It's Not Too Soon to Tell

Paul Wolfowitz continues to be wrong about Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz, a leading cheerleader for and planner of the Iraq War, says "it's too soon to tell" how it turned out.

He observes that, “the Korean armistice was signed sixty years ago, but South Korea struggled for decades after that. Even after thirty years, only an extreme optimist would have predicted that South Korea today would not only have one of the world’s most successful economies but also a democratic political system that has successfully conducted six free and fair presidential elections over the last twenty-five years.”

While true, these outcomes are so tangentially related to the 1950-53 war in Korea that we can safely exclude them from a discussion of how said war turned out. Long story short: We lost.

Wolfowitz continues, “So too, it may be many years before we have a clear picture of the future of Iraq, but we already do know two important things. An evil dictator is gone, along with his two equally brutal sons, giving the Iraqi people a chance to build a representative government that treats its people as citizens and not as subjects. And we also know that Americans did not come to Iraq to take away its oil or to subjugate the country.” A few paragraphs later, Wolfowitz declares, “The price of removing Saddam was high, in both military and civilian blood and in treasure.”

But this thing is not particularly true. A crude timeline will help illustrate this point:

So, roughly 4712 Americans were killed fighting in Iraq—which is to say, 98 percent of all Americans killed fighting in Iraq—after Saddam's regime was out of power. 94 percent of the total American KIA died after his sons were killed. 88 percent were lost after Saddam was captured, no threat to return to power, and no longer a plausible cause for the fabled "regime holdouts" to rally around. Even after Saddam was hanged, another 1548 Americans died.

From this, I would conclude that American war aims were something other than merely toppling Saddam's regime, making sure his "equally brutal sons" did not replace him, or even assuring that Saddam was brought to justice. Because, otherwise, we could have gotten out with only 92 dead American troopers.

Remarkably, Wolfowitz not only misapprehends the war that he played a vital role in initiating, planning, and overseeing but he has the unmitigated gall to blame people who managed to win their war in Iraq and keep it from mission creeping into a fiasco of epic proportions. While proclaiming that, “the US should not be sorry about the ‘failure’ to install a new dictator in Iraq to restore the old false stability” he urges that, “What did require a US apology—which the Ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, offered in the Fall of 2011—was the failure to assist the Shia uprising in 1991, in the aftermath of Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait.”

Oh, it gets better. Toward the end of his essay, Wolfowitz argues that the Obama administration should work to “forge a coalition, one which includes Iraq, to bring an end to the bloody conflict in Syria and provide international support for a new Syrian government. But that would require real US leadership, whereas the US is not even ‘leading from behind’ as it did in Libya.”

I’ve got a pretty good idea how that one would turn out. But it’s too soon to tell.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council