Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Iraq 10 Years Later (3): Why the Neocon Theory behind the War Failed

In short, it was the ‘fiasco’ execution of the Iraq war that turned so many against it, not the original premise. That is why neocons still get air-time on the right and aren’t repentant; they don’t feel that they have been intellectually disproven. That is also why Drezner is correct to note how many people thought the war was at least not a bad idea before it actually occurred.

That said though, the primary geopolitical lesson is probably just the banal, Waltian observation that some ideas are simply too ambitious to see through even if they’re intellectually defensible. Iraq is a perfect example of why realism counsels prudence. Even if the neocon analysis was right – which is disputable, especially in the wake of Arab Spring – to follow through on it would have required, 1) a wholesale COIN/nation-building re-making of the military, especially the army, in the face of painful lessons to the contrary from the Vietnam War and disinterest in that re-making almost everywhere in DoD; and 2) enduring US public support for long-term nation-building, which the US electorate has never before supported like that. In fact, the US public is known for the opposite – casualty-shyness that regularly puts a political limit on the US use of force. Yet even were both of those in place, trying to remake a foreign society is still extraordinarily difficult. Nonetheless, with mixed tools and tepid public public support, we tried something super-difficult. It’s not surprising, then, that it ended so poorly. Hence, today’s ‘leading from behind’ is not a bad choice after all.

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