U.S. experts reflect on strategic lessons from Iraq war

16:33, September 03, 2010      

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As the U.S. combat mission in Iraq officially ended Tuesday, U.S. experts are wondering what strategic lessons the United States has learnt from a conflict that cost thousands of American lives and, according to some estimates, a few trillion U.S. dollars.

One of the major blunders the United States made, the experts said, was falling into "mission creep" -- the expansion of a mission beyond its original objectives.

While U.S. troops succeeded in the missions they were given, military planners did not have any clear-cut goals.

While Washington initially aimed to unseat former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the mission changed from finding weapons of mass destruction to supporting a democracy, then to stopping the insurgency.

Such a scenario was what military thinkers such as Colin Power, author of the Powell Doctrine -- which holds that a force should go into war only with overwhelming force and a clearly defined objective -- sought to avoid.

"That should be the lesson for policy makers: do we have a clear mission, or are we just fumbling along?" said Kyle Spector, policy advisor for national security at Third Way.

The Iraq war will likely influence the decisions of future military planners: if faced with possibility of military action, they will think back to Iraq, he said.

U.S. experts say the war also demonstrated the U.S. military's effectiveness in conventional operations, as seen in the "shock and awe" campaign, when U.S. forces steamrolled into Baghdad and overthrew Saddam's government in a matter of weeks.

But despite the initial success, an insurgency arose even as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied its existence.

Critics said the lack of planning for the after effects of the invasion was one of the worst strategic blunders the United States has ever made.

Christopher A. Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, said there were plenty of warning signs that all would not go smoothly after the invasion.

"I'm a little frustrated by people saying we had no idea this would happen," he said. "Academics and scholars of nation building and post conflict reconstruction understood very well that the analogies to Japan and Germany after World War II were completely flawed."
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