The Smartest Thing Said Yet About Iraqi Withdrawal

Conor Friedersdorf explains to the neo-cons who have yet to meet an invasion they didn’t love that the argument that leaving Iraq strengthens Iran’s influence in the region is an argument against intervention in the first place:

On Jennifer Rubin’s page at The Washington Post, the Iraq war supporter wrote a post today that she teased on Twitter by writing, “WHO KNEW Iran would be emboldened and allies freaked on US withdrawal from Iraq? Oh, everyone on the right…” Her item proceeds to argue that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can issue idle threats, warning Iran not to ‘miscalculate’ our devotion to the region, but perhaps it is the Obama team that has once again miscalculated. This was precisely the reaction that critics of the complete troop withdrawal anticipated.”

If only these “critics of withdrawal” had anticipated the inevitability of Iran’s ascendance before they called for the invasion of Iraq. As Malou Innocent patiently explains, “No amount of prewar planning or ‘boots on the ground’ could have prevented the Islamic Republic’s political push into a neighboring country with a 60 percent Shiite majority. The removal of Saddam Hussein as the principal strategic counterweight to Iran paved the way for the expansion of Iranian influence in Iraq, and has enabled Tehran to back, with far greater impunity, its political allies in Baghdad. Even before 9/11, Iran possessed a budding nuclear program, the region’s largest population, an expansive ballistic-missile arsenal, and significant influence over the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. By adding to that list enhanced political influence in Iraq, Iran can be somewhat more assertive geo-politically in the region, further limiting US policy options.” …

The U.S. was always going to leave Iraq eventually, and Iran was always going to exert more influence on the region as a result. What writers like Rubin fail to understand is that, if the war you advocate requires for its success the indefinite deployment of U.S. troops, you’ve advocated a failed war. The American people have never and will never agree to a perpetual war of choice that costs billions of dollars each year and results in the ongoing death of American troops — especially if its proponents suggest before it begins that it will be a cakewalk costing $50 to $60 billion. That’s hardly a difficult lesson, but neoconservatives still haven’t learned it.

Those quotes from Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz about how the Iraq was going to be a quick victory that would pay for itself should be written on their tombstones. Remember that when Erik Shinseki testified to Congress before the invasion that the war would require 150,000 troops or more and cost a couple hundred billion dollars, Wolfowitz declared that he was “wildly off the mark.” And then they pushed him into early retirement. Turns out he was, in fact, wildly off the mark — he was off by more than a trillion dollars.

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  • slc1

    For those who like to blame the Iraq adventure on Israel, it is noteworthy that that Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aide, reported that when he and the Secretary briefed then Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on the US plans for an invasion, the latter advised against the invasion on the vary grounds cited here, that the result would be an increase in Iranian influence in the area. Of course, by that time, the administration wasn’t interested in any advice contrary to their desires.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Those quotes from Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz about how the Iraq was going to be a quick victory that would pay for itself should be written on their tombstones their jail cells.

    And soon!

  • dingojack

    This from the guy who avocates dropping “a few 15 Megaton nuclear missiles on Iran” to solve the intractable Middle-Easterm problems. (Despite any fall-out (pardon the pun) that might cause to the world in general).

    You opinion is noted and filed – under ‘crackpot’


  • slc1

    Re Dingojack @ #3

    Hey, I’m just quoting Colonel Wilkerson who has, to my knowledge, not advocated bombing Iran (in fact, it is my information that he opposes such an action).

  • dochopper

    We are in world of folks who believe they are smarter than those who are educated in and have reasoned the way thru issues.

    They weren’t and the middle east mess is proof of what happens when.. Well we all know what happened.

    Experts even said what would happen.

    And now according to some it was our defeatist notions and thoughts that have caused it to happen.

    All to often they compound the problem by deflecting information collection that might solve the problem as Part of others wanting to BLAME GAME someone (THEM) for the mess they have gotten themselves in the first place.

  • Iraq was based on the “domino theory” – a theory which, well, turned out to be wrong in Indochina. Therefore, it would be right when it went the other direction in the middle east. Got that?

  • dingojack

    SLC – I never meant to imply Gen. Wilkerson (or the Israelis) were idiots*. – Dingo


    * or evil

  • Modusoperandi

    This Iraqi government is proving awfully meddlesome. We should contact the CIA about tipping it over and replacing it with a suitable pliant strongman.

  • arthurhunt

    One way to explain the hypocrisy:

    Suppose that, in Jan. 1980, Jimmy Carter cut the following deal with Iran: In exchange for the US hostages, the USA will invade Iraq, depose Saddam, destroy Iraq’s military, and give Iran de facto political control over much of Iraq. Is it possible to imagine the uproar from conservative circles (heck, from everyone)?

    Well, that’s essentially the deal GWB cut with Iran. BUT – the USA didn’t get anything in return. And the supporters of GWB et al. think this was a good outcome.

    There are not enough faces and palms….

  • @modusoperandi – please don’t even joke about that. That’s too truthy.

  • drlake

    On Shinseki, more to the point is his analysis that pacifying Iraq would require a half million troops. That was the truly unacceptable part of his testimony. Funny how we finally started seeing progress around 2008, when the total of US troops, British troops, Iraqi troops, and contractors exceeded a half million…

  • Modusoperandi

    Marcus Ranum, sheesh, I didn’t even mention bringing over some of their officers to train in the School of the Americas.

  • @Modusoperandi – I know. (gloom)

  • For those who like to blame the Iraq adventure on Israel…

    No, we’re not blaming the Iraq adventure on Israel — we’re blaming it on a certain faction of Americans who think they’re supporting Israel whether it’s good for Israel or not.

  • I don’t think, and never even implied, that the invasion of Iraq had anything at all to do with Israel.

  • Azkyroth

    I don’t think, and never even implied, that the invasion of Iraq had anything at all to do with Israel.

    Well, yes, but when all you have is the IQ of a hammer…

  • slc1

    Re Ed Brayton @ #15

    In no way, shape, form, or regard was I implying that our distinguished blogmaster blamed Israel or, more accurately, the Government of Israel for our Iraq misadventure.

    However, I can guarantee that a number of commentators, mainly on the left side of the political spectrum, have pointed the finger in that direction. My point, which seems to have gotten lost, is that, far from encouraging the Iraq misadventure, the Government of Israel, in the person of it’s prime minster, actually advised against it for the very reason that Mr. Friedersdorf cited, and his advice was disregarded.

    Re Raging Bee @ #14

    Here I would agree with Mr. Bee that the neocons, at least in this instance, were at odds with the position of the Government of Israel, demonstrating that they don’t take their marching orders from that government.

  • Aquaria

    My point, which seems to have gotten lost, is that, far from encouraging the Iraq misadventure, the Government of Israel, in the person of it’s prime minster, actually advised against it for the very reason that Mr. Friedersdorf cited, and his advice was disregarded.

    11/03/2002 – Updated 09:41 PM ET

    Israel reportedly helping with U.S. war preparation

    By John Diamond, USA TODAY

    WASHINGTON — Israel is secretly playing a key role in U.S. preparations for possible war with Iraq, helping to train soldiers and Marines for urban warfare, conducting clandestine surveillance missions in the western Iraqi desert and allowing the United States to place combat supplies in Israel, according to U.S. Defense and intelligence officials.

    The activities are designed to help shorten any war with Iraq and keep Israel out of it. But working with Israel on the war effort is highly sensitive. It could undercut already shaky support for an invasion among friendly Arab states.

    Because Israel’s activities are classified, they have drawn little attention or criticism in the Middle East. “The Americans have asked us to keep a low profile, and we accept that,” an Israeli official says.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, members of the Bush administration, intelligence officials and diplomats described Israel’s involvement:

    * Israeli commandos, using their own satellite intelligence and imagery provided by U.S. intelligence services, have conducted clandestine surveillance missions of Scud missile sites in western Iraq, according to the intelligence official and a senior Pentagon official.

    You were saying?

  • Aquaria

    The spies who pushed for war

    Julian Borger

    The Guardian, Thursday 17 July 2003 03.45 EDT

    Democratic congressman David Obey, who is investigating the OSP, said: “That office was charged with collecting, vetting and disseminating intelligence completely outside of the normal intelligence apparatus. In fact, it appears that information collected by this office was in some instances not even shared with established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the national security council and the president without having been vetted with anyone other than political appointees.”

    The OSP was an open and largely unfiltered conduit to the White House not only for the Iraqi opposition. It also forged close ties to a parallel, ad hoc intelligence operation inside Ariel Sharon’s office in Israel specifically to bypass Mossad and provide the Bush administration with more alarmist reports on Saddam’s Iraq than Mossad was prepared to authorise.

    “None of the Israelis who came were cleared into the Pentagon through normal channels,” said one source familiar with the visits. Instead, they were waved in on Mr Feith’s authority without having to fill in the usual forms.

    The exchange of information continued a long-standing relationship Mr Feith and other Washington neo-conservatives had with Israel’s Likud party.

    In 1996, he and Richard Perle – now an influential Pentagon figure – served as advisers to the then Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu. In a policy paper they wrote, entitled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, the two advisers said that Saddam would have to be destroyed, and Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran would have to be overthrown or destabilised, for Israel to be truly safe.

    The Israeli influence was revealed most clearly by a story floated by unnamed senior US officials in the American press, suggesting the reason that no banned weapons had been found in Iraq was that they had been smuggled into Syria. Intelligence sources say that the story came from the office of the Israeli prime minister.

    Now why would the Israeli prime minister do all this if he thought the war was a bad idea…?

  • Aquaria
  • slc1

    Re Aquaria @ #18 & #19

    Hey, I’m only reporting what Lawrence Wilkerson said about what he was told by then Prime Minister Sharon, in the presence, by the way, of Secretary of State Powell. I suspect that what happened was that when it was made clear that the US was going ahead with the proposed invasion despite the prime minister’s misgivings, he and his government fell into line, supporting their pal, Dubya, much as Tony Blair did.

    If Ms. Aquaria has a problem, take it up with the colonel, not with me, who, as I recall, appeared on Rachael Maddow’s program and said the same thing. Since Colonel Wilkerson is not known for being in Israel’s pocket, I fail to see what his motive would be to lie about it in an effort to whitewash that country and its government.

    By the way, I don’t consider the Guardian to be a reliable source of information about Israel as it and the BBC are the biggest Israel bashers amongst the media in Britain. On the subject of Israel, the Guardian is about as reliable as Pravda was in the former Soviet Union.

  • imthegenieicandoanything

    The definition of a “conservative” is: someone who refuses to learn from experience, unless personally harmed.

    The definition of a “neo-conservative” is: someone who was, has been, is, and will always be correct, with anything less of perfection being the fault of incompetent allies or secret saboteurs. “Learning”? Pfft!!! They know more than God himself, so shut up.

    Hope lucky I am to move in social circles that are unlikely to ever force me to listen to one of these neo-hollow men. As the King warned Wormtongue in TLOTR, I would not be merciful.

  • d cwilson

    Indefinite deployment of American troops in the Middle East is itself the goal of the neocon mindset. Their dream is to have our troops occupying the region until the last drop of oil is pumped out of the ground. The wishes or interests of the people living there are irrelevant to their way of thinking, as are the lives of the troops themselves. Anything that leads to fewer troops on the ground there is viewed as a defeat by them.

  • @ Marcus Ranum:

    Iraq was based on the “domino theory”

    A fact often forgotten when Neo-cons continue to tell us what a good idea the invasion was. Iraq was to be a beacon a freedom that would make tricorn hats, NASCAR and the 4th of July, big hits across the Arab Middle East.

  • Modusoperandi

    Dr X, don’t you love your country? Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win? Son, all I’ve ever asked of my marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over.

  • mathilde

    Re: Israel’s influence on the American decision to go to war in Iraq

    Scott McConnell: The Special Relationship with Israel: Is It Worth the Costs?

    Middle East Policy Journal

    Winter 2010, Volume XVII, Number 4

    Excerpt (p. 5, my boldening, footnotes removed):

    […] While America’s freely elected leaders bear the ultimate responsibility for the decision to invade Iraq, it should not be forgotten that Israeli officials were pressing for the invasion every step of the way, giving speeches before Congress, writing op-eds, appearing on television.

    Let us note some of these urgings, which are but a fraction of those documented in Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s The Israel Lobby. Netanyahu warned Washington Post editors of Saddam’s supposed nuclear-weapons program in April 2002, and Sharon’s spokesman Raanan Gissen touted the Saddam nuclear threat a week later. The following month, Shimon Peres said on CNN that Saddam was as “dangerous as Bin Laden” and told Americans they “cannot sit and wait.” Later that spring, Ehud Barak warned Washington Post readers to remove Saddam “first of all,” and in August, Sharon told the Knesset that Saddam was “the greatest danger facing Israel.” When Vice President Cheney kicked off the go-to-war campaign in August of that year, many newspapers reported that Israel was urging America not to delay. Peres repeated the “don’t delay” message on CNN later that month.

    Meanwhile, American networks reported that “Israeli intelligence” was warning that Saddam was “speeding up” his WMD programs. In the run-up to the war, Prime Minister Sharon stated, “Strategic coordination between Israel and the U.S. has reached unprecedented dimensions.” In September, Barak told New York Times readers that the United States needed to hurry up with the war, adding, “I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre-emptive strike against Saddam’s regime.” In the winter of 2003, the press was full of reports of Israeli concern that diplomacy might delay the attacks. While mass antiwar protests broke out across Europe, there were none in Israel, where 77.5 percent of Israeli Jews said they wanted the United States to invade Iraq. The Israeli columnist Gideon Levy concluded, “Israel is the only country in the West whose leaders support the war unreservedly and where no alternative opinion is voiced.”

    The Israeli support for the war would not, in itself, be decisive in pushing the president to order the attack, but deference to Israeli sensibilities is what is unique about the special relationship. When Israelis talk, Americans listen. When Israelis want to circulate their views, they have an access to the opinion pages of elite newspapers and slots on network news shows that leaders of no other foreign country can dream of. Several of America’s European and Arab allies objected cogently and clearly to the idea of attacking Iraq. If Israeli leaders had voiced similar sentiments, it is inconceivable the invasion would have taken place.

  • slc1

    Re mathilde @ #26

    Several of America’s European and Arab allies objected cogently and clearly to the idea of attacking Iraq. If Israeli leaders had voiced similar sentiments, it is inconceivable the invasion would have taken place.

    Apparently, Mr/Ms mathilde is claiming that Lawrence Wilkerson is a liar. I don’t give a flying fuck what appeared in newspaper articles or public comments by various Israeli officials. Wilkerson says that then Prime Minister Sharon told him and Secretary of State Powell that the proposed invasion of Iraq was a bad idea as it would increase Iranian influence in the Middle East. It is my information that all these articles and comments appeared after the briefing given by Powell and Wilkerson to Sharon and therefore only supports my contention that the Government of Israel and its spokesmen fell into line, just like Tony Blair.

    By the way, Mr. McConnell does his position no favors by citing the pack of lies written by antisemitic professors Walt and Mearsheimer. More recently, Prof. Mearsheimer has shown his true colors by endorsing a vicious antisemitic screed written by a piece of filth named Gilad Atzmon. This caused even Andrew Sullivan, a strong critic of the current Government of Israel in general and Bibi Netanyahu in particular, to call him out. Prof. Mearsheimer has gotten into the pen with the pigs and can’t complain about the coating of mud which he has emerged.

  • dingojack

    SLC – So Wilkerson claims that Sharon said this before April 2002, correct? When exactly did this supposedly happen? What other corroborating evidence do we have of these remarks? What are the primary source(s) documenting Wilkerson’s claims? Can we be sure Sharon wasn’t playing politics?

    Lots of questions, any answers?


  • dingojack

    SLC – oh and by the way, no matter what Professors Walt and Mearsheimer may or may not endorse, that doesn’t make their reporting of other matters necessarily wrong. It takes counter-argument and fact-checking, not mere ad hominem to prove that.


  • Michael Heath

    slc writes:

    Here I would agree with Mr. Bee that the neocons, at least in this instance, were at odds with the position of the Government of Israel, demonstrating that they don’t take their marching orders from that government.

    One mere point of disagreement on such a complex topic in no way demonstrates one ideological group, “doesn’t take marching orders” from another. Especially where Israel was at best a peripheral, less than primary factor.

  • slc1

    Re Dingojack @ #28

    Well, Sharon is in no condition at the present time to corroborate Colonel Wilkerson’s claim and Peres, Barak, and Netanyahu weren’t in the room when this conversation took place.

  • Michael I


    From the “Jerusalem Dispatch” article by Yossi Klein Halevi in the September 30, 2002 issue of The New Republic. Main thrust of article is that the Israeli’s primary concern tends to be Iran. However:

    “No one here is suggesting that Washington not push ahead with its war against Saddam. In a recent Ma’ariv poll, some 57 percent of Israelis supported an American strike against Iraq, even though Israelis may well pay the heaviest price for that attack. And Ariel Sharon has always seen Baghdad as the greatest threat notes a source close to the prime minister”

    “What’s more, Sharon and Shimon Peres are convinced that toppling Saddam will transform the Middle East and offer Israel new strategic opportunities, perhaps even new negotiating partners. Some in the Israeli government believe Saddam’s fall will have a domino effect on the region’s radical regimes, including Iran; others say that even if regime change in Baghdad doesn’t topple the Iranian mullahs, they’ll find themselves trapped by a ring of pro-American regimes.”

    (Note that TNR, a VERY pro-Israeli publication was consistently firmly in favor of the Iraq war during the leadup to the invasion. And I don’t remember any hint in any of its coverage that any substantial faction within the Israeli government actually opposed the war during that period.)

  • Michael I

    One additional note.

    If the Israeli government really was opposed to the Iraq war they were spectacularly and unbelievably incompetent at letting this be known.

    I do not see any reasonable way to look at how the debate over invading Iraq really played out and still conclude that the Israeli government actually opposed the invasion.

  • jesse

    You are all speaking as if the various positions here are mutually exclusive

    It’s certainly possible that the following or some combination thereof happened:

    — The Israeli government — at least the elected officials — were not happy with the idea of the US invading Iraq. But when it looked like the US was going to do it anyway, they went ahead with it.

    — It’s also possible Sharon was giving Wilkerson a song and dance. In this case Wilkerson would not be a liar (possible also) but misinformed

    — There could certainly be opposing strains within the Israeli government, with the military and intelligence branches simply deciding to disregard the elected ones. Wouldn’t be the first time that has happened anywhere.

    — The Israelis always wanted to get rid of Saddam — not a whacko idea, after all — and were looking for a plausible deniability method. Dubya’s war was simply too good an opportunity to pass up, so they went with it.

    Also, look, SLC, there are real reasons to criticize Israeli policy. As a Jew I don’t think my claim to the land anywhere in the current Israel/Palestine has any merit whatsoever. My family hasn’t lived there, and it’s been 2,000 years since anyone remotely related to me did. I don’t think Israeli Jews are in any way superior to other people around there. I don’t think denying rights to thousands of people because awful things happened to you is a way to deal with it, and I don’t think it’s good for the Jewish people as a whole. If there was some country that forced a chunk of the population to live in cantons and denied them basic human rights I’d be ticked, and I don’t care if they look anything like me.

    That doesn’t make me an anti-semite, any more than criticizing the Saudi government makes you anti-Muslim.

    (It might also interest you to know that Richard Lewontin mentions in his book “It Ain’t Necessarily So” that Israeli Jews are, from a genetic perspective, more closely related to the Palestinians than the latter are to any Arab group, which gives lie to both versions of the empty land narrative. But I guess that makes him an anti-Semite).

  • SLC: Can you cite any reliable source reporting any high Israeli official — as in, Ambassador or higher — publicly stating, in no uncertain terms, that an Iraq invasion would be bad for Israel and/or a bad idea in general? If the country that speaks with such a powerful voice in American politics had really not wanted us to start a whole new war of aggression, I’m sure you’d have no problem finding the cite I’m asking for.

    Also, if Israel really didn’t want us to invade Iraq, they did a pretty shitty job of getting that memo out to all the rabidly-pro-Israel Republicans and neocons who howled for war without a trace of thought or uncertainty. NONE of those staunch defenders of Israel seem to have got a hint that the country they love didn’t want that war.

    I don’t think SLC will have any answer here. He certainly did a major one-eighty as soon as Aquaria posted those articles. Not that I was expecting honesty from the guy who advocates unlimited Israeli settlement growth and drools uncontrollably every time he hears the phrase “Hama rules.”

  • dingojack

    Jesse – “– It’s also possible Sharon was giving Wilkerson a song and dance. In this case Wilkerson would not be a liar (possible also) but misinformed”

    Well that’s a lot more direct than what I said, but that was the idea I was going for when I said ‘playing politics’.

    It is possible than Sharon was simply telling Powell what he thought Powell wanted to hear. It could be that Sharon was keeping Powell ‘out of the loop’, as much as Cheney et al. were, on the current thinking within their governments. It could be all sorts of things, we simply don’t know.

    Col. Wilerson’s recollection of a meeting held at some indefinate time, held between two parties who, respectively, cannot and will not confirm or deny them, tends to lead to some skepicism about the claim.


  • “For those who like to blame the Iraq adventure on Israel…”

    Huh? Who ever said such a thing? Even if Israel lobbied hard for the US invasion, and I’m not aware that they did, Israeli desires do not trump the legal authority of the President and Congress. Even if they launched the invasion purely to placate Israel, it just underscores the deficiencies in their decision-making.