Happy Mission Accomplished Day!

It is so exciting to be celebrating the fourth anniversary of Mission Accomplished! And what, boys and girls, have we accomplished? All together now …


My, what foul mouths you have. But let’s look at a scholarly appraisal of our Iraq accomplishments by Bruce Riedel in the May/June 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Riedel is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95). He knows some shit, in other words.

Al Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. It has suffered some setbacks since September 11, 2001: losing its state within a state in Afghanistan, having several of its top operatives killed, failing in its attempts to overthrow the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But thanks largely to Washington’s eagerness to go into Iraq rather than concentrate on hunting down al Qaeda’s leaders, the organization now has a solid base of operations in the badlands of Pakistan and an effective franchise in western Iraq. Its reach has spread throughout the Muslim world, where it has developed a large cadre of operatives, and in Europe, where it can claim the support of some disenfranchised Muslim locals and members of the Arab and Asian diasporas. Osama bin Laden has mounted a successful propaganda campaign to make himself and his movement the primary symbols of Islamic resistance worldwide. His ideas now attract more followers than ever.

Bin Laden’s goals remain the same, as does his basic strategy. He seeks to, as he puts it, “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” throughout the Islamic world; he wants to bankrupt the country much as he helped bankrupt, he claims, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The demoralized “far enemy” would then go home, allowing al Qaeda to focus on destroying its “near enemies,” Israel and the “corrupt” regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. occupation of Iraq helped move his plan along, and bin Laden has worked hard to turn it into a trap for Washington. Now he may be scheming to extend his strategy by exploiting or even triggering a war between the United States and Iran.

There was a mission accomplished, all right — Osama bin Laden’s mission.

Riedel continues,

Decisively defeating al Qaeda will be more difficult now than it would have been a few years ago. But it can still be done, if Washington and its partners implement a comprehensive strategy over several years, one focused on both attacking al Qaeda’s leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions that allow them to thrive. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before al Qaeda strikes the U.S. homeland again.

Reidel elaborates on how nicely the invasion of Iraq served al Qaeda’s purposes in several ways. First,

The U.S. invasion of Iraq took the pressure off al Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands and opened new doors for the group in the Middle East. It also played directly into the hands of al Qaeda leaders by seemingly confirming their claim that the United States was an imperialist force, which helped them reinforce various local alliances.

Second, our military adventure in Iraq literally bleeds the United States and leaves us increasingly incapable of responding to threats abroad or defending ourselves at home. Third, our presence in Iraq acts as a catalyst for revving up jihad. Fourth, because al Qaeda is still too weak to challenge the governments and security forces of Middle Eastern nations, it needs failed states to survive and thrive. Saddam Hussein, odious as he was, made most of Iraq inhospitable to al Qaeda. Until the invasion, the only part of Iraq in which al Qaeda could operate were the Kurdish areas, which had been protected from Saddam Hussein by U.S. air power since the Gulf War and were not under Saddam Hussein’s control.

Richard Clarke wrote in his book Against All Enemies that something like the Iraq War was bin Laden’s plan all along. At least a decade before 9/11, according to Clarke, Osama was hanging out in the Sudan dreaming up an Iraq scenario–

The ingredients al Qaeda dreamed of for propagating its movement were a Christian government attacking a weaker Muslim region, allowing the new terrorist group to rally jihadists from many countries to come to the aid of the religious brethren. After the success of the jihad, the Muslim region would become a radical Islamic state, a breeding ground for more terrorists, a part of the eventual network of Islamic states that would make up the great new Caliphate, or Muslim empire. [p. 136]

James Fallows wrote,

Documents captured after 9/11 showed that bin Laden hoped to provoke the United States into an invasion and occupation that would entail all the complications that have arisen in Iraq. His only error was to think that the place where Americans would get stuck would be Afghanistan.

Iraq has become, for us, a nearly perfect lose/lose situation. If we stay and fight, we serve bin Laden’s interests. If we retreat, we serve bin Laden’s interests. The only Iraq policy we might have adopted that didn’t serve bin Laden’s interests would have been to leave Saddam Hussein where he was.

Those are among the several thousand reasons why talk of “winning” in Iraq is absurd. Even if we destroyed every single militant in Iraq who so much as hurls raspberries at us or the Iraqi government, that would not accomplish the purported “mission” of making America safer from terrorist attack.

As retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom says, “The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place.”

In today’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jeff Zeleny write that Democrats are planning a special ceremony this afternoon when they send the timetable-laden Iraq war funding bill to President Bush, who will veto it.

The timing is no accident. It comes on the fourth anniversary of the day Mr. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier under the banner “Mission Accomplished” and declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

The Democrats’ ceremony, featuring the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is part of the elaborate political theater at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue surrounding the Iraq spending bill, which is destined to produce only the second veto of Mr. Bush’s presidency.

But with Mr. Bush planning to spend Tuesday in Florida talking with military commanders, the White House was being coy on Monday about what kind of theatrics of his own — if any — he might stage. Democrats, however, said they expected the veto to come Wednesday.

Bush is making noises about how he thinks he and the Dems will be able to compromise once the veto is out of the way. Of course, a Bush “compromise” is “my way or the highway.” If he gives so much as a millimeter I will be stunned.

A Boston Globe editorial today criticizes the Dems for drawing out the handling of the bill to generate political theater. Whether that was their intention or just a happy accident is debatable. But as the editorial says,

Bush last week blasted Congress for trying to micromanage the war, saying members should listen to the generals on the ground. But if Bush had listened to his own generals in 2003, he would have learned that a far larger force would be needed to pacify Iraq once Saddam Hussein was removed. And now, the new book from former CIA director George Tenet asserts that, if Bush had listened to his intelligence professionals in 2003, he wouldn’t have rushed to war so precipitously.

Riedel’s Foreign Affairs piece also draws me back to this interview of President Bush by Katie Couric:

“You have said we can’t cut and run on more than one occasion. We have to stay until we win. Otherwise, we’ll be fighting the terrorists here at home, on our own streets. So what do you mean exactly by that, Mr. President?” Couric asked.

“Well, I mean that a defeat in Iraq will embolden the enemy and will provide the enemy — more opportunity to train, plan, to attack us. That’s what I mean,” Mr. Bush said. “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror. I believe it. As I told you, Osama bin Laden believes it. But the American people — have gotta understand that a defeat in Iraq — in other words, if this government there fails, the terrorists will be emboldened, the radicals will topple moderate governments. I truly believe this is the ideological struggle of the 21st century. And the consequences for not achieving success are — are dire.”

Sure Osama bin Laden “believes it.” It was his bleeping idea in the first place.

29 thoughts on “Happy Mission Accomplished Day!

  1. Let’s hope that the Democrats’ “special ceremony” on the glorious anniversary of Mission Accomplished trumpets the points you’ve laid out here so well.

  2. merciless, your link worked fine and was quite interesting. Reminds me a little of Nixon’s last hours in office, his making Kissinger kneel and pray with him. Oh, to be a fly on those oval walls these days.

  3. merciless, your link worked fine…

    Phew. Yes, I also had Nixon flashbacks when I read it. The difference is, I think, that for whatever you may say about Nixon, the man was brilliant. Paranoid, cruel, delusional, yes. But he could figure things out.

    George the younger just hasn’t got the gray matter to see what’s going on, and he’s losing it. It’s scary.

  4. Excellent in all ways. But let’s not get stuck on all the bad news:

    an effective franchise in western Iraq

    That Harvard MBA is finally paying off for Bush. He’s done for aQ what Tom Whatzizname did for Domonoes Pizza.

    Same post title with a local view. I guess we should google all the “Happy MA Day” posts.

  5. Reminds me a little of Nixon’s last hours in office, his making Kissinger kneel and pray with him.

    joanr16, You are kidding,right? Sounds like a skit for Saturday Night Live.

  6. I’ve sometimes thought that Bush’s aim all along is to grow Al Qaida. That way, his endless war – like the endless drug war – can fatten the coffers of his cronies forever.

    That’s as plausible as any other rationale advanced, following an old maxin: when it makes no sense, follow the money.

    Even in cases where it could clearly be out and out treason…. but very hard to prove.

  7. help me, for godsake, help me!!!!!! he’s on t.v.!!!!!!! lying. lying .lying!!!!! oops, there goes my lunch!!!!! gotta go!!!!

  8. I sometimes wonder what I should feel that people like Fallows have finally come to understand that Iraq was Bin Laden’s wet dream, so many many years after I first pointed it out. This makes them “wise”?

    It shows they are fools. Always right, far, far too late.

  9. Ian — James Fallows has been saying this for quite some time. He didn’t just think it up this week. The articles he has been writing about Iraq for The Atlantic going back to 2002 have been prescient. I’ve learned a lot from him.

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  11. This is just sour grapes. The US military, under the leadership of President Bush, did win a stunningly quick and virtually bloodless victory in Iraq in spring of 2003. President Bush was entitled to his moment of glory and to honor the valor and skill of our brave fighting men and women, which he did most eloquently. To keep carping about this years later, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, is in very poor taste to say the least. More importantly it denigrates our troops and encourages our enemies. If the Democrats think these cheap theatrics are a winning political strategy, then they are plain nuts. Can you say boomerang?

  12. I think that the war should be allowed to meander along as before, taking its own course, don’t you?

  13. nabalzbbfr, continuing w/ your line of reasoning, should the US attack nursing homes and kindergartens?

  14. From The Dept. of Denigrating The Troops & Encouraging Enemies:
    The dead are entitled to their moments of honor and glory as well, but you don’t see Bush attending their funerals.

  15. nabalzbbfr, can you answer this: if the mission was accomplished, why are we still there?

  16. nabalzbbfr –

    With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight?

    Many people objected to the Iraq War prior to the invasion, including, to list just a few, Poppa Bush’s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft; Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command for U.S. forces in the Middle East and State Department envoy to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; Howard Dean; Russ Feingold; and Jim Webb. Their statements are on the record.

    Valid concerns were countermanded by knowingly false intelligence and drowned out by the GOP propaganda echo chamber. We are “carping” about the lies we were fed because that’s how we were led into a war that’s killed thousands of Americans and many more Iraqis and wiped out our treasury and the entire infrastructure of Iraq. We need to recognize who misled us into this disaster and how and why so that we’ll never listen to them again. Those who were proven right should be the ones leading us forward.

  17. President Bush was entitled to his moment of glory and to honor the valor and skill of our brave fighting men and women…

    …see, here’s the fundamental problem. While there isn’t anything wrong with “honoring the valor and skill” of our troops, there is no reason to accord “glory” to a leader who sent his nation off to war. That’s a sentiment for people who don’t understand what war is about; that’s something for the “300” crowd that went back to the theater time after time and won’t sleep well until the DVD comes out. We can be grateful when the conflict has ended – which this one hasn’t – and we can be thankful that our leaders had the moxie to place properly skilled people in place to successfully prosecute the war, but glorifying leaders is the mark of warrior tribes that were swept from the stage eons ago. Suggesting – as was done at the time in numerous circles and not through some later lens of 20-20 hindsight – that the absurd spectacle of flying onto a carrier deck in an S-3 Viking while the rest of the gang was transferred out by helicopter was over the top showmanship neither denigrates the troops or encourages the enemies…

  18. Jack K, you beat me to the punch; I was going to post the exact same thing with the exact same emphasis.

    At any rate:

    The US military, under the leadership of President Bush, did win a stunningly quick and virtually bloodless victory in Iraq in spring of 2003.

    That they thought this was something to celebrate, when the hardest part was yet to come, further underscores the stunning incompetence and myopia of the Bush administration.

  19. Hey nab:

    A ‘stunningly quick and virtually bloodless’ victory? Quick certainly but at the time of the President’s vainglorious speech, 153 American military personnel were already dead. I don’t imagine they died in their sleep. And the estimated 1000 (‘low ball’ estimate) Iraqi dead at the time of the speech? I imagine that they were just being poor sports. ‘Sour grapes’ for them too.

    ‘Poor taste’ to critcize the Commander in Chief? I’m sure the British considered those philistines and cretans who drafted our Constitution to be in ‘poor taste’ as well.

    ‘Denigrate our troops’? The reason we chose to ‘denigrate’ our President is precisely because this ill-advised invasion ‘denigrates our troops and encourages our enemies.’ One of the very things at the very top of Usama bin Laden’s wish list after 9-11 was the propsect of an American occupation force in a sovereign Muslim country. By all accounts, he was delighted with the Operation Iraqi Freedom because he surmised (correctly) that it would be a boon to his organizaton and to Islamic Fundamentalism in general.

    So, in the most perverse way possible, if you support this war, you support Usama bin Laden.

  20. A ‘stunningly quick and virtually bloodless’ victory? Quick certainly but at the time of the President’s vainglorious speech, 153 American military personnel were already dead. I don’t imagine they died in their sleep. And the estimated 1000 (‘low ball’ estimate) Iraqi dead at the time of the speech? I imagine that they were just being poor sports. ‘Sour grapes’ for them too.

    I have grave doubts that a mere 1000 Iraqi soldiers (who were defending their home from an aggressive invader) died during the initial invasion. A lowball of 1000 civilians? Maybe… but the soldiers were still living, breathing human beings who didn’t deserve to die.

  21. Dear Nabby,

    Did you notice the report of the Israeli government regarding Olmert’s invasion of Lebanon? Why, horror of horrors, it criticized the administration of the prime minister! Yahoo news reports:

    “The five-member panel, named by Olmert, used exceptionally harsh language, saying Olmert bore overall responsibility and suffered from poor judgment, hasty decision-making and shortsightedness.”

    Isn’t it ironic that Israel, our dear democratic ally, seems to have a much better handle on the concept of “democracy” and “free speech” than you and those of your ilk do!

    “In 34 days of fighting, Israel failed to achieve the two main goals Olmert set: to return the soldiers and crush Hezbollah. Instead, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.

    Nearly 160 Israelis and more than 1,000 Lebanese died in the fighting, and Israeli soldiers returned from battle complaining of conflicting orders and shortages of food and ammunition.”

    Do you believe the Israelis who freely investigate and hold accountable their elected officials are unpatriotic traitors, or do you reserve that criticism solely for you own countrymen? We support the troops. You who blindly continue to support Bush and his failed policies are the ones who “denigrate our troops!”

  22. Well I think that everybody summed it up pretty well, except you all missed the true issue at the heart of this discussion…

    This “nabalzbbfr” person is just a dick.

    Simple as that, everything that followed is just coincidential.

  23. nabalzbbfr:

    I’m one of those troops.

    If the “Mission” was “accomplished, why aren’t we all looking back on our time in the box; with the semi-wistful ways of those who got to come home after WW2.

    Even if we accept that some sort of occupation was needful (as it was with WW2) it’s been what, four years? And in the meanwhile we’ve seen 3,000 more deaths, 26,0000 more wounded, and a whole lot more DNBI (that’s Disease, Non-Battle injuries).

    Why is Walter Reed overflowing? Why is the VA overwhelmed?

    In short, why are we still working at this, “accomplished” mission?

    I don’t feel dengrated by people who worry about me, and my fellows. Who are concerned that we lack the proper equiment, are being sent back to the fight without the needed time to refit, and retrain; that we are being asked to stay longer, return sooner and spend more of our time in “the Box.”

    All the while listening to people tell us how glorious was the victory. Well when I was at Walter Reed (and later Madigan Army Medical Center) I didn’t see much glory. Rather I saw someone telling the people killing my friends, and filllng Ward 57, to “bring it on.”

    Who has been volunteering? Not the Goldberg’s, Yamashita’s and Kagans. But they are more than willing to say that 15 month rotations (after finishing a year long one, with three months at home) are “what they signed up for.”

    I have friends, married now for more than three years. They’ve spent not five months together since they got married.

    Why? Because (after the “Victory” they spent time passing each other as one, then the other, were rotated through Iraq”.

    That’s not the kind of support I appreciate.

    T. Karney

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