Headed to the library shortly to return a pile of books, some of which I read and some of which I did not. Among them was Richard Haass’ War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars. Terrific book by the way.
Haass served Republican administrations from 1989 to 2003 when he left to become president of the Council on Foreign Relations. In other words, he was there.
I plucked (go ahead, call it cherry picked – that would not be inaccurate) a few of his comments about the second Iraq war, ‘the war of choice’.
First, he offers a few words about the status of US foreign policy in early 2001:
“The result of all this [containment, sanctions] was that by the end of the Clinton administration, the Iraq situation didn’t seem all that alarming, especially when judged against the rest of the international situation and the challenges facing the U.S. When the forty-second president sat down with the president elect in January 2001, Bill Clinton briefed George W. Bush on the national security challenges. He named in order of priority Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida, the absence of a Middle East peace, the nuclear stand off between India and Pakistan, Pakistan’s ties to both the Taliban and Al Qaida, and North Korea. Only then did Clinton mention Iraq, “
And some of his thoughts as that war wound into its fifth year, about the costs to us of the War in Iraq:
“US military forces that have been tied up in Iraq have not been available elsewhere . . .it will take a generation to replace the equipment and maybe longer to recover from the personnel costs . . . Iraq [however] absorbed the most precious of resources; the time and attention of senior policy makers. . . .Iran has now emerged as the principle external force inside Iraq . . . U.S. credibility has suffered throughout the world and anti-Americanism has increased.” Also “the second Iraq war, a classic war of choice, served to narrow America’s choices.”
He then summed up his observations:
“George W. Bush inherited a robust economy, a budgetary surplus, a rested military and, even after 9/11, a world largely at peace and well-disposed toward the U.S. He handed off to his successor a recession, a massive deficit and debt, a stretched and exhausted military, two wars, and a world marked by pronounced anti-Americanism. I am hard pressed to find another set of back to back presidential transitions in which so many of the basic features of the domestic and international landscapes changed so dramatically for the worse. “