Reflections on the War in Iraq - Part I: The Build Up
WHY WERE WE THERE?
Presumably to prevent Saddam Hussein from 1) helping al Qaeda or other terrorists from carrying out additional attacks on the United States, 2) further accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, and 3) continuing is reign of terror on the Iraqi people; the triumvirate of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld convinced the people of America to go to war. No one will probably ever know the true motivation of the President and his closest advisers had to invade Iraq and it is not my intent to speculate on it here; it is enough to know they believed they had good reason to take America into a second regional war before the first one was over.
I must note that I was emphatically against opening this second front at the time President Bush did. The first two reasons he put forward were certainly sufficient reasons - if they were true. In foresight at the time, I doubted it. This inclination was based solely on readily available news reports of the day; reports from enough credible sources to cast sufficient doubt on the narrative the administration put together to convince us to go to war. A war that demanded much caution before pulling the trigger that commit, irrevocably, American treasure, and American lives into that conflict.
A few intrepid Democrats in Congress, based on the same evidence I had plus some classified information to which I was not privy, had the unbelievable courage to stand up to Joe McCarthy-like harangue about being unpatriotic and anti-American after the carnage of 9-11 to vote against President Bush's plan to invade Iraq March 30, 2003. They, and I, were vindicated in their stance on July 9, 2004, some 15 months after President Bush announced Mission Accomplished and seven years and five months before the war actually ended, the Senate Report on Iraqi WMD Intelligence announced there was insufficient intelligence to have warranted the invasion of Iraq on the basis used by the President.
So, to the question of "Why Were We There?", it was my opinion then, and was than validated over time, that America should NOT have invaded Iraq.
That is not to say, however, President Bush should not have done all the things he did leading up to the invasion. Everyone of those actions were appropriate and necessary based on the intelligence he had, or at least what I saw reported in the news. It was credible enough to warrant that amount of response, just not enough to pull the trigger and invade.
WERE WE READY?
Not only was there inadequate national security reasons to invade Iraq, there were significant military reasons not to as well; not the least of which was leaving the job in Afghanistan, and the war on terror there, unfinished. Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were very aware that the United States military, under its current configuration and without a general draft, was not sufficiently strong to fight two regional conflicts and defend against a third, which was our National Military Strategy in 1996-1997 (unclassified); it has been modified since then and now reflects more current requirements, but, in 2003, that was still the basic strategy.
How do I know Cheney and Rumsfeld knew we weren't militarily ready for both Iraq and Afghanistan, because it was, in 1996-1997, my job to know. Back then, I was a senior analyst, career-broadening in the Readiness branch of the Office of Personnel and Readiness in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). I spent my time trying to determine what 11 years, 1986 to 1996, of budget cuts during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations did to military readiness. The now unclassified answer was, we were barely able to sustain one major regional conflict, let alone two major conflicts and defending against third! the American was a true "hollow" force by 1997. In 1998, after returning to the Air Force, I was part of a small team who put together an analysis that showed there was a direct correlation between budget cuts in the spare parts and maintenance accounts to a decline in what is called "mission capable" (MC) rates of AF aircraft; other Services did the same. I briefed my portion of the analysis up to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. This analysis was then briefed by others to OSD and then the President and Congress. As a result, in the 2000 budget, the military was given its first increase in its operations account in 12 years.
However, the damage had been done. It took 10 years of heroic effort by our maintainers to keep our equipment war ready, but by 1995, they could do no more and my charts and graphs showed sharp across-the-board fall-offs in MC rates for all AF aircraft (unclassified); the other Services had a similar experience. Beginning in 2000, the funds slowly started coming in and didn't increase substantially until well after 2003. Bottom-line, America was NOT ready for war and our leadership knew it.
Given the above, I knew and our leadership knew that America had sufficient forces to fight only on one front. But on March 30, 2003, when President Bush committed his first, of many, strategic military blunders; he, like General Custer, split his forces between Iraq and Afghanistan instead of concentrating them at the enemy's weakest point; one of the first things I was taught as an Infantry officer in the Army.
But Bush Pulled the Trigger
The rest, as they say, is history. Bush invaded and quickly overwhelmed Hussein's forces, ultimately capturing him in a hidie-hole. He was turned over to his people who quickly and unceremoniously hanged him.
© 2011 Scott Belford