A reader writes:
I'll make a neo-conservative critique of Iraq that is honest. The basic neo-conservative premise for going into Iraq was to effect democratic political and social change in the Arab world and in the Middle East, where the ruling kleptocracies and totalitarian states have crushed all hope in the general population and created a rancid environment in which hate and extremism is rampant. This basic premise - that the root of the problem in the Middle East lies with its dysfunctional ruling classes - is correct as far as it goes. It of course, needs to be more honest and further note that much of the present structure of the Middle East is rooted in its historical culture and social development going back literally thousands of years, and is one in which Islam and its lack of a chuch/state divide is a major contributing factor. Nevertheless, the intervention into Iraq was made with the prospects of bringing, by force and by softer means, a change in this governing ethos in the Middle East.
I still believe in this basic concept, however, I am much chastened by the overweening and unrealistic optimism I and others like me felt at the onset of the Iraq experiment. In particular we were wrong about the place and time for effecting such change. In our hubris, we glossed over in many ways the longterm consequences coming from Saddam Hussein's deposition.
However, the biggest single mistake neoconservatives made was that we placed our faith in the abilities of what has turned out to be a singularly incompetent administration. In the mission's basic planning, forecasting, and execution, this administration has almost uniformly made the wrong choices for Iraq's stabilization and progress. What the leftist and media critics get wrong about Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush is that they screwed up by going in halfhearted and without demanding real sacrifice upfront from the American people. Rumsfeld sacked the Chairman of the JCS for speaking honestly and saying correctly that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops over several years to truly "win" Iraq. That should have been a red flag to us all. But conservatives and a lot of moderates rallied around Bush and Co. because of the unfair attacks from the left and the media, whose objectivity was never in evidence, and in doing so we ratified and enabled every bad decision Bush and Co. made in Iraq.
By the time we realized where we were, it was probably too late to save the experiment in anything but a very watered down version of what it was intended to be: a de facto partitioned Iraq held together by a surged American offensive until the Shiite majority can join the Kurds in securing their territory, and (hopefully) with a growing number of Sunnis deciding to make their way in a Shiite-dominated status quo while the Americans still wield influence over events.
I still have some optimism, very long term, for the Iraq experiment. But it is obvious now that it was a mission chosen by this Administration at the wrong time, in the wrong place and most certainly with the wrong means of bringing about its ultimate accomplishment. In hindsight, we should have gotten Bin Laden first, wiped out the Taliban, forced Pakistan to secure its "wild west territories" either on its own or with the intervention of US troops, and gradually stepped up pressure on Saddam to become a good international citizen. In doing so, we would still be in a position to effect changes in political attitudes in the ME, would have a much more secure Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we wouldn't have an emboldened and largely unchecked Iran on our hands. And we wouldn't have 3,000+ probably wasted lives and several hundred billion dollars spent on what looks to be a marginal gain at best, and at worst a political debacle for American power and influence.
This is almost exactly my view. It doesn't exculpate me from what I once supported; but it's honest. And honesty is a start.