Sunday, January 25, 2009

Advice For Obama About Iraq: Voices From The Past

President Barack Obama has made clear that, while he isn't going to do anything rash, he intends to make a clean break from many Bush administration policies, and in particular those regarding the Iraq war. That sounds like great news to me.

But, I'm a believer in history, and in the lessons of context that it teaches. It's a good idea to listen to voices of experience, from the past, and Obama should heed them. Here are a couple:

"If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's current there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?"
Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, in 1991.

"Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq ... Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different -- and perhaps barren -- outcome."
Former President George H.W. Bush and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, in their book "A World Transformed" (1998).

It all seems a bit confusing. But I am hopeful that President Obama is a student of history and can learn from it. Clearly, our rulers of the past eight years have been astonishingly oblivious to its lessons.