Paul R. Pillar
April 4, 2013
The neoconservative Washington Post wants people to forget about how badly it and other Iraq War boosters got pretty much everything wrong about that disaster. Amnesia is especially important now as the Post and the neocons begin a new push for U.S. military intervention in Syria, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
Just when it seemed we could move beyond the anniversary-related armchair refighting of the Iraq War, we get from Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post editorial staff another mis-aimed salvo from a proponent of that war. Diehl’s more immediate subject is the current Syrian civil war, into which a U.S.-armed intervention has been a favorite cause of the Post‘s editorial page for many months.
Diehl’s declared objectives in his signed column are to absolve himself and other Iraq War proponents from any credibility gap when they advocate U.S. immersion in yet another Middle Eastern war, and to warn of how any Iraq War syndrome might unwisely dissuade the United States from conducting worthwhile military interventions — such as in Syria. If the Iraq War is to be used to make such a case on an issue of current importance, then we had better wallow a little longer in issues involving the old war.
Diehl begins his comparison to Iraq with the thundering understatement that the situation there “hasn’t turned out, so far, as we war supporters hoped.” (“So far”? That has to be one of the choicest examples of hope springing eternal.) He then addresses his topic from a humanitarian angle, giving us some figures to try to make a case that “the larger humanitarian price of Syria has been far greater” than that of war in Iraq.
His methodology of comparing current rates of casualties in Syria with averages for the entire period of the U.S. presence in Iraq is deeply flawed by the fact that the period of intense, high-casualty civil warfare in Iraq, which was comparable to what we have seen in Syria over the past couple of years, was only one portion of the longer period of U.S. occupation. A more fundamental flaw is that he gives us no reason to believe that adding more flames to an existing fire through military intervention would lead the humanitarian problem in Syria to lessen rather than worsen. Nor does he make any moral, as well as policy, distinction made between a war that one starts oneself and one that is already under way.
The next topic in the column is al-Qaeda, with Diehl repeating the flypaper theory of counterterrorism by saying that “in Iraq, the United States faced down al-Qaeda and eventually dealt it a decisive defeat.” The fallacy with this theory is that it assumes there is a fixed number of terrorists, with the task simply being one of attracting them to where we can kill them. In fact, by its invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States generated far more terrorists, including those of the al-Qaeda ilk, than it killed.