The lazy story of the Iraq War is that nobody expected it.
Nobody thought it would be so unpopular. Nobody thought it would cause so much division in this country. Nobody thought it would cause so much of the world to condemn us.
But leaders are not supposed to be nobodies. They’re supposed to know things.
We ought to have known that going into Iraq would lack the world support that President Bush’s father enjoyed in the Persian Gulf War. It was clear as early as December of 2001 that going into Iraq would “forfeit” the global support we enjoyed in the weeks after September 11. It would mean “a hard division” here at home. I just came across those assessments I made back then as a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle:
“By the late summer of 2002, even before Congress voted to authorize the Iraq War, a Washington Post poll showed that division beginning to show itself. Asked whether they supported war if it would involve “significant casualties,” 51 percent, said “no.” Okay, we were fifty-fifty on the war even six months before the shooting started.”
People like to say on this fourth anniversary of the war that we never thought it would this bloody. But in the Aug. 25, 2002, column where I quoted this poll number, I painted a vivid scenario of what would follow after the promised “cake walk” of the actual invasion.
“Our troops in Baghdad morph into a constabulary force. Their mission: guard streets, shoot snipers, arrest the suspicious, keep order, find the Hussein loyalists, round up the members of his ruling party, root out plots, battle the terrorists.”
The way our enemies in the Islamic world would exploit our occupation of Iraq was equally predictable.
“A mission to attack one isolated enemy will end up isolating us. A mission justified by the fight with terrorism will give birth to millions of terrorist-supporting haters. In every café from Manila to Casablanca, just whom do you think they will be rooting for? Just whom will their kids be killing themselves for?”
We Americans have lost over 3,000 of our young people. 24,000 have been wounded. One estimate by Johns Hopkins University has the count at 139,000 Iraqis dead in this war.
What part of this was hard to predict? That an invaded country would resent, resist and finally fight the invader? That the Shia would fight the Sunni? That America would not end up taking the blame?
It was all predictable.