Thursday, March 14, 2019

U.S. Government Continues To Try To Forget About The Iraq War

(Stars and Stripes)

Colonel Frank Sobchak one of the co-authors of the recently published U.S. Army history of the Iraq War wrote a piece saying that the military is attempting to forget the lessons learned from the conflict. That should come as no surprise as the armed forces and State Department were trying to put Iraq behind them even while the war was still going on.

Colonel Sobchak wrote in Defense One that senior military officers have moved on from Iraq. They are focusing instead upon conventional warfare against potential rivals such as Russia and China. The U.S. Army was even resistant to publishing its own history of the Iraq War. As a result, it wasn’t released until 2019 even though it was finished in 2016. A Colonel in the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army’s office told Sobchak that the report was not being published because it didn’t fit the doctrine the military was pushing. To Sobchak this reminded him of what happened after Vietnam when the military fought a multi-year counterinsurgency war, and then tried to put it behind it as quickly as possible to go back to Cold War thinking and a possible Soviet invasion through central Europe.

Sobchak’s experience is nothing new as the armed forces and State Department were trying to forget about Iraq while the war was on going. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War that the armed services all thought that Iraq was an aberration and the U.S. would not fight that kind of war again. That meant that the military was even ignoring the threats its forces were facing in Iraq. For instance, IEDs were a major problem in Iraq, and a mine resistant vehicle had been developed, but it was floundering because it didn’t fit into the conventional war theory of the army. Secretary Gates had to push the vehicle through the bureaucracy to get it into production where it proved a lifesaver. Gates was taken aback that the military was more interested in getting new aircraft carriers and fighter jets than weapons systems that were actually needed for an on going war. Like Sobchak Gates was worried that the armed forces would forget all the lessons learned from Iraq because they were more interested in conventional warfare. Professor James Savage found the same approach at the State Department. In 2010 for instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a review on diplomacy which said that Iraq was not a model for how the State Department should view conflicts. That also allowed the United States Agency for International Development (USAD) to not assesses how it did in Iraq. The problem Sobchak pointed out therefore had been prevalent within the U.S. military and government for years beforehand.

For decades now the United States has been involved in peace keeping and low intensity wars from Vietnam to Lebanon to Haiti to the former Yugoslavia to Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite this huge experience the bureaucracy and leadership at the Pentagon and State has consistently tried to deny that is what America will have to deal with in the future. The result is that the U.S. goes into each situation having no institutional knowledge of what worked and what didn’t in the last deployment to a foreign country. That means a huge waste of time, money and too often lives that could have been avoided if Washington accepted the world as it is rather than the world they want to see.


Gates, Robert, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, New York: Vintage Books, 2014

Sobchak, Frank, “The US Army Is Trying to Bury the Lessons of the Iraq War,” Defense One, 3/8/19

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