Who Lost Iraq?

In the aftermath of national catastrophes, people have a natural tendency to look for an explanation based on a single point of failure. Such explanations are often unhelpful in devising subsequent policy. Simplistic lessons drawn from World War I persuaded the United States to embrace isolationism and Europe appeasement, both of which contributed to World War II. The lesson many Americans drew from not opposing Hitler sooner -- "no more Munichs" -- became a powerful rationale for the United States' entanglement in Vietnam in the 1960s. The subsequent national rejection of counterinsurgency missions -- "no more Vietnams" -- greatly hampered U.S. military performance in Iraq. If the current debate over the United States' failure in Iraq is to yield constructive results, it will have to go beyond bumper-sticker conclusions -- no more preemption, no more democracy promotion, no more nation building.

Individuals have been the first target of criticism: President George W. Bush, of course, but also Vice President Dick Cheney; Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense; General Tommy Franks, the former commander of U.S. Central Command; Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy; L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority; and George Tenet, the former CIA director. All except two of these individuals have been out of office for some time: the Bush administration is already on its second defense secretary, third CIA director, third commanding general in Iraq, and fourth top diplomat there -- and thus far, none of these changes has reversed a worsening situation. This suggests that the source of at least some of the United States' difficulties in Iraq transcends particular personalities.

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