Even as this debate continues, it is important to expand the conversation from the case for the war to consideration of the military action itself. Kenneth
Adelman, a leading neocon advocate of invading Iraq, had promised that invading Iraq would be a military "cakewalk" in 2002. Early in April 2003 he
observed that he had been vindicated in this judgment. At that moment few challenged him. U.S. troops had occupied Baghdad, symbolically toppling the
monumental statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square on April 9. The city had fallen with less resistance than anticipated.
Now another tenth anniversary affords us an opportunity for reflection. On May 1, 2003, just six weeks after the invasion of Iraq began, President George
W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." When he spoke on the carrier someone had placed a
banner behind him that declared "Mission Accomplished." President Bush would later express his regret over this sign, describing it as "a big mistake," an
inappropriate "victory dance."
Regardless of the banner, there was on May 1, 2003 a sense of victory, of a successful contest concluded. Most Americans, including the president's critics
and opponents, gushed with him. Now of course, on this anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln speech, many will remind us that, alas, on that date it turned
out the mission was far from accomplished.
At the risk of seeming to engage in sarcastic irony, let me suggest that in fact on May 1, 2003, President Bush and the banner makers may have been
correct: the original U.S. military mission had been largely accomplished. American forces, with their coalition allies, had defeated the Iraqi regular
Army units, had captured Baghdad and most provincial capitals, and had forced the Saddam Hussein regime to flee and to hide. These were the specific
military objectives of the March invasion -- along with securing petroleum production facilities, major transportation centers, and the presumed stockpiles
of the weapons of mass destruction. These objectives had been met. The military had done its job, had largely accomplished its original mission.
To be sure, it had not been an altogether smooth military operation in those early weeks. American forces confronted inevitable startup costs involving the
complexity of coordinating air, ground, cavalry and armored units among the service branches. One air observer described the first days to me as "chaotic."
The early days were marked by communication problems, equipment malfunctions, and difficult encounters with the reality of geography, terrain, and weather,
all resulting in differential paces of movement. Intelligence had focused primarily on the Iraqi military and their potential chemical weapons and had not
emphasized the likelihood of Fedayeen resistance.