“It isn’t clear that a large and persistent insurgency was inevitable,” Mr. Ricks concludes, adding that “the U.S. approach, both in occupation policy and military tactics, helped spur the insurgency and made it broader than it might have been.” Among the crucial post-invasion missteps made by the Bush administration, he suggests, were the decision, after the fall of Baghdad, not to send two additional divisions of troops immediately, which might have helped keep the lid on the insurgency, and the orders issued by the head of the American occupation, L. Paul Bremer III, disbanding the old Iraqi army and banning thousands of Baath Party officials from returning to their government jobs.
The failure to contain the insurgency would have dire consequences as the war dragged on. While the occupation of Iraq (which Mr. Wolfowitz had predicted would basically pay for itself through oil revenue) was costing American taxpayers an estimated $5 billion a month in 2004 and 2005, the chaos-ridden country was replacing Afghanistan as a training ground for a new generation of terrorists. Meanwhile, writes Mr. Ricks, the United States Army found itself in a strategic position that “painfully resembled that of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the early 1980’s.”
Not only had the war “stressed the U.S. Army to the breaking point,” a study published by the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute declared, but it had also turned out to be “an unnecessary preventive war of choice” that “created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland” against further attacks from Al Qaeda. The war “was not integral” to the global war on terrorism, the report concluded, but was a costly “detour from it.”
Tags: Iraq, book review, NYT, occupation