• Why America Can Never Win in Iraq

    June 16, 2014

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria

    I think of it now, all the time.

    Sometimes I think I even recognize a place on TV I had been, having spent a year in the midst of America’s Occupation in Iraq, 2009-2010. I was a State Department civilian, embedded in turn with two Army brigades of some 3000 men and women each, far from the embassy and the pronouncements of victory and whatever bright lights Iraq might have had.

    Why We Lost

    I grow weary of the drumbeat for the U.S. to return to Iraq and blow more stuff up. Drones, airstrikes, Special Forces on the ground who are somehow not really “boots on the ground,” the whole bloodlust redux. As a human being I decry the loss of more life. As someone who cares about America’s foreign policy, I cannot believe (while believing) that we are continuing to misunderstand the larger picture, what might be called the strategic or long-term, once again for the tactical, the expedient, the short-term.

    Of all the many reasons why American could not win its Iraq War (and I wrote about one of the most significant, the failure of Occupation and Reconstruction, in my first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People perhaps the one that is most applicable now is the most basic.

    America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space that imagines Blue Forces fighting Red Forces, Saving Private Ryan but with more sand. Instead, in Iraq right now, there are multiple layers of war going on. For those who like to look ahead a bit, you may feel free to substitute “Syria” for “Iraq” in the rest of this article. Most of this also applies to Libya, Afghanistan and pretty much the rest of the post-9/11 conflicts.

    A War of Layers

    Instead of a good old fashioned and simple Our Side vs. Their Side, Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, the Iraq War is one comprised of many layers. They intermingle and overlap, kind of like the multiverse of conflict. Some of this is painted here in quibbly broad strokes, but the core is solid:

    — On the surface you have our media-view war: Jihadists vs. The Iraqi Government. This is the dominant view in Washington, because it is the easiest to understand in bullet points, the easiest to sell to the American people through an ever-compliant media, and the one that fuels the most defense spending. These sorts of wars need plenty of hardware for the U.S. military, and lots of stuff to sell to whichever side we support. You can imagine these sorts of wars as winnable with brave-but-Spartan-like-expendable Special Forces, drones and intel. Blue-on-Red wars also lend themselves well to demonizing the enemy (Terrorists! Who kill people! Who want Sharia law!)

    — Another layer down in Iraq you have one group dominated by Sunnis vs. another Shia one fighting a political civil war for actual control of territory. The U.S. willingness to devote extraordinary amounts of money and military power to keeping “Iraq” from not separating on its historical boundaries (the present national borders were drawn up by British cartographers after WWI) over eight years of Occupation and for four years of pretend democracy left this one on long-term simmer awaiting today’s boil. Enough power and money can reduce it again to a simmer, maybe, but it won’t go away.

    — Below that layer are intra-Sunni and intra-Shiite struggles for turf and power. There is no such thing as a Sunni Corporate Structure, or a Shia one, with privates reporting to colonels who report to a white house. Instead you have religious allegiances, tribal allegiances, warlord allegiances, paid for allegiances, allegiances of convenience and so forth. At some point they turn on each or dissolve, for awhile, then often reassemble. During the Occupation the U.S. thought they could play off various groups against each other, but the Iraqis had been doing that long before any Americans got there, and knew the game so well that it was like putting the U.S. soccer team up against the Brazilians.

    — Laying under it all is the much larger proxy war, including Iran’s support for the Shiites/Malaki government and Saudi/Kuwaiti support for the Sunnis. To zoom out for a moment, this is why invading Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan failed as well. Failure to focus on the proxy war means things like America supporting the same side as the Iranians in Iraq. Inevitably, this results in adding to Iran’s regional power with every drone flight and Special Forces action undertaken. That Iranian regional power will end up projecting itself elsewhere, such as in Syria, where the U.S. and Iran are not on the same side.

    — And just because many Americans don’t see/know this, the people in the region sure do: should airstrikes occur,or even just more military aid into Iraq, once again America is at war in an Islamic country. You cannot win the hearts and minds of dead people, but you sure can help recruit their friends and relatives against you. Worse, in that the U.S. promised to leave forever in 2011. America is also supporting Shias against Sunnis, which does not go unnoticed outside of Iraq.

    Why the U.S. Cannot Win

    The reason why America can never win the war in Iraq, et al, is because to win the war you have to somehow win all the layers of wars, and to win all the wars involves impossible to resolve paradoxes such as siding with the Iranians here while opposing them there. Here and there are often in reality the same place, such as along the Syrian-Iraqi border. It can’t be done. It is a trick, like a carnival ring toss game. The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just another sucker with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

    BONUS: Not convinced yet? The aircraft carrier being sent into the Persian Gulf to launch any air strikes the U.S. deems necessary is the USS George H.W. Bush. Construction of the ship began in 2003, planning and funding well before that. I know irony is not a government thing, but using a carrier named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq is one level of it, and then realizing we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who started the adventure is another.

    BONUS BONUS: And for goodness sakes, stop saying this is all PM Maliki’s fault. It is, of course, but only after the U.S. slipped him into power in the 2006 elections, allowed him to cut deals with the Iranians to stay in power in 2010 elections and then has maintained him in power with money, weapons and support since then (including now).

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Helen Marshall said...


      You left out the gorilla in the corner…why is the US not on the same side as Iran in Syria, or indeed on any side in Syria? Could it be that another regional power wants us to play that game?

      Who benefits from all this armed intervention into other people’s affairs? It is certainly not the folks with the boots on the ground. Not you nor me. Who?


      06/16/14 2:39 PM | Comment Link

    • jim hruska said...


      You can’t win if there’s nothing to win.
      If someone offered to give us the country of Irq would we take the place??
      I seriously doubt it.
      What strategic interest does a democratic iraq have for America?
      This is the same question that led us into WW1 when we were selling democracy. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
      In Florida terms-that dog won’t hunt.
      Democracy is not favorable to US interests,
      but we just don’t get it.Elections are not the sign of anything except corruption/lies and deceit.
      The reality is that we need to flush far wars and involvements and take care of our own garden
      I say again,whoever wins in these wars it won’t be to our benfit.
      We the US taxpayers are the designated losers.
      jim hruska

      06/16/14 3:06 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...


      Peter, that was a good essay.

      But the bitter irony is the simple fact that America never had any reason to invade Iraq in the first place. (Let alone the fact that “Iraq” is an artificial nation.)

      “Why We Lost” is because “Iraq” was never America’s to win in the first place.

      In contrast to the stupid bloody Americans, at least the old Victorian British imperialists were realistic about how savage and impossible to convert to civilisation were most of the peoples of the World, cf Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”, a prophecy of the American Empire to come:


      06/16/14 3:31 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      06/16/14 3:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Round up the usual suspects – Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, McCain and his fellow congressional hawks, Kristol and his fellow cheerleaders and ALL their sons and daughters – and put them on a plane to Baghdad. If they are so hungry to fight, then they and their own families should fight it.

      06/16/14 3:59 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Rinse and repeat: How is a country that has been brainwashed to believe IRAN is an Axis of Evil expected to accept that country as our partner?

      06/16/14 4:12 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      I can see the dollar signs in KBR’s eyes already.

      Rich Bauer said…

      “Send in the clowns:”unquote

      Hahahaha! Indeed. I’ve got a fiver that says some FOX schmuck General will be up next.

      06/16/14 7:48 PM | Comment Link

    • quadri said...


      Not we get too far from topic of day, but those pinheads at State are still living in the past where the truth is a pain in the ass

      06/16/14 9:13 PM | Comment Link

    • Jhoover said...


      So hope the got very importante info about ISIS

      العراق يضبط 160 “ميموري” يحوي معلومات “شديدة السرية” ويستعين بـCIA لفك الشفرات
      الإثنين, 16 حزيران/يونيو 2014 19:08 خ خ/ م ج
      تقييم المستخدم: / 2
      شفق نيوز/ تمكنت القوات العراقية من وضع يدها على 160 جهاز تخزين بيانات خاصة بنظام “داعش” تتضمن أسماء المقاتلين والمصادر المالية للتنظيم وذلك حسبما نشرت صحيفة غارديان البريطانية.

      وأفادت الصحيفة في خبر اطلعت عليه “شفق نيوز” أن “الجيش العراقي عثر على أكثر من 160 جهاز تخزين بيانات (usb) تابع لمقاتلي داعش يحوي معلومات شديدة السرية من بينها أسماء جميع المقاتلين الأجانب وقيادات التنظيم بالإضافة إلى بعض كلمات السر تتضمن الأحرف الأولى لمخبري التنظيم في الدوائر الحكومية بالإضافة إلى البيانات المالية الكاملة للتنظيم”.

      و قال أحد ضباط المخابرات العراقية للصحيفة البريطانية “لقد ذهلنا نحن والأمريكيون كثيرا مما شاهدنا”.

      ووفق التقرير الذي نشرته غارديان وعلقت عليه مجلة شبيغل أونلان الألمانية، فإن القوات العراقية وصلت إلى هذه المعلومات قبل الهجوم على الموصل. فقبل يومين من ذلك اعترف ناقل الرسائل الخاص بقائد التنظيم عبد الرحمن البيلاوي بإسم رئيسه وذلك بعد استجواب طويل. وبعدها بساعات قتل البيلاوي وتم حجز أجهزة تخزين بيانات من بيته ومن ناقل رسائله.

      وحسب التقرير ذاته فإن فحص هذه البيانات لايزال جاريا بمساعدة وكالة المخابرات المركزية الأمريكية سي آي آيه.

      وكان ناقل رسائل التنظيم الذي يدعى أبو هاجر قد قال خلال استجوابه من طرف المخابرات العراقية بأن الموصل ستتحول إلى جحيم خلال الأيام المقبلة وبعدها بيومين سقطت المدينة في أيدي “الجهاديين”.

      ومن الموصل التي تعتبر ثاني أكبر مدينة في العراق بدأ تنظيم داعش زحفه نحو بغداد.

      غير أن الجيش العراقي ومتطوعين بالإضافة إلى قوات البيشمركة الكوردية يتصدون حاليا لهذا الزحف وهو ما جعل مقاتلي داعش يتراجعون إلى الخلف حسبما ورد في مجلة شبيغل أونلان.

      وقال مصدر في المخابرات العراقية “إن مجموع أموال داعش قبل السيطرة على الموصل كانت تقدر بـ 875 مليون دولار وبعد ذلك تمكن التنظيم من إضافة حوالي مليار دولار ونصف لميزانيته من خلال الأموال التي نهبها من البنوك وقيمة الإمدادات العسكرية التي سيطروا عليها”.


      06/17/14 6:14 AM | Comment Link

    • Morning Musings | The DC Dispatches said...


      […] item he recommends will likely be ignored because it requires leadership, vision, and a whole lot more political fortitude than is available these days from most of the foreign policy and national security […]

      06/17/14 9:48 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Why America Can Never Win in Iraq”

      Because we suck at everything?


      06/17/14 10:46 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      06/17/14 10:48 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      06/17/14 10:49 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      jhoover said: “(whatever the fuck it says????)”

      ummm, anyone care to translate that? Unless I’m missing something and there is a large following here that can read what ever language that is, I don’t understand the point of jhoover’s posting it here. However, and I’m not jumping to conclusions by any means, but it IS odd, the only english on that site says right in the heading.. CIA. I can only guess. However, from what I’ve read, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the CIA were funding these bastards while in Syria. In fact..nothing surprises me anymore.

      Especially after accidentally coming across an astounding report from 1943, on the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS. If there was any doubt about how deep the CIA is embedded in EVERYTHING..this report should chill you for good. In fact, I believe this supports Jim Garrisons view that the CIA/DOD ARE the USG, and are the largest TERRORIST organization on the planet. The mere fact they proposed forming a US GESTAPO, should tell you something about our current DHS.
      quote”“General Donovan made a proposal for the organization of a new secret world-wide intelligence agency which would control all other U.S. intelligence agencies. It has all the earmarks of a Gestapo system.”
      – Colonel Park (Part II, Page 2)

      Even before the creation of the CIA, OSS was running “what many claim to be an American Gestapo.” (Appendix I, Page 27) In 1943, OSS added another 1,000 officers, 3,000 enlisted men, and 5,000 Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members to their ranks. A third of these officials would operate in America. One OSS agent declared that these officials would work as a sort of U.S. Gestapo. They would have the power to penetrate every government agency, trade union, and large corporation in America. (Appendix I, Page 27) During the war, many officials who worked for different agencies in Washington publicly declared that they were OSS agents. For example, Pierre Crenier, an official at the Board of Economic Warfare, declared that he was an OSS agent and that OSS had planted their agents throughout the government. (Appendix I, Page 28)
      And this was in..1943? Need I say more?

      The Park Report

      Parts 1 to 3:

      Appendix I (Page 1 to 10):

      Appendix I (Page 11 to 20):

      Appendix I (Page 21 to 30):

      Appendix I (Page 31 to 40):

      Appendix II:

      Appendix III:

      This should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t see what’s happening around this country.

      06/17/14 11:20 AM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      If you cannot read Arabic that’s your problem not all. Why you bother man this not for you.

      The site owner indeed he is Arabic speaker and reader as I believe there are many in US now knew Arabic more than you and others who kept deaf and blind just using bad words reflecting their attitude.

      Go do your homework and use the internet to translate what posted.

      Don’t swear , behave yourself and respect this the site and its readers.

      06/17/14 10:02 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      I don’t read Arabic but comments in all languages are welcome. Be respectful and not boring at all times please.

      06/17/14 10:07 PM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      06/17/14 10:06 PM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      Thank you wemeantwell, apologies, my guess was wrong.

      06/18/14 3:39 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      jhoover said..

      quote:”Don’t swear , behave yourself “unquote

      If you cannot stand swearing that’s your problem not all. Why you bother man this not for you.

      06/18/14 5:51 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      Peter said:
      “I don’t read Arabic but comments in all languages are welcome. Be respectful and not boring at all times please.”unquote

      How does one tell a foreign language post is boring.


      06/18/14 5:53 PM | Comment Link

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