The Wikipedia says that the US invasion of Iraq began at 05:34 on March 20th, 2003.
It also says that “Polish commandos captured the oil platforms near the port [of Umm Qasr], preventing their destruction.
That’s also incorrect
Or rather, that second bit is only partly correct. I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish the role of the GROM, the Polish special forces, but they were only part of the story. A significant part to be sure, and a proud historic moment for the GROM who had not fired a shot in anger since the early 1940’s. I had the privilege to serve with a few of them and they are fine soldiers, but they were only part of the story and a small part at that. The inaccuracies in the Wikipedia article do great disservice to those other forces who were there in the coastal oil terminals of Southern Iraq on the night the war began.
Whoever wrote that bit obviously wasn’t there and didn’t bother to do any actual research.
How do I know the writer wasn’t there?
Because I was.
I was there on the night it all began, 2300 hours local time, March 19th, 2003 in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Honestly though, it began long before that night.
We, those of us in the military, knew what was coming. Of course we did. War is our profession. It is our business to know. In 2003, the images of 9/11 were still fresh and raw in our vision and America was thirsting to make somebody pay. We’d been fighting in Afghanistan for a year and we were winning, but Afghanistan was like chasing chickens in a barnyard. A vocal majority of the American people wanted revenge and a real enemy and a standup fight, not a bunch of raggedy-assed terrorist shitheads hiding in mountain caves. Oh sure, nowadays, nobody admits that they wanted war, but back then a lot of people did. President Bush had the support of a nearly unanimous Congress and an overwhelmingly large majority of the citizenry.
I know it’s hard to believe now, but back then George W. Bush’s popularity was off the scale.
And in a way, Saddam Hussein was just asking for it.
By 2003, Saddam had painted himself into a fatal corner.
He had been playing a very, very dangerous game since the end of the Tanker War, what most people nowadays call the Iran-Iraq Conflict, which kicked off on September 22, 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran. That was a hell of brutal conflict, more than half a million soldiers died in trenches like a rehash of First World War France, complete with poison gas attacks and suicidal bayonet charges. The war went on for eight years and left wreckage strewn from the Straits of Hormuz all the way to Turkey. When it was over, there was no victory, not for either side. Mostly the war just petered out in a sullen fog of lingering hatred and hostility – and it has stayed that way ever since.
Of course, the sullen peace lasted only a couple of years, then Iraq invaded Kuwait and ended up fighting America and her allies in what became known as the Gulf War. You might have heard of it. The opening engagements of the current conflict were fought back in 90 and 91. A lot of folks thought we should have gone on up the Highway of Death right into Baghdad and gotten rid of that son of bitch Saddam Hussein back then, instead of stopping at the Kuwaiti border. Woulda shoulda coulda. It was what it was. And so we, the US Navy, stayed when the Army and Marines shipped out for home. And we’ve been patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf ever since, enforcing the UN sanctions, interdicting, boarding, searching, and seizing suspect vessels bound to and from Iraq. Chasing pirates and smugglers and shitheads. It was, and is, dangerous as hell, we lost a number of good people doing it. The Air Force stuck around too, flying out of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey enforcing the no-fly zones, they lost people along the way too.
And so, there was Saddam. Two disastrous wars in less than a decade – surrounded by mortal enemies (enemies of his own making, but enemies nonetheless).
Now, here’s the thing so pay attention, Saddam did, once, have weapons of mass destruction and programs to eventually develop more. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. He once had large stores of war gases and he used those weapons against Iran and against his own people. And Iran remembered, oh yes they did, they still do. In the Iran-Iraq war, those weapons were used to support Saddam’s army as a force multiplier. Now, at the end of Gulf War, they were even more important – as a threat, as a weapon of Information Warfare. See, it didn’t matter if Saddam actually still had chemical weapons, or biologicals or even nukes – so long as his enemies, especially Iran, believed that he did. His army was in shambles, many of his troops dead or fled, his equipment and armor smashed and burned, his war industry and production facilities destroyed. Iraq was under interdiction, they couldn’t sell the one thing they had plenty of, oil – at least not easily or in large enough quantity to matter, though there was plenty of smuggling. He couldn’t trade oil for weapons and he didn’t have the cash, not in the amount needed to rearm and rebuild.
Worse, he’d burned all his bridges.
Saddam had no real friends anywhere (including us, oh yes, that’s right. See, back during the Iran-Iraq conflict, we were his pals. Look up the pictures of one Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam shaking hands and yukking it up in Baghdad following that conflict. But I digress). If Iran invaded Iraq there would have been absolutely nothing to stop them. And Iranians remembered Saddam, oh yes they did.
Would Iran have invaded Iraq?
Beats me. But Saddam sure thought so. And so he walked a tightrope, balanced precariously between bluster and bluff. He played a very, very dangerous game. He needed those UN weapons inspectors. He needed Hans Blix to complain loudly and voice suspicions in front of the Security Council but without any out and out proof – at least not enough to goad the UN into action. He needed Blix and the UN and most especially the United States to convince Iran that he was still armed. For almost a decade, Saddam played us all.
And it worked. The UN weapons inspectors and the CIA ate it up and danced to Saddam’s little tune. And it would likely have kept working too, because the only way to call his bluff would have been to invade. And nobody, especially the UN was going to approve that – not with China and Russia and France playing spoiler on the Security council.
Then 9/11 happened.
9/11 was horrifying for the United States, but it was a disaster for Iraq.
The terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 wounded us, but they killed Saddam Hussein.
Bluffing only works if your adversary doesn’t call – or doesn’t just kick over the table and start shooting.
And so, on the night of 19 March, 2003 I was onboard the finest warship ever to put to sea, the Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser USS Valley Forge, in the Northern Persian Gulf, a hundred yards from the massive Iraqi Mina Al Bakr Oil terminal – commonly called MABOT. US Navy SEALs operating from Valley Forge and supported by her helicopters, weapons batteries, communications, and intelligence operators, took the terminal in a surprise assault without a shot fired or a life lost on either side. Simultaneously, several miles away, also supported by Valley Forge’s helicopters, guns and C3I systems, the Polish GROM took the smaller Kwor Abd Almaya terminal (KAAOT), again silently and without casualties. My part and that of my team is something I can’t talk about, but that operation kicked off the war and opened the way for the Navy amphibs and Marines to reach Iraqi shores without giving Saddam warning that we were coming – and despite being enormously complex and difficult, it may have been the only operation of the war to go down 100% as planned.
Despite all that has transpired since, I am still enormously proud of my role and that of the men I led. We did what we were ordered to do, and we did it extremely well.
But the reason we went into Iraq was a lie. We’ve known that for a long time. It would, of course, be easy to blame George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or that arrogant little pissant prick Rumsfeld, or any of a dozen others. And certainly that motley cast of characters deserves much of the scorn and derision that’s been heaped upon them these last eight years. Sure Saddam was playing a dangerous game of information warfare, but the administration had the best intelligence network in the world and it was their job to get at the truth. Perhaps they lied on purpose. Certainly they did to some extent. But, saying that Bush wanted war is a massive oversimplification, he already had a justified war – and the kind of invasion we waged in Iraq takes a lot more than just a war maddened President to pull off. The whole nation was in on it. Personally, from my own experience in Washington D.C. and twenty years in the intelligence community, I think they fell victim to hysteria and politics and the artificial fantasy world that is the self-licking ice cream cone inside the Beltway. If we are to be charitable, they allowed themselves to be fooled, they wanted to be fooled, they wanted a scapegoat for 9/11 and Saddam made an easy target. Americans needed to hate somebody and Saddam was easy to hate. They figured four weeks to Baghdad and the population would cheer us in the streets. We’d be home victorious by the fourth anniversary of 9/11.
It would be easy to blame Bush and his cronies for that, and many of us do, me included (remember, whatever else, it was us who got used as pawns in this idiotic affair). However, reality is always more complex and less emotionally satisfying. Ultimately a lot of people bear responsibility for this war.
Saddam himself bears the lion share of responsibility for the events that led to war – he could have opened his arsenal to the Inspectors. He would have had to bear the consequences of that, but hell, he could have demanded UN protection from Iran. Of course, he would have then appeared weak to his own people. Such is life. He made the decision to bluff it out.
The UN bears responsibility for not doing a better job. Russia, China, and France bear responsibility in part creating some of the conditions that led to war, if they had supported the UN sanctions instead of actively helping Saddam to circumvent them, war might have been avoided. Then again, it might not.
Ultimately of course, George W. Bush as president of the United States bears full responsibility for giving the order, for sending us into battle – as do the leaders of our allies who went along and gave their own orders to their own troops.
The American people are responsible in part for keeping it going. They reelected the president who took us into this conflict, they could have given a vote of no confidence in 2004. They didn’t. And they elected and reelected the senators and representatives who actively assisted in perpetuating the conflict – as is their right.
The Iraqi people are to some extent responsible for keeping it going. So are the Iranians. So are the insurgents, whatever their allegiance.
There’s plenty of responsibility to go around.
The reason we went to war was a lie certainly. And because it was a lie, the objectives for ending it were never defined. The goals kept changing.
When we went into the oil fields that night, it was in search of weapons of mass destruction, weapons Saddam could sell to terrorists or could use himself to threaten another, worse, 9/11. Saddam didn’t have those weapons, we didn’t know that then, but we found out in fairly short order.
We achieved the objective of the war as initially stated. Mission Accomplished.
Then the objective changed. Get rid of Saddam Hussein. And we did that too. And we turned him over to the Iraqis and they hung him and good riddance.
And then the objective changed. Suppress the insurgency. And then again. Democracy. And then again. And again.
The simple truth of the matter is that there is no objective.
And without a solid objective, victory becomes a chimera. A shimmering mirage, just out of reach, always shifting, always changing, never clear, never achievable.
For example, the objective is now defined as a stable Iraqi government (and not be an asshole or anything, but Iraq had a stable government until we blew it up. But I digress). Who defines stable? How do you measure it? What are the parameters, i.e. how much are you willing to spend and how long are you willing to wait? Stable for who, every Iraqi? Or just some of them, and if so, which ones? And so on and so forth. When Americans think of victory in Iraq, they picture WWII – cheering crowds, victorious troops marching through the streets of Paris, beautiful girls getting kissed in Times Square, streamers, ticker tape parades, and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.
That’s the first question we should be asking: what is victory?
Victory? Hell. You are not going to get that little WWII victory fantasy. The question is, what can we live with?
The reason for the war was a lie. The responsibility for that lie was shared by many. The responsibility for keeping it going is likewise shared by many.
The next question then becomes, how do we end it?
How do we end it when our own government can’t agree to anything? Not even the simple stuff?
The real question is, who will take responsibility for ending it?
Obviously the answer to that particular question is Barack Obama.
And justly so, it was the President who gave the order to attack. It is the responsibility of the president to end it. No other.
But I would like to see these questions put to the candidates at the next presidential debate.
Ron Paul has already answered that question. He says that he would make the same exact decision that Obama just did. End the war. In fact his complaint regarding the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq is that Obama isn’t doing it fast enough. I suspect Paul fails to grasp the scale of the evolution and the complexity of bringing home 30,000 troops and their gear. But then I’m still trying to figure out how Paul has managed to disagree with Obama on this matter even though the President did exactly what Paul claims he would do in the same position.
Not surprisingly Paul’s disagreeable agreement with Obama is the minority opinion. The rest of the opposition wants to keep the war going.
Mitt Romney says he opposes withdrawal. He says he would defer to the military. A number of things come immediately to mind, 1) Romney assumes that Obama didn’t ask the military. There is no evidence of that. 2) Romney assumes the military would recommend staying. With the exception of certain retired generals, that may very well not be the case. 3) Wait, what? President Romney would abdicate his authority as Commander in Chief to the military? You wanna run that one by me again? We let the military decide? Uh, speaking as a retired military officer, bad, bad, bad, bad idea there, Mittens. There’s a reason why the Constitution didn’t put that power into the hands of the generals.
Michelle Bachmann says we’re being kicked out by the very people we liberated. She thinks Iraq should pay us back for blowing up their country. I don’t think she understands how extortion works. You get the money before you burn down the building.
Two days before Obama announced the end of the war, Gingrich said that we should withdraw. A day after Obama made the announcement Gingrich said Obama was wrong and we must stay. I don’t know about you, but I think whether or not we continue to wage war should be based on something a little more objective than the Monty Python Argument sketch.
Rick Perry says he would withdraw, but he’d keep it a secret. He wouldn’t tell the American public or the Iraqis or the soldiers. I’m not sure that how that would work. If you’re going to move 40,000 troops and all their equipment in the next two months, you’re going to have to tell somebody – like maybe Congress for starters, so they can maybe plan next year’s budget which is due, oh you know, now. Seriously, how you keep this a secret is beyond me and it used to be my job to keep secrets.
Rick Santorum says Obama is responsible for Iran’s influence in Iraq in the first place. Obama, the magic time travelling Negro, is there no end to his power?
Herman Cain thinks ending the war is just “stupid.” He didn’t go into specifics.
All the opposition candidates have said or insinuated that withdrawal from Iraq is a defeat. I think their views are best summed up by a Yahoo commenter who said:
USA lost another war. USA lost ALL wars after 1945
And so, we’re back to the real questions: what is victory?
These are the questions I want answered by those who would be President:
As president, how would you define victory in Iraq?
Please clearly state the objectives of the mission in measurable terms. Hand waving and undefined terms are not allowed. State the objectives of the mission and how you will determine, as President, if they have been met.
As president, would you be willing, now, to end this war?
If not, then how much are you willing to spend on it? Vietnam cost us 54,000 lives, will you spend that much? We’ve got 50,000 to go. If not 54,000, then how many? 30,000? 20? 10? Another thousand? Five hundred? One? How much is your vision of victory worth? In lives, in years, in dollars. Be specific. Don’t look away, answer the question. How much?
If not where Barack Obama drew the line, then where? How many more of other people’s children are you willing to sacrifice?
Is the only way to prevent Iranian influence in Iraq by occupying Iraq? If so, for how long? Specifically how long? We stayed in Germany for fifty years after WWII in order to contain the Soviet Union, is fifty years in Iraq a reasonable timetable? Yes or no. If not, then how long? Another ten years? Another twenty?
Here let me make it simple for you: Yes or no, do you believe that Iran should dictate how long we stay in Iraq?
If not Iran, then should Iraq have a say in how long we stay? You claim you believe in self determination, does that only apply to American states or does it apply to sovereign nations as well? Iraq would have allowed our forces to stay only if they were subject to Iraqi law, perhaps even Sharia law, would you have allowed that to happen or would you have overridden Iraqi sovereignty and self determination by fiat and military force if necessary?
If the answer to the previous question is yes, then as President of the Federal Government could states expect you to exercise the same action against their right of self determination? If not, why not?
If the answer to the previous question is no, then the only options for maintaining troops in Iraq would have been to subject them to Iraqi law, withdraw, or topple the Iraqi government, what would your choice be? Please face the audience and speak directly into the microphone. Address your answer to the families of the troops.
Now, let us discuss Afghanistan.
I’m not a candidate for President, but I’ll tell you how I define victory.
Thirty thousand America troops home by Christmas.
The war is over and it’s about goddamned time.