WASHINGTON : “An alternative view of the Iraq war has flourished since the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump, driven by both some of his most ardent critics and some of his closest advisers. And it may help bring about the next U.S. conflict in the Middle East,” warns Jon Finer in a pre-released article from the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs. Finer—a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) adjunct senior fellow and former State Department chief of staff and director of policy planning—reviews The U.S. Army in the Iraq War, a comprehensive official study of the Iraq War from the Strategic Studies Institute and the U.S. Army War College Press.
Finer finds that “The most immediate test of this ongo­ing debate about Iraq is the emerging crisis between the United States and Iran. Although the Iraq analogy was once a trump card for opponents of U.S. intervention, today it is also invoked by those portraying Iran as unfinished business of the earlier conflict.”
Finer cautions, “There are also profound similarities between the current situation and the period that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq, starting with an impressionable president, inexperienced in world affairs. . . . Today, the Trump adminis­tration is reportedly pressuring the intelligence community, which has long judged that Iran is in strict compliance with the nuclear deal, for assessments that would bolster the case for a firmer approach.” To be sure, “Distorting the lessons of the Iraq war may also be the best way to convince a U.S. president with anti-interventionist instincts of the wisdom of confronting Iran,” the author warns.
The lessons of the Iraq War, Finer notes, “are increasingly contested, with significant implications for a debate that is raging between and within both major political parties over the most consequen­tial foreign policy choice any country faces: when and how to use military force.”
Finer challenges two of the report’s claims, the first being that “the war’s ‘only victor’ was ‘an emboldened and expansionist Iran.’”
The second is that “‘the failure of the United States to attain its strategic objectives in Iraq was not inevitable. . . . ’ In other words: the failure of the Iraq war—which cost somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, led to the deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and perhaps half a million Iraqis, spawned a grave humanitarian crisis, and incubated the most virulent terrorist franchise the world has ever seen, all with no clear strategic benefit—was one of execution, not conception.”
Finer concludes, “The authors of the U.S. Army’s official history of the Iraq war warn that ‘above all, the United States must not repeat the errors of previous wars in assuming that the conflict was an anomaly with few useful lessons.’ Although history is often abused and all conflicts are different, that still seems to be sound advice. But following it requires, at a minimum, some agreement on what those lessons are. Eroding the tenuous consensus on what went wrong in Iraq makes another damag­ing conflict more likely.”




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