How We (US) Lost in Iraq and Afghanistan

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A 3-Star General Explains 'Why We Lost' In Iraq, Afghanistan
http://www.npr.org/2014/11/09/361746282/a-3-star-general-explains-why-we-lost-in-iraq-afghanistan

"I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism."

Those are the frank opening words of a new book by retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account Of The Iraq And Afghanistan Wars. Bolger continues:

"It's like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem. To wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry."
Trained for regular conflicts, the military seems ill-prepared for counterinsurgency. Seems like the same situation in WWI when the old 19th century way of combat did not work when confronted with mechanized/industrialized combat with machine guns, mortars, armored cavalry (tanks), air craft, landmines, poisonous gas, . . .
 

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  • #2
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Every President since at least George H.W. Bush has said we shouldn't get involved in nation building, and every President since at least George H.W. Bush has ended up nation building. The US tries to use the military for this, because they aren't allowed to say "no", but fundamentally, this is not their job: their job is to break things. The US would be well served by creating another service, perhaps run out of State and not Defense, whose job is to build nations.

How many times does one's house have to catch fire before one buys some fire insurance?
 
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  • #3
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IMHO, We lost Afghanistan when we invaded Iraq. Then the Defense Department assumed that armored Humvees wouldn't be needed once the invasion of Iraq was over.
 
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  • #5
mheslep
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Every President since at least George H.W. Bush has said we shouldn't get involved in nation building, ....


Since Washington's entangling alliances warning farewell, and probably best said by JQA:
President John Quincy Adams said:
...[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
But abstinence "from interference" is not the same as pacifism. American had fought two major foreign power wars with the British by the time of JQA, and a couple more with the Barbary states.
 
  • #6
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In my opinion It is a very bitter pill to swallow when it is said without contradiction we lost the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. We paid a high price in lives, terrible injuries, and national debt, not to mention national pride, international respect, and self-respect.

I recall the Vietnam War did not end very well, and neither did the Korean War before that.

You know, I think it is probably a very bad idea to get continuously involved in wars and then to lose, or fail to win them.

But on the other hand, would it be any better to fight only wars that we could win and profit from? If we were to attack and invade Canada, we could seize her oil, gold, rare earth minerals, timber, fisheries, fresh water and polar access. With all that, perhaps we could pay off the national debt and restore our reputation as a fearsome winner rather than a feckless loser? :rolleyes:

But somehow I don't think that sounds right, either.

A rational place to start in reassessing our whole approach to war-making might be to fix the mismatch between our laws and our actions - like clarifying the Constitutional responsibility for declaration of war. Congress has abdicated this role for decades, and the Presidents have scooped up too much power, IMO. When we consistently say one thing in the highest law of the land and do another in the field of action, it creates an unhealthy cognitive dissonance; our thinking and decisions become distorted and ugly, IMO. I recommend we either amend the Constitution to reflect what we are doing, or amend what we are doing to come into agreement with the Constitution.
 
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  • #7
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"Wins and losses" have to be defined before they can be declared. What was on the table?
 
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"Wins and losses" have to be defined before they can be declared. What was on the table?
With Iraq? Leaving Sadam in power, what was quite reasonable, instead of making up those claims concerning WMDs.

With Afghanistan? USA credibility was at the stake and there was no good move. There were not many targets there that could have been destroyed in a retaliatory air campaign. The only idea that I've heard of that would not involve puting there troops and would have adequate chilling effect for other terrorist harborring regimes, presumably involved using... WMDs. (which would be politically too expensive)
 
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  • #9
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With Iraq? Leaving Sadam in power, what was quite reasonable, instead of making up those claims concerning WMDs.

With Afghanistan? USA credibility was at the stake and there was no good move. There were not many targets there that could have been destroyed in a retaliatory air campaign. The only idea that I've heard of that would not involve puting there troops and would have adequate chilling effect for other terrorist harborring regimes, presumably involved using... WMDs. (which would be politically too expensive)
You've stated what you see as having been on the table from 2001-8. Can you understand that there may be other views? That some might see the highlighted items as being mutually inconsistent? U.S. interests and goals as presented in news media may have been vastly different from what was desirable, what was possible, from what was actually attempted, and from what was understood by the policy makers and people sent to protect those interests and effect those goals.
 
  • #10
mheslep
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With Iraq? Leaving Sadam in power, what was quite reasonable, instead of making up those claims concerning WMDs....


Do you actually mean reasonable, or the least bad of bad choices? If the 2003 Iraq war was never started, how long would you advise the US have kept up its no-fly zone, which had been ongoing since 1991 (12 years)? US patrol planes were under daily attack from the ground.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-fly_zone#Iraq.2C_1991.E2.80.932003

Or the embargo after the Gulf War?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_Iraq
 
  • #11
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Do you actually mean reasonable, or the least bad of bad choices? If the 2003 Iraq war was never started, how long would you advise the US have kept up its no-fly zone, which had been ongoing since 1991 (12 years)? US patrol planes were under daily attack from the ground.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-fly_zone#Iraq.2C_1991.E2.80.932003

Or the embargo after the Gulf War?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_Iraq
Honestly speaking I thought that the status quo was stable. Just USA needed to express its point by using anti-radar missle from time to time. Plus powerful Iraq was quite good to counterbalance Iran.

Embargo could have been kept, just like in case of Cuba. Or Sadam could have behaved well and have it lifted. Hard to say, both were possible and both were acceptable outcomes.

Turning secular Iraq into zones controlled by ISIS and under heavy influence of Iran I see as bad idea. To what extend ISIS was foreseeable - hard for me to say, but I think that Iraq with Shia majority is quite natural friend for Iran, so that part was foreseeable.
 
  • #12
mheslep
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Honestly speaking I thought that the status quo was stable. Just USA needed to express its point by using anti-radar missle from time to time. Plus powerful Iraq was quite good to counterbalance Iran.

Embargo could have been kept, just like in case of Cuba. Or Sadam could have behaved well and have it lifted. Hard to say, both were possible and both were acceptable outcomes.

Turning secular Iraq into zones controlled by ISIS and under heavy influence of Iran I see as bad idea. To what extend ISIS was foreseeable - hard for me to say, but I think that Iraq with Shia majority is quite natural friend for Iran, so that part was foreseeable.
Stable means able to last as-is indefinitely. The ~2002 Iraq you portray is at odds with the history when labeled "stable".

The US enforced no-fly was over northern Kurdish Iraq and everything south of Baghdad, about a hundred thousand square miles, and was patrolled with regular SAM launches at US aircraft. Anti-SAM attacks were taken but did not stop the SAMs. Taking responsibility for a no-fly of Iraqi aircraft also place the US in the position of assuming responsibility for preventing Iranian or Turkish aircraft from entering Iraq. There were mistakes including the shoot down of a friendly helicopter killing dozens. While the UN was indulging in the corruption of the oil-for-food scandal, the UN's Boutros Boutros-Ghali labeled the no-fly zone illegal.

Just like in Cuba, there would have been no embargo aside from the US; even the limited set of countries that originally joined it were falling away, with officials of some countries found to be in the pay of Saddam's oil money.

Then there's the history of Saddam himself. Though he had little WMD in 2003, we know in the past he constituted and used large amounts of chemical WMD against Iraqis and Iranians. We know in the past he had a viable nuclear program, probably 9-18 months away from a weapon. We know he deliberately set about to destroy ethnic groups such as the Marsh Arabs. We know he invaded multiple countries with intent to annex.

I can entertain that leaving Saddam in place might be bad option A versus invasion bad option B, but stable? No.
 
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  • #13
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Stable means able to last as-is indefinitely. The ~2002 Iraq you portray is at (snip)
I can entertain that leaving Saddam in place might be bad option A versus invasion bad option B, but stable? No.
Perfect summation: most of the situations boil down to selection from a list of bad options.
 
  • #14
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Perhaps the US should have realized that Iraq simply can't hold itself together and should have created a separate state for Kurds, Shias and Sunnis ?
 
  • #15
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... should have created a separate state for Kurds, Shias and Sunnis ?
That's one bad option from among the multitude of horrible options available. "Balkanization" is generally regarded as undesirable, but Yugoslavia hasn't been too much in the news lately --- so, maybe it could have been made to work --- pro-rating revenues from unevenly distributed natural resources would probably have been a "bear."
 
  • #16
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Perhaps the US should have realized that Iraq simply can't hold itself together and should have created a separate state for Kurds, Shias and Sunnis ?
Yet Iraq seemed to be holding itself together, if imperfectly, until it was invaded by a foreign army. Recall some examples of countries splitting themselves up, to include Pakistan and India, with the initial split causing 1 million casualties, followed by the '65 war, followed by the '71 war, followed by..., followed by...; Gaza and Israel, S and N Korea.
 
  • #18
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More from Bolger
"— in part because of our moral commitment to the Iraqi people — .... ...sorting out who is or is not a terrorist in civilian areas ...."

"Moral commitments" are like mental commitments --- first steps on the road to a rubber room; if you aren't serving your own interests in a conflict, you have no business getting involved, because you have no idea what's at stake.

Hague and Geneva Conventions do NOT require sorting terrorists from civilians, only that civilians not be specifically targeted as civilians; they do provide for prosecutions of combatants, or authorities controlling combatants, employing civilians as human shields/hostages. Makes for very ugly situations --- No Gun Ri, Street Without Joy, and others.

Wars are ugly business --- Hague and Geneva keep the ghastly aspects to a minimum (Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima) while censuring the truly intolerable (concentration camps, forced labor, genocide). The politically correct model adopted without conscious thought or due process in SW Asia that technology could provide a surgical precision that would guarantee that only the bad guys got hurt and cause no collateral damage is a pipe dream, particularly vis a vis the moral rationalizations/propaganda of "nation building." Collateral damage is the motivating force for a population to commit to nation building rather than regarding "The Lone Ranger" as a global Orkin Man or other exterminator of pests and vermin who leaves silver bullets behind as largesse.

Lose? Or, pretty good start and just quit long before things were properly finished?
 
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  • #19
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Perhaps the US should have realized that Iraq simply can't hold itself together and should have created a separate state for Kurds, Shias and Sunnis ?
This idea has serious advantages, like creating 3 states that are supposed to be manageable. (Turkey would not be delighted by independent Kurdistan) However, there is also one serious backslash - actually there are quite plenty of ethnic groups all over the world that would like such an idea implement and start a civil war because of such inspiration.


"— in part because of our moral commitment to the Iraqi people — .... ...sorting out who is or is not a terrorist in civilian areas ...."

"Moral commitments" are like mental commitments --- first steps on the road to a rubber room; if you aren't serving your own interests in a conflict, you have no business getting involved, because you have no idea what's at stake.
I generally agreed with your post, but I think that you may oversimplify here. There is reputation at stake, which actually has quite high value. Is it a good idea to be a US friend? Well, a rational player would just check your track record. Or a just bombed person might look for revenge instead of cooperating.


Damn, we're discussing about US foreign policy and we stay very calm and rational, trying to find an idea that would have been less bad. No high words about bringing democracy vs. condemning imperialism and western guilt. What's wrong with us? :D
 
  • #20
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I generally agreed with your post, but I think that you may oversimplify here. There is reputation at stake, which actually has quite high value. Is it a good idea to be a US friend? Well, a rational player would just check your track record. Or a just bombed person might look for revenge instead of cooperating.
"Oversimplify?" I doubt that Greg has memory enough on PF to catalogue all the military/diplomatic/leadership mistakes of the past century.

"Reputation?" Starting with Wilson, the U.S. has accumulated an "enviable" (:nb)!!!???) track record as usually well-intentioned, arrogant, clumsy, oafish, oblivious amateurs who can be depended upon to prevail militarily but never quite understand what it takes to finish things properly.

What is(are) our "Shakespearean fatal character flaw(s)?" Where to begin: Inability of leadership to focus and follow through on any endeavor that exceeds the lifetime of the "nth" congress; the electorate's inability to disconnect wars from analogies to athletic contests with fixed playing times and rules; the general tendency to start believing our own propaganda rather than facing reality.
 
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  • #21
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Yet Iraq seemed to be holding itself together, if imperfectly, until it was invaded by a foreign army. Recall some examples of countries splitting themselves up, to include Pakistan and India, with the initial split causing 1 million casualties, followed by the '65 war, followed by the '71 war, followed by..., followed by...; Gaza and Israel, S and N Korea.
Well,if you have a brutal dictatorship , you can unify any country with however seriously incompatible it's population maybe and however large it's geographical area by forcing people to live together. Dictatorships in countries can make the whole region unstable and lead to human right violations hence it can't be the answer.

India and Pakistan splitting up was because the British and some Indian leaders thought that Hindus and Muslims are incompatible and can't live peacefully together but the wars that followed had nothing to do with religions and everything to do with territory(Kashmir) except 1971 which wasn't based on religion either .if the British had written all the borders unambiguously before granting independence there might have been no wars between the countries.

Since more Muslims live in India right now than the whole of Pakistan's population , the original idea of splitting the country might have been wrong. Communal clashes in India do take place but they are rarely serious and do not threaten to destabilize the entire country.

In the case of Iraq the idea might be correct because they are clearly not tolerating each other. Israel and Gaza problem is more complicated because they are both claiming the exact same piece of land as their home land. In Iraq different parts seem to dominated by different communities hence a split might be possible.
 
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  • #22
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This idea has serious advantages, like creating 3 states that are supposed to be manageable. (Turkey would not be delighted by independent Kurdistan) However, there is also one serious backslash - actually there are quite plenty of ethnic groups all over the world that would like such an idea implement and start a civil war because of such inspiration.
Yes there are a lot of ethnic groups but I think they demand independence only if they feel threatened by other groups or the governments in their countries. Most of them are very small and lack the confidence and the capacity to run their own country.
 
  • #23
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Essentially we lost Afghanistan as soon as we invaded Iraq.

Read this blather by Rumsfeld concerning the failure to provide the troops with up armored Humvees and you will now why we lost Iraq.

Rumsfeld sought to downplay his blunt exchange with a national guardsman over the lack of properly armored vehicles.

DONALD RUMSFELD: "The military makes judgments about what types of vehicles with what types of armor should be used. They have priority list in terms of the pace at which they are adding armor.

For the person who asked the question, someone has to sit with him — find out what… I have heard three different things about that comment on his part.

I don’t know what the facts are, but somebody is certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know, and that’s a good thing."


http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military-july-dec04-armor_12-9/
 
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  • #24
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From the link, "This war is almost two years old. Why has this taken so long? We know there are widespread problems, especially in the National Guard and reserves, which now make up roughly 45 percent of our forces in Iraq.
They’ve been neglected and under-funded for decades (emphasis added) and this all goes back to a poorly executed plan, and someone needs to be held accountable. We continue to hear excuses from Washington, and we need solutions."

Yes, inadequate weapons systems and hardware get people killed. One may recall H.M.S. Hood, the M4 Sherman, the M-16, the surplus Brown Bess muskets picked up from Great Britain for the Union Army in the American Civil War, black powder weapons vs. smokeless in the Boer War, and a rather long list of other ordnance disasters, some of which can be identified as a proximal cause for losing this, that, or the other war. However, most wars are lost at the top either by inadequate leadership to begin with, or changes in leadership resulting in loss of direction or purpose.
 
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  • #25
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Essentially we lost Afghanistan as soon as we invaded Iraq.

Read this blather by Rumsfeld concerning the failure to provide the troops with up armored Humvees and you will now why we lost Iraq.
Ugh. Rumsfeld...:mad:. How people can think we're worse off now than when he and his buddies were in office, I'll never understand.
 
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