Another reader weighs in:
The theory in Iraq was that we would not need to occupy the nation, not need to impose martial law, not need to do the things that we did in both Germany and Japan because it wouldn't be necessary. Iraqis were going to do by themselves and for themselves what Germans and Japanese did guided by the firm hand of occupation forces which dominated every aspect of their post-war civil life.
If you wish to cite Germany and Japan as the examples, you'll have to explain why our leaders believed, and repeatedly affirmed, that the aftermath of Iraq would require so much less time, effort and manpower than our occupations of those Axis powers. America and its coalition partners never lacked the competence to occupy Iraq, we embraced a theory that said occupation would be unnecessary.
As for the Soviet Union are you seriously suggesting that toppling Saddam could possibly have the same effect on his neighbors, some of whom were sworn enemies, that the collapse of the Soviet Union had on its component and client states? The similarities between the two are limited to the term 'change of government.' You're better than this sophist argument.
The point still stands. The philosophy behind our effort Iraq doomed it, not an incompetent implementation of that philosophy.
It was conservative members of the US government who predicted that Iraq would take longer, cost more, and require hundreds of thousands more troops to turn out the way Germany and Japan turned out. Their opinions were dismissed out-of-hand as 'old thinking.' Neo-conservatives predicted that we'd be pretty much done militarily in Iraq within a few months, that our efforts would cost next-to-nothing, and that the entire region would then change for the better.
You say that we were just being over-optimistic. Optimistic thinking would be that it would only take 3 years, 300,000 troops and $300 billion dollars to succeed. The pre-war predictions of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz weren’t 'over-optimistic,' they were magical thinking enshrined as policy. Our nation acted upon those sunny predictions as if they bore any relationship with reality, and reality is now kicking our behinds.
Thanks. For my part (although I should go back and read my blog to make sure of this), I always believed that Iraq would be an enormously difficult endeavor, taking years of occupation and billions of dollars. But looking back, I think I didn't fully realize the radical utopianism of some of the people I was backing. I also wrongly believed that the WMD threat was so real we had no choice; and I felt that the danger of radical Islam so profound that some space for democratic change in Iraq was essential to winning the long war. Part of me still believes that. On this book tour, I don't have time right now to say more. But I hope to synthesize some of your points into a real piece soon that grapples with this deep question - and what it means for what we do now.
(Photo: Franco Pagetti.)