivotal difference in the incipient stage of the Arab Spring - before the terrorists seized the opportunity gifted by Obama's 'lead from behind' approach to co-opt the Arab Spring and resurge following their devastating defeat to the Counterinsurgency "Surge" and Anbar Awakening in Iraq.

Excerpt from http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2014/05/operation-iraqi-freedom-faq.html :

Q: Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a strategic blunder or a strategic victory?

A: President Bush handed OIF to President Obama as a strategic victory that had resolved the festering Saddam problem (none too soon, according to the Duelfer Report), revitalized international enforcement in the defining international enforcement of the post-Cold War, demonstrated the mettle of American leadership and devastated the terrorists with the Counterinsurgency "Surge", and provided the US with an emerging keystone partner in pluralistic, liberalizing post-Saddam Iraq to reform the region.

Obama should have stayed the course from Bush like President Eisenhower stayed the course from President Truman, and continued building upon the hard-won progress made under Bush. Instead, Obama committed the strategic blunder of bungling the SOFA negotiation with Iraq, which removed American protection from geopolitically critical Iraq while its vicinity was becoming increasingly dangerous in the degeneration of the Arab Spring, particularly in neighboring Syria. (Obama's harmful 'lead from behind' approach to the Arab Spring is a directly related issue.) Security is the necessary condition for securing and building the peace, and the future of Iraq’s pluralistic liberal reform and constructive role in the Middle East was acutely endangered by the premature departure of US forces. Obama's fundamental deviation from Bush's foreign policy rendered the US impotent in the singular historic moment that sure-handed American leadership could have achieved the most good. Instead, the terrorists have resurged in the gaps opened by the feckless American leadership of President Obama with Iraq suffering the consequences.


Professor Nacos,

I disagree. Vice President Cheney is correct.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was right on the law and justified on the policy; however, it has been distorted in the politics.

Setting the record straight on OIF matters more than ever. It's bad enough the false narrative of the Iraq mission has done tremendous damage to domestic politics in the US and the West. The false narrative of the Iraq mission has been made a harmful, active basis for our foreign policy.

Here's my latest attempt at my blog to set the record straight: http://learning-curve.blogspot.com/2014/05/operation-iraqi-freedom-faq.html . I'd appreciate your feedback on it.

Q: Why did Bush leave the ‘containment’ (status quo)?

A: One, the purpose of the Gulf War ceasefire and UNSC resolutions was the expeditious compliance and disarmament of Iraq, not a stalemated 'containment' of Saddam.

Two, the pre-9/11 threat calculation for Saddam was based primarily on a conventional military-based "imminent" threat standard. The 9/11 attacks, coupled with the uncovering of an international WMD black market, shifted the threat calculation to a "grave and gathering" threat standard with a focus on Saddam’s unconventional capabilities, such as the IIS and terrorist ties - e.g., President Bush’s statement, "we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," and President Clinton’s endorsement, "I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say you got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change, not just continued sanctions. I mean, we're all more sensitive to any possible stocks of chemical and biological weapons" and "I thought the president had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, 'Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process."

Three, the ‘containment’ was toxic and broken. The ad hoc 'containment' that followed Operation Desert Fox (ODF) was, in effect, a euphemism for failed disarmament. There was no substantive change in the enforcement measures after ODF from the strategy in place when Clinton pronounced, "Iraq has abused its final chance." According to the Duelfer Report, Saddam responded to ODF by nullifying the Gulf War ceasefire and UNSC resolutions in domestic Iraq policy, reconstituted Iraq’s NBC capabilities with a clandestine active program in the Iraqi Intelligence Services (IIS), fostered international opposition to the Iraq enforcement, and de facto neutralized the sanctions.

In other words, although it was 9/11 that pushed President Bush to resolve the Saddam problem, the Iraq enforcement was in a terminal state. With or without 9/11, the Saddam problem had come to a head with the ‘containment’ broken.

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