The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End by Peter Galbraith

The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End by Peter Galbraith

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If a general attitude towards war is that it is a force that gives us meaning, then the war in Iraq definitely follows suit. In his book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End, Peter Galbraith takes an in-depth look at the historical framework for the conflict, indicts the fundamental misconceptions surrounding the situation both at the time and the present, and offers an alternative to the current quagmire, showing how this war will truly define the Bush presidency and dominate American foreign policy for years to come.

The first few chapters of Galbraith’s work open with a stark statement that would leave many republicans baffled. With seven words he obliterates the prima facia rationale for the 2003 invasion; granted, it’s easier to be critical in hindsight, but this one sentence brings to light just how easily some of us were duped into supporting the war. This shocking realization should remain for any reader a reminder as to how easily we can be tricked into something terrible if we refuse to examine the facts and give into fear. From this starting point, Galbraith leaps through a whirlwind of tempestuous conflict in between the Tigris and the Euphrates. These historical conflicts are important in beginning to grasp the division between Shiites, Sunnis, and the Kurds. An important factor in this division is that Iraq itself has no singular ethnic identity; it is a country patched together out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, but with three distinct provincial fabrics. This forced association creates a bitter schism that was hopefully not the intent of Lloyd George when he drew the country into existence. However, the most terrible miscalculations were yet to come. Throughout the Iran-Iraq war and the Reagan and Bush Senior presidencies, America kept on focusing on the potential of what Iraq could be; a geostrategically placed ally in the middle of unfriendly territory with a wealth of oil reserves. Thus the policies of America were specifically designed to facilitate the slow transformation of Iraq from a militant Islamic dictatorship into a pro-Western bastion of capitalism, a trusted ally in the hostile Middle East. Such actions on behalf of the United States included Reagan excusing Iraq for “accidentally” killing 37 American sailors with a missile launch, the indifference on our part of the Anfal of Kurdistan, the promise of support for resistance by George Bush Sr.

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that led to the slaughtering of Kurds, and the failure to live up to our threats against the Iraqis, such as Schwartzkopf’s “you fly, you die” which the lack of enforcement resulted in the decimation of Kurdish and Shiite rebels. However, when Iraq failed to live up to our aspirations for its usefulness, it turned into an easy target for a giggling manchild from Crawford seeking to utilize his newfound pity capital to succeed where daddy had failed.

The trend of miscalculations towards Iraq continued during the presidency of George the Second. He molded himself as an everyman (an alumni of both Harvard and Yale) who sought to bring faith back to politics as a compassionate conservative, championing causes he believed in, and was often so frustrated by those who he felt did not understand him; there’s still a quiet desperation whenever he’s delivering a really hard speech, or taking the tough questions from reporters. He looks ready to explode, hissing and sputtering like a broken power line in a windstorm, as though there was some monumental obstacle keeping him from adequately explaining himself. If only he could get past it, he seemed to believe, everybody would understand and those thick, thick democrats would get behind all of his marvelous ideas. He didn't seem to get that those thick, thick democrats did understand his ideas. That's why they were so upset. Galbraith argues that one of the central miscalculations of the Bush administration has been that they have tried to predict each response in the best possible outcome; that we would be greeted as liberators, that everyone would sit around a campfire singing kumbaya, etc. No one had prepared for the resistance and resentment that would follow our “liberation.” There was no timetable prepared for a withdraw, no exit strategy, not even a coherent plan as to how to occupy Iraq; in trying to pursue both the strategy of handing over power to an interim government and attempting to sustain occupation as we did in German and Japan, the administration has show its incredible lack of strategy in such a precarious situation. The regional divisions of the past came rearing to life in the form of a civil war (or its compassionate codename, “sectarian violence”) that surprised American forces and planners. It seemed as the entire purpose for invading Iraq seemed to vanish once things didn’t go as swimmingly as Ann Coulter would have us believe. Bush and the rest of the White House had argued that Iraq was attempting to purchase yellowcake uranium from Africa and our invasion was justified to keep America safe. However, once this myth had been debunked, the American forces failed to keep the yellowcake that was actually sanctioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency safe from the hands of vandals and looters in a compound in Tuwaitha . Looting also occurred in the National Museum and the National Library, resulting in the tremendous loss of art and history of the region. However, much to the complete shock of the war’s growing cynics, the Oil Ministry was well fortified; Rumsfeld saw that the protection of oil was far more important than the blueprints for the dams, barrages, pumping stations, and canals that millions of Iraqis depended on for water. Much like the president struggling to have his vastly superior views accepted by his audience, the American forces were met with resistance as they attempted to promote democracy and independence from the turrets of tanks. The bold assertion that we could shape Iraq in our own image was underscored by the incompetence of L. Paul Bremer III, who, when appointed, had only 2 weeks to study the situation in Iraq and plan its reconstruction; combined with his lack of experience with the region, language, and post-conflict situation , disaster seemed to be inevitable. Bremer surrounded himself with appointees who failed to facilitate any of his goals and lacked complimentary skills and qualifications for the situation in Iraq.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest impacts of entrusting the world’s most powerful military as the personal plaything of a man with bigger daddy issues than Meredith Grey is that Iran is now actually poised to become an “Axis of Evil” with Iraq; while the original quote describing Iraq, Iran, and North Korea was irrelevant due to the fact that a) it’s not an axis, and b) Shiite Iran and Sunni Iraq were bitter enemies with little ties to North Korea. As the Shiite majority in Iraq consolidates power, the ties to Iran grow stronger. With a divisive leader such as Ahmadinejad who promotes a dangerous ideology of inequality and hatred, Iran poses a serious threat not only to values that Americans hold dear, but to the precarious situation in which Iraq teeters; this problem is only magnified due to the inherent instability of the Middle East.

However, the American invasion of Iraq has had some benefits outside of allowing Curious George to play dress up on an aircraft carrier. The Kurdish people, who have long been an Otherized minority targeted for genocide have now been able to secure their own piece of the map. Although an autonomous region, it seems more now than ever poised to become its own state. This is only a third of the equation for Galbraith’s alternative to the status quo. He suggests that because of the blunders and hubris on America’s part, the partitioning of Iraq into three separate states is the only viable solution. As it stands, Iraq has only been held together at its colonial seams by brutal dictatorship and American occupation and has been a source of oppression to roughly 80% of its population . Galbraith argues that we should learn from the lessons of history regarding failed states and their break up; if we continue to force these three groups together, we could wind up with another Yugoslavia rather than the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Only then can we begin to withdraw our forces present there and end this tragic chapter in American history.

While it is scathingly critical of the Bush administration (and rightfully so), Galbraith’s book is actually quite balanced in terms of its coverage of the issues; instead of just focusing on the military destruction we often see emblazoned on our televisions, he examines the cultural and political implications of the administration’s decisions regarding Iraq. A staunch advocate on behalf of the Kurdish people, Galbraith brings to light the oft-overlooked issue that this war has actually helped advance the ever-oppressed Kurds in their quest for independence, which is far more important than the “positive stories” Fox News airs that show American troops painting kindergartens. He also calls out Bush’s attempt to slough off his responsibility on his part of Iraq; while he'll never be sufficiently self aware to grok the breadth and depth of his failure, he definitely knows that something has gone terribly wrong, and that all of his good intentions have amounted to a world full of hate and killing and a father whose long shadow has still never been escaped. If history ever gets around to believing Bush meant the things he's said, the nicest thing our descendants will be able to say about him is that he meant well; which, on face, doesn't make him any different from Fred Phelps or The Unabomber — except that the world's most powerful military was Bush's personal plaything, and he mainly used it to score points against dad. We all mean well, but most of us have never been given aircraft carriers because of it.

Galbraith pg. 103
Ibid, pg. 118
Ibid, pg. 206
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