If you remember, one of the initial justifications for the toppling of Saddam Hussein was the alleged collusion between his regime and al-Qa’eda. It is now clear that any links were tenuous and of no operational significance.

However, thanks to the sequence of events unleashed by the invasion, an offshoot of al-Qa’eda now controls much of Iraq, including oil fields, major cities, the border with Syria, key military bases and advanced weaponry. Not exactly ‘Mission Accomplished’, is it?

But don’t imagine that any of this is the fault of those who planned and executed the invasion. You see, it’s all on Barack Obama for leaving Iraq too early. Just a bit longer and the Iraqi Army would have been ready. Nasty old ISIS wouldn’t have had a chance!

Obviously, that’s complete rubbish – the self-justification of war hawks who can never spill enough blood or waste enough money. The truth of the situation is set out in a damning article by Kelley Vlahos for the American Conservative:

“All told, reports over the last month suggest that several Iraqi divisions—there were 14 to start—have just evaporated (American officials prefer to say they’re ‘combat ineffective’) since ISIS began its current march across Iraq. According to a military source quoted in the New York Times in June, 60 out of 243 Iraqi combat battalions ‘cannot not be accounted for and all of their equipment is lost.’”

If you wandered how ISIS got hold of the tanks and other heavy weapons it’s using to assault towns like Kobane, the answer is from Iraqi army bases left open like sweet shops.

Anyone who thinks the effort to secure Iraq has been half-hearted might like to note that America alone has spent $25 billion on training and equipping the country’s security forces:

“In May 2010, according to the Pentagon’s mandated report to Congress, there were approximately 666,500 security force personnel in Iraq. When the U.S. finally left Iraq in 2011, there were supposedly 930,000, including a 200,000-strong army.”

How can such a vast effort have counted for so little? As Vlahos reminds us, “ISIS, at the most, has 50,000 stateless fighters spread between Iraq and Syria.” 

(They’ve yet to march on Baghdad, but it’s less the official security forces putting them off and more the idea of having to hold a large urban area against Iranian-backed Shiite militias.)

The attempt to scapegoat Obama relies on the assumption that a good job was left unfinished. But the author argues that the project was doomed from the start. Consider, for instance, the scale and extent of corruption:

“Commands were bought and sold, and subordinates were fleeced. According to a recent interview with author Patrick Cockburn, the going rate for a colonel’s position in the army is $200,000—$2,000,000 to be a division commander. Then one spends the rest of the time demanding grease from everyone else.”

Never has the old adage about the direction of decomposition in a fish been more apt.

Other factors include the sectarianism of the Iraqi government; the failure to prepare tactically for a highly-adaptable, cross-border enemy; and, above all, the insanity of trying to create a centralised, western-style army in a fractured, non-western society:

“The technology, the logistics, the modern air power, the intelligence—were and are all foreign to them. U.S. trainers come and go on short rotations, and there is no consistency, no ability to learn the foreign culture and understand the gaps.”

If history teaches us anything it is that war is a messy and complex business. And yet some people – including many with the effrontery to call themselves conservatives – persist with simplistic justifications, simplistic strategies and simplistic excuses for when it all goes wrong.

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