Ilan Goldenberg’s right to be troubled by this New York Times retrospective on Iraq. There are some good pieces in here, but it’s striking that they’re all focuses on the execution of the war and none treat the strategic issue of Iraq.
But Iraq has been, first and foremost, a strategic miscalculation based on a disastrously wrongheaded conception of the strategic challenge revealed on 9/11/01. The United States had a chance to implement a focused, disciplined effort to go after al-Qaeda and remove the threat but instead George W. Bush, aided and abetted by a wide swathe of elites, chose to go in for a broad-brush vision of a “war on terror” whose centerpiece would be the invasion and occupation of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and no meaningful relationship with al-Qaeda. The costs of that decision have been enormous, not just in terms of the tragedy that’s played out for American soldiers and Iraqis of all stripes, but in terms of the opportunity cost of totally reorienting America’s foreign policy and defense priorities away from useful things and toward Iraq instead.
Today, America faces not just political choices about the future of our Iraq policy, but also choices about whether future policy in other areas will continue to be guided by the strategic vision that led us into Iraq, or whether we’ll return to something sounder. To just take the invasion for granted and argue about the handling of the occupation obscures much more than it reveals. Warren Strobel for McClatchy does a much better job of highlighting the big picture.