Learning the Right Lessons from Iraq

In the “how did I miss this?” category:

Learning the Right Lessons from Iraq,” by Benjamin H. Friedman, Harvey Sapolsky and Christopher Preble, The Cato Institute, Policy Analysis no. 610, February 13, 2008.


The near-consensus view is wrong and dangerous. What Iraq demonstrates is a need for a new national security strategy, not better tactics and tools to serve the current one. By insisting that Iraq was ours to remake were it not for the Bush administration’s mismanagement, we ignore the limits on our power that the war exposes and in the process risk repeating our mistake …

The best way to promote American security is restraint — a wise and masterly inactivity in the face of most foreign disorder. We should resurrect the notion that the best way to spread democracy is to model it. Our ideology sells itself, especially when it is not introduced at gunpoint or during a lecture to the natives instructing them on how they ought to run their country.

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8 Responses to “Learning the Right Lessons from Iraq”

  1. Maxon 15 May 2008 at 7:19 pm 1

    Very refreshing.

    I’ve grown so sick to death of all the BS, the woulda, coulda,
    shoulda, more time, more troops, more money , the Iraqui
    security forces, and now we must attack Iran, Syria,
    and Pakistan. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

    Instead, Americans taking RFESPONIBILITY for who they elect
    and put in charge, and when they screw up, hold them

    As crazy as all that sounds.


  2. historian1944on 16 May 2008 at 5:57 am 2

    That excerpt reads a lot like William S. Lind’s articles on what he feels the grand strategy of the US should be. Maybe they’ve been reading his articles, too.

    I doubt that anyone in the current administration has read the excerpt above, since they don’t seem to be very keen on changing anything. When you can’t even get them to admit that they’ve actually read some of the justifications/grievances that bin Laden actually cites as his reasons for wanting to attack us, I have doubts that any discussions of proper future strategies for the US will change their perspective. On the Republican side, the only person who has consistently spoken out against this seeming love affair we’ve got with military force during the last eight years is Ron Paul, and he was ignored. Republicans largely voted in primaries for a guy who promises more war.

  3. Maxon 16 May 2008 at 11:34 am 3


    “I doubt that anyone in the current administration has read the excerpt above, since they don’t seem to be very keen on changing anything.”


    McCain: U.S. can win Iraq war by 2013 By Caren Bohan
    Thu May 15, 4:17 PM ET

    COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Thursday he believes the Iraq war can be won by 2013, leaving a functioning democracy there and allowing most U.S. troops to come home.

  4. historian1944on 16 May 2008 at 11:45 am 4


    I thought it was most interesting in his speech (though I’ve only read small excerpts of it, I haven’t managed the whole thing yet) that rather than invoking more patience for another “Friedman Unit” he’s asking now for four years of the same, and all will be just fine. I also noted that it seems that the alleged future peace in Iraq solves all of the world’s problems from terrorism to global warming to the die off of bee colonies in the US. I don’t think there’s anything that won’t be solved by peace in Iraq.

    Four more years of “turning corners”, killing or capturing the alleged senior leaders or lieutenants of senior leaders (the al Qaeda and insurgencies chains of command must only be two layers deep with head honcho on top and then everyone else equal below the amount of times we’ve killed senior leaders) making progress, and death throes of insurgency will probably be our undoing.

  5. Mycophagiston 16 May 2008 at 4:20 pm 5

    Gosh, you guys are certainly “sceptics.”

    May I point out that we’ve knocked off over 5000 members of Al Qadea, of which over 4000 have been “Second in Commands?”

    Law of averages tells me they are going to run out of leaders any day now.

    Have you noticed however that very few “Second in Command” Shi’te militia leaders have been killed?


  6. tedschanon 16 May 2008 at 10:47 pm 6

    Perhaps they aren’t affiliated with the Cato Institute, but wasn’t the Cato Institute hostile to Ron Paul’s candidacy?

  7. Fabius Maximuson 17 May 2008 at 7:47 pm 7

    Ah, the victory by body count. Or the new varient, victory thru the killing enough of the right folks. The fact that this has been a central plank of almost every post-WWII COIN — and that it seldom works for foreign occupiers — never seems to overcome the attraction of its simplicity and grace.


    “At an early intergovernmental meeting on the importance of psychological warfare, one of Harkins’ key staffmen, Brigadier General Gerald Kelleher, quickly dismissed that theory. His job, he said, was to kill Vietcong. But the French … had killed a lot of Vietcong and they had not won. “Didn’t kill enough Vietcong,” answered Kelleher.”

    From The Best and the Brightest.

    The usual script for foreign occupiers fighting local insurgents: kill lots of people, great kill ratio, lose local support, lose support at home, exit.

  8. Newjarheaddeanon 17 May 2008 at 9:09 pm 8


    There was a general it might have been Clark, who coined the phase “we need to adjust to fighting limited wars by minimum means for specific goals.

    And Aye show lots of restraint. However theres that other phase “and the beat goes on”

    “Fortitudine” (With fortitude)
    —The first motto of the Corps antedating the War of 1812.