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03/19/2006

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2slugbaits

"The US military has no doubt learned valuable lessons for future conflict" ............................................................................................................................ Perhaps, but I think it's more likely that the military will have forgotten those lessons long before they will have another opportunity to put those hard learned lesson to use again. Just as in Vietnam, the debacle of this war could cause the US military to retreat into itself for another generation. "No more Iraqs" will be the watchword. A whole new generation of officers will be trained in how to fight budget battles instead of real battles. Career paths will come out of service in G8 (budget & resources) rather than G3 (operations). The real Pentagon battles won't be against terrorists, it will be with politicians who are going to have find a way to pay for this war once all those bills start coming in. And one of the effects of the war could be that military planners become even more seduced by the allure of pie-in-the-sky weapon systems that harken back to the good old days when generals fantasized about tanks rolling across the Fulda Gap. That was the kind of war in which the enemy played fair! You can expect the military to shun future Iraqs and future peacekeeping missions. I wouldn't mind the former, but the latter would be irresponsible (think of Darfur). Maybe Messrs. Becker and Posner should have included the costs of future inaction in their analysis. Being gun shy about future military adventures if things went badly was a predictable (and predicted) cost.

Ronny Max

"I believe the war should be assessed a bad failure if Iraq degenerates into civil war that leads before very long to another brutal dictatorial regime. On the other hand, if Iraq stabilizes reasonably soon, has a decent government, and starts to progress economically, the war would have been a success."

As an independent voter, I'm confunded by President Bush attempts to define victory in Iraq, and the statement above is the first reasonable - and devoid of partisan blobs - attempt to define what should be our goals in iraq. I hope you can expand on this theme.

James Wilson

2slugbaits

The 'valuable lessons' to which I referred were more on the operational level rather than the strategic level. I agree that one result of Iraq is that America will be very reluctant to commit to another major foreign operation, which is a bad thing: future operations need to be judged on their own terms, and not avoided simply because people have bad memories of what might have been a very different experience. I meant on the ground level: the US is learning the hard way about the dangers of RPGs and IODs, as well as the more subtle business of winning of hearts and mind. Those were all things that could have been learned in Afghanistan if America hadn't become disinterested. And I don't think they're learning about hearts and minds either. One problem was the fear of casualties at the start. A British colonial governor would have rooted out the trouble makers before they started and hanged them in the town square. One contemporary British officer, Col. Collins (whose moving pre-battle speech was hung in President Bush's office), with decades of experience in Northern Ireland (a much closer parallel than Vietman), ran his province in Iraq in 2003 with an iron fist and experienced no trouble, using the sort of tactics found to succeed in Ireland.

In reply to Prof Becker, whether the average Iraqi is better off is a tough call. He has greater freedom (for now), but not greater economic prosperity and now faces the threat of terrorist attacks every day. Security is under severe strain. Although the Iraqis supported the overthrow of Saddam at the time, the worsening conditions mean that their view now might be different. That said, I accept that nation building takes years, and did so even in Germany and Japan after WWII.

Wes,

Blair was trying to convince the UN that Saddam was in breach of UN resolutions and therefore another resolution should be passed authorising the war. When that wasn't forthcoming, he wanted everyone to believe that the alleged breaches justified war without a further resolution. I know it didn't matter what he thought, that's the whole point about why he was trying to gain UN endorsement.

As to the threat from WMD, I repeat what I said before - it was not a threat of direct attack but that, at some point, Saddam might pass WMD stocks to terrorists who would use them in Britain. Invading could recover those stocks before that happened, hence it was not the case that Blair would not have invaded had he known Saddam possessed WMD.

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