Lessons To Be Learnt From The Iraq War

After a decade of combat, casualties, massive displacement, persisting violence, enhanced sectarian tension and violence between Shias and Sunnis, periodic suicide bombings and autocratic governance, a negative assessment of the Iraq War as a strategic move by the United States, the United Kingdom and a few of their secondary allies, including Japan, seems unavoidable. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>Such geopolitical accounting does not even consider the damage to the United Nations and international law arising from an aggressive use of force in flagrant violation of the UN Charter, embarked upon without any legitimating authorisation as to the use of force by the Security Council. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>In other words, not only was the Iraq War a disaster from the perspective of American and British foreign policy and the peace and stability of the Middle East region, but it was also a serious setback for international law, the UN and world order. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>'Vietnam Syndrome' mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>Many American militarists at the time complained that the Vietnam Syndrome was a combined result of an anti-war plot engineered by the liberal media and a response to an unpopular conscription or "draft" that required many middle class Americans to fight in a war that lacked popular support or a convincing strategic or legal rationale. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>President, George HW Bush told the world in 1991 immediately after the Gulf War was fought to reverse the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait that "we have finally kicked the Vietnam Syndrome". In effect, senior Bush was saying to the grand strategists in the White House and Pentagon that the role of American military power was again available for use around the world. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>To ensure the avoidance of casualties, reliance was placed on air power, which took more time than expected, but further vindicated the war planners' claim that the US could now fight and win "zero casualty wars". In fact, there were no NATO combat deaths in the Kosovo War. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>The Bush presidency badly confused its new self-assurance about the conduct of battlefield international warfare and its old nemesis from Vietnam War days of counterinsurgency warfare, also known as low-intensity or asymmetric warfare. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>Galula argued that counterinsurgency wars could only be won if this formula was inverted. This meant that 80 percent of future US military interventions should be devoted to non-military aspects of societal well-being: restoring electricity, providing police protection for normal activity, building and staffing schools, improving sanitation and garbage removal, and providing health care and jobs. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>These conflicts were wars of national resistance, a continuation of the anti-colonial struggles against West-centric colonial domination. Regardless of whether the killing was complemented by sophisticated social and economic programmes, it still involved a pronounced and deadly challenge by foreign interests to the rights of self-determination that entailed killing Iraqi women and children, and violating their most basic rights through the unavoidably harsh mechanics of foreign occupation. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>The truly "fatal mistake" made by Petraeus, Galula and all the counterinsurgency advocates who have followed this path, is the failure to recognise that when the American military and its allies attack and occupy a non-Western country – especially in the Islamic world – and start dividing, killing and policing its inhabitants, popular resistance will be mobilised.

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>The US was guilty of a fundamental misunderstanding of the Iraq War displayed to the world when George W Bush theatrically declared on May 1, 2003, a wildly premature victory from the deck of an American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the notorious banner proclaiming "mission accomplished" plainly visible behind the podium as the sun sank over the Pacific Ocean. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>This counterinsurgency sequel to occupation would not be decided on the kind of battlefield where arrayed military capabilities confront one another, but rather through a war of attrition waged by hit and run domestic Iraqi forces, abetted by foreign volunteers, opposed to the tactics of Washington. Such a war has a shadowy beginning and a still uncertain ending, and is often, as in Iraq, as it proved to be earlier in Vietnam, a quagmire for intervening powers. 


mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>The Iraq War was a war of aggression from its inception, being an unprovoked use of armed force against a sovereign state in a situation other than self-defence. The Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals convened after World War II had declared such aggressive warfare to be a "crime against peace" and prosecuted and punished surviving political and military leaders of Germany and Japan as war criminals. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>These are the double standards that make international criminal justice more a matter of power politics than global justice. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>It is also inconsistent with Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. It was coupled with Tokyo's diplomatic support for the US/UK-led Iraq War from start to finish. Should such a record of involvement have any adverse consequences? 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>Are there lessons to be drawn from the Iraq War? I believe there are. The overwhelming lesson is that in this historical period interventions by the West in the non-West, especially when not authorised by the UN Security Council, can rarely succeed in attaining their stated goals. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>It is only when we witness the dismantling of many of America's 700-plus acknowledged foreign military bases spread around the world, and see the end of repeated US military intervention globally, that we can have some hope that the correct lessons of the Iraq War are finally being learned. 

mso-bidi-font-size:9.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>American leaders will remain unlikely to acknowledge that the most basic mistake is militarism itself, at least until challenged by robust anti-militarist political forces not currently on the political scene.