Lessons From Iraq

LESSONS FROM IRAQ….Max Sawicky is reading Babylon by Bus, the story of two slackers who ended up working for the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. Max comments:

I’m about halfway through. One thing I take from the story is that there was a window in 2003-2004 when the occupation could have been successfully launched, and the subsequent carnage precluded, or at least minimized. This opportunity was lost from lack of serious planning and other types of mulishness. Everyone seems to have realized this, but you get a better feel for it from reading their account.

Actually, not everyone seems to have realized this. In fact, it’s a point of considerable controversy, isn’t it? Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias made the opposite point explicitly in “The Incompetence Dodge,” arguing that “administrative bungling is simply not the root source of America?s failure in Iraq.” I made the same argument myself a couple of years ago, though I remain sort of ambivalent about it, largely because of stories like Babylon by Bus. If you’re operating at 80% efficiency and your plan doesn’t work, it probably means the plan was just plain bad. But if you’re operating at 20% efficiency, it seems at least plausible that better execution could have produced success. It may be that democratization by force is a chimera, but the level of incompetence in Iraq has been so monumental that it seems almost impossible to draw any enduring conclusions from our experience there.