Unintended Consequences : How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 9/22/2009
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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Peter W. Galbraithserved as the first U.S. Ambassador to Croatia. He is currently the Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a regular contributor toThe New York Review of Books.He lives in Townshend, Vermont.

Author Biography

Peter W. Galbraith served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia. The author of the New York Times bestseller The End of Iraq, he is currently Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Afghanistan. He lives in Kabul and Vermont.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
The Potemkin Surgep. 15
Who Lost Iraq?p. 43
The Victorp. 65
Turkeyp. 87
Cleaning Up the Messp. 109
Nationalism and Nation Buildingp. 145
An Effective National Security Policyp. 167
A Note on Sourcesp. 187
Acknowledgmentsp. 191
Indexp. 195
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.



George W. Bush launched and lost America's Iraq War. Losing is just one way in which the Iraq War did not turn out as planned.

• A war intended to eliminate the threat from Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction ended up with Iran and North Korea much closer to having deployable nuclear weapons.

• A war intended to fight terror has helped the terrorists.

• A war intended to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq now has U.S. troops fighting for pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats and alongside unreformed Baathists.

• A war intended to undermine Iran's ayatollahs has resulted in a historic victory for Iran. Iranian-backed political parties control Iraq's government and armed forces, giving Iran a role in Iraq that it has not had in four centuries.

• A war intended to promoted democracy in the Middle East has set it back.

• A war intended to intimidate Syria and make Israel more secure has left Israel more threatened and Syria less isolated.

• A war intended to enhance America's relations with moderate Islam has made Turkey among the most anti-American countries in the world.

• A war intended to showcase American power has highlighted the deficiencies of U.S. intelligence, the incompetence of American administration, and the limitations on the American military.

• A war intended to boost American global leadership has driven U.S. prestige to an all-time low.

• A war intended to consolidate Republican power in Washington for a generation cost the GOP control of both houses of Congress in 2006, and seems likely to help elect an antiwar Democrat president in 2008.

• A war intended to make America more secure has left the country weaker.

"The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons," President Bush told Congress in his first State of the Union speech, on January 29, 2002. America, he promised, will "deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction." And he warned, "America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security."

George W. Bush's performance never matched his rhetoric. A year after that speech, he launched a war to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Meanwhile, North Korea -- a country he said was in an "Axis of Evil" with Iraq and Iran -- took advantage of Bush's preoccupation with a phantom Iraqi threat and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. North Korea went on to make eight nuclear weapons from plutonium that had previously been safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and then tested one in 2006. President Bush did nothing about North Korea for years before eventually concluding an agreement that required North Korea to dismantle its aging reactor but effectively allowed it to keep its nukes.

Iraq did not have a nuclear program but Iran does. From 1985 to 2003, Iran ran a clandestine program aimed at acquiring the technology to enrich uranium that could be used as the fissile material for a nuclear weapon. In 2003, Iran disclosed this clandestine program to the IAEA and agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment activities. George Bush's Iraq War paved the way for Iran's Shiite allies to take power in Iraq in 2005. With American troops bogged down in Iraq and its own strategic position incomparably stronger, Iran resumed enriching uranium in 2005 and has defied subsequent U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it stop. George Bush designated Iran part of the Axis of Evil in 2002 and accused those who want to negotiate with Iran of appeasement. This tough language is a diversion from the fact that George W. Bush has done nothing diplomatically, militarily, or otherwise to slow down Iran's nuclear program.

On George W. Bush's watch, Pakistan was the world's most dangerous nuclear proliferator. It provided nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Iran, Libya, and, almost certainly, other states. Prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, its nuclear scientists even met with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. When its nuclear activities became public in 2004, George W. Bush meekly accepted the explanation of Pakistan's dictator, Pervez Musharraf, that it was all a rogue operation run by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Bush never complained when Musharraf pardoned the supposed rogue a day after he confessed to running a proliferation ring or when Pakistan stonewalled U.S. requests to interview Khan.

George W. Bush did not keep his promise to "do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security." As an unintended consequence of his Iraq War, the countries of Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan all became more dangerous threats to America's security.

Saddam Hussein had no role in the 9/11 attacks, as everyone now agrees. President Bush, however, insists that the Iraq War is an integral part of the war on terror. He has a point. George W. Bush gave al-Qaeda its opening in Iraq. If Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror, it is because George W. Bush made it so.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda was not in any part of Iraq controlled by Saddam Hussein. Al-Qaeda saw Saddam Hussein as a corrupt secular nationalist, precisely the kind of Arab leader it wanted to depose. Saddam Hussein had few virtues, but in this unique case the United States was well served by his ruthless approach to internal opponents.

On April 9, 2003, U.S. troops took Baghdad on the orders of a president whose administration had made no plans to provide security or to administer the country. Chaos was the predictable result. For at least six weeks after the invasion, lootershad access to every significant public institution, except for the Oil Ministry, which U.S. troops did guard. At the same time, the Bush administration fumbled from a plan to set up an interim Iraqi government (announced May 5) to a plan for a multiyear occupation (announced to the Iraqi leaders May 16). The confusion is directly attributable to a president who boasted he was the decider and yet never knew these were the sort of critical questions a president is supposed to decide. Chaos created an opening for Saddam's Baathist cadres to regroup and for al-Qaeda and its allies to enter Iraq. Al-Qaeda and other Sunni fundamentalists discovered they could kill both Americans and Shiites in Iraq. The fighting derailed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's plans for a rapid drawdown of U.S. troops. The continued presence of large numbers of American troops drew new recruits to al-Qaeda and made it a symbol of Sunni resistance to the infidel in Iraq and elsewhere in the Sunni world. While American troops had armored vehicles and secure bases, ordinary Iraqi Shiites did not. Al-Qaeda specialized in mass bombings that killed large numbers of adherents to a branch of Islam they see as heretical. Eventually these attacks triggered a civil war. Iraq did become the central front in the war on terror with the additional complication that the terrorists appeared to be winning.

When he ordered U.S. forces into Iraq in 2003, President Bush proclaimed the freedom of the Iraqi people to be his goal. The administration even gave the military campaign the code name "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Almost immediately after ousting Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration began a major effort to remake Iraq into a free society. L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer III, the Bush appointee as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) for Iraq, moved quickly to abolish the old regime's repressive apparatus: the Iraqi Army, the security services, and the Baath party. He went on to impose a sweeping lifetime ban on senior Baathists in the public service, to write an interim constitution replete with guarantees of personal freedom, and to remake Iraq in line with an American conservative's vision of a market-oriented free society. Five years later, President Bush's speeches about Iraq were still laced with references to freedom and a free Iraq.

Democracy does not exist in Arab Iraq. Shiite religious parties rule Iraq's south, where they have created their own theocratic dictatorships. The good ones resemble Iran; others are a Shiite version of Taliban rule in Afghanistan where women do not work, girls do not go to school, and any deviance in dress or conduct means death. In 2008, al-Qaeda lost control of many Sunni areas. The new rulers were the same Baathists who had ruled in 2003, and were no more democratic than they had ever been.

By 2008, the United States was not fighting for democracy or freedom in Iraq. President Bush was sending U.S. troops into battle in southern Iraq to help Shiite theocrats fight their Shiite rivals and in central Iraq to serve alongside Baathist militiamen.

The Iraq War was intended to transform Iraq from brutal dictatorship into the Arab world's first real democracy. President Bush fully expected a democratic Iraq would be both a role model for other Middle Eastern countries and a subversive force against the region's authoritarian rulers. Envisioning a replay of the 1989 Eastern European revolutions, where elections in Poland set in motion a process that swept away the Berlin Walland the Soviet Union, the Iraq War's neoconservative architects imagined the quick collapse of Syria's Baathist regime, the growing strength of prodemocracy forces in Iran, and ultimately the replacement of pro-American autocrats in Saudi Arabia and Egypt with pro-American democrats.

Iraq, however, did not become a democracy. Instead it split apart and descended into a brutal civil war. While the Bush administration boasts of the freedoms incorporated into Iraq's constitution, prodemocracy reformers see that those freedoms exist only on paper. The constitution is a road map to partition, consolidating Kurdistan's position as a de facto independent state and legalizing its separate government, laws, and army. Furthermore, the constitution leaves the door open for the Shiites and Sunnis to form their own regions with exactly the same powers as Kurdistan, and indeed, the Shiites are moving to do just that.

Far from inspiring other Middle Eastern countries to move toward democracy, these developments in Iraq have strengthened the region's hard-line regimes. In 2005, Syria's Baathist regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, was in deep trouble, having been caught red-handed in the Beirut assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Three years later, the regime appears more entrenched than ever. In 2003, Iran had a liberal, reform-oriented president. However, the Bush administration's combination of harsh rhetoric toward Iran and manifest incompetence in Iraq helped elect hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president. In spite of his bizarre utterances, Ahmadinejad has shrewdly used confrontation with the Bush administration to convert his largely powerless office into a more significant one.

Iran is the winner of the war that George W. Bush lost. Iran's closest allies in the world are the Shiite religious parties that, thanks to the American invasion, today run Iraq's central government. The Badr Organization, a Shiite militia, dominates the upper ranks of the Iraqi Army and effectively controls the national police. Iran founded the Badr Organization (then the Badr Corps) in Iran in the 1980s, providing funding, training, arms, and officers. Iran's President Ahmadinejad has said his country will fill the vacuum left by the United States in Iraq, and he is well placed to do so.

George W. Bush's strategic gift to Iran comprises that country's biggest gains in four centuries. In addition to a leading role in Iraq's central government, Iran's Shiite allies now control most of southern Iraq. This puts Iran in the position to dominate the world's largest oil reserves. Iran's influence now extends across the vast oil fields of southern Iraq to the borders of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. The former is itself an important oil producer while Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, home to the kingdom's Shiites, has the country's most important oil fields. Iran is in a position to undermine the Sunni king of Shiite-majority Bahrain, the site of the major U.S. naval base in the Persian Gulf, and has become an important -- and not helpful -- player in the Levant thanks to its support for the Lebanese Shiite party Hezbollah.

Making the Middle East democratic was also intended to make it safer for Israel. But just as Iran has emerged as the unintended beneficiary of the changes wrought by the Iraq War, Israel is the loser. Instead of a democratic Palestine and a democratic Lebanon, it confronts two radical movements on the other side of its borders: Hamas and Hezbollah. By 2003, Saddam Hussein posed only a hypothetical future threat to Israel. Iraq had neither the rockets that could reach Israel nor the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that could do it harm. A much-empowered Iran provided Hezbollah with the hundreds of rockets that actually struck Israel in 2006. Saddam provided cash payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, but Iran's president publicly doubts that the Holocaust ever took place and threatens the existence of Israel. And, unlike Iraq, Iran has an active WMD program that will give it the possibility of making nuclear weapons.

The Iraq War fit into a neoconservative security doctrine based on preserving American preeminence in world affairs. Having the United States come out of the Cold War as the world's sole superpower, the ideologues shaping the Bush security policy were determined to prevent any "peer competitor" from emerging. A swift victory in Iraq was one way of confirming the unrivaled power of the United States.

The neoconservatives, however, failed to consider that military strength is only one aspect of power, and not necessarily the most important. (Russia is not a superpower even though it has all of the Soviet Union's nukes.) American power comes not only from the strength of our military and the size of our economy, but also from the respect people around the world have for America and its leaders. Because of George W. Bush, the United States lost respect everywhere in the world, with the possible exceptions of Albania and Iraqi Kurdistan. In few places was the decline as dramatic as in Turkey.

In 2000, the United States enjoyed a 60 percent approval rating among Turks. This favorable rating was due to many things: the historic alliance with Turkey going back to the early years of the Cold War, Turkey's self-identification with the West and Western values, and general admiration for America's charismatic president, Bill Clinton. By 2007, just 9 percent of Turks approved of the United States and a whopping 83 percent disapproved. The American invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration's arrogant dismissal of Turkish concerns about the war, the obvious American incompetence on display in Iraq, and disdain for George W. Bush have all contributed to this seismic shift in Turkish public opinion. While some of Bush's defenders have tried to argue that world opinion does not matter as long as America does the right thing (by their lights), this is untrue. In October 2007, the Turkish parliament ignored American objections and authorized Turkish troops to cross the border into Iraq in pursuit of the PKK, a Turkish Kurdish rebel group. While Turkey had legitimate concerns about PKK activities, the Bush administration rightly worried that a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq could bring chaos to Iraqi Kurdistan, the one stable and pro-Western part of the country. With 160,000 U.S. troops stretched thin by the fighting elsewhere in Iraq, Turkey's threatened invasion was not the act of a friend. That Turkey could contemplate such a course of action was one concrete example of the price America pays for its lost esteem.

The Iraq War was intended to project American strength in the world. Instead it revealed weakness. Foreigners who thought the CIA was omniscient and omnipotent learned that it could not distinguish trailers for weather balloons from mobile biological weapons laboratories and that the word of a drunken defector code named "Curveball" was considered dispositive. The U.S. president and secretary of state presented as the absolute truth conclusions drawn from fragmentary intelligence and crudely forged documents and, as a result, both foreigners and Americans now doubt administration warnings on Iran. The U.S. administration of postwar Iraq was so inept that it undermined the very notion of American efficiency and administrative competence. Even the ability of the U.S. military to strike fear in potential adversaries (a reputation that was central to America's successes in the Balkans in the 1990s) was undermined by its inability to contain an insurgency that had only shallow support in Iraq itself.

Karl Rove, Bush's political strategist, conceived of the Iraq War as part of broader political strategy that plays on the Republicans' presumed political advantage on national security and fighting terrorism. This was intended to keep the Republicans in power for a generation. Instead, the Republicans lost control of the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections (losing an astounding twenty-four of the thirty-three Senate seats that were up for grabs) and appear poised to lose the White House in 2008.

George W. Bush has refused to take responsibility for the fiasco he has created. He has repeatedly said he will leave the problem of Iraq to his successor. In effect, he plans to run out the clock on Iraq. Americans should be outraged that the men and women of the U.S. military are being asked to risk their lives in pursuit of goals in Iraq that Bush no longer pursues but will not admit he has abandoned.

Aside from saying he used inappropriate language (it was a mistake, he now says, to have taunted Iraq's insurgents in 2003 with the phrase "Bring them on"), President Bush acknowledges no specific mistakes in Iraq. His neoconservative allies are laying the groundwork to blame the next president -- presumably a Democrat -- for losing Iraq. Neoconservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute, and publications, such as theWeekly Standard, now produce a steady flow of reports, articles, and op-eds explaining how the United States has turned the corner in Iraq and is now winning. When the next president withdraws, those who actually lost the war will be making the case that defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. While it is preposterous that there should be any debate as to who lost Iraq, the next president would ignore the matter at his peril.

The next president will, of course, face greater challenges than countering partisan assaults. He will have to decide exactly how to withdraw from Iraq and how to deal with what is left behind. The next president will need an Iran strategy that aims at avoiding having to choose between a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran. He will need to refocus attention on the war on terror and on nuclear proliferation. President Bush has chosen to ignore the inconvenient truth that Pakistan, an American ally, is both the world's most promiscuous proliferator of nuclear technology and a breeding ground for Sunni fundamentalist terrorists, including al-Qaeda. Pakistan is more than episodically chaotic; it is at risk of becoming a failed state and the next president will need to apply both strategy and attention to events in the world's second most populous Islamic state.

The next president's most difficult challenge will be restoring American prestige and leadership in the world. U.S. approval ratings will go up the moment George Bush leaves office, but, no matter how appealing and effective the next president may be, he is unlikely to restore America's standing in the world to what is was in 2000. The next president must focus on the larger implications of the issues thrown into stark relief by the American failure in Iraq: other countries have internal divisions comparable to those that led to the breakup of Iraq. It is time to rethink our reflexive commitment to the continuation of every country now on the planet and to reconsider our bias against self-determination. We need to figure out how to do postconflict nation building in a competent manner, because as much as our leaders insist this is not America's mission, it is certain to be. Finally, the new president must look at the institutions of our own government that failed so miserably in the Iraq crisis: an intelligence system that got us into a war it didn't tell us we would likely lose; a hopelessly politicized Pentagon where the most senior uniformed officers lacked the courage to give their bosses unpopular military advice; a diplomatic service starved for resources and ignored even when right; and a White House headed by a president who claimed it was his job to decide and then not only did not make the most fateful decisions of his administration but never realized these were matters for a president to decide. Above all, the next president will need a national security strategy based on a realistic appraisal of the world and a set of objectives prioritized according to importance, risk, and available resources.

In short, we need to be smart. A superpower that makes national security decisions based on ideological convictions and wishful thinking will not long be a superpower.

The Iraq War was intended to change the Middle East and so it did. The Middle East therefore must be the initial focus of the U.S. effort to repair the damage done by the Iraq War.Copyright © 2008 by Peter W. Galbraith

Excerpted from Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies by Peter W. Galbraith
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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