The Atlantic Online | October 2004 | Bush’s Lost Year | James Fallows:
Bush’s Lost Year
By deciding to invade Iraq, the Bush Administration decided not to do many other things: not to reconstruct Afghanistan, not to deal with the threats posed by North Korea and Iran, and not to wage an effective war on terror. An inventory of opportunities lost
A lengthy excerpt is here, if you’re not a subscriber.
* Because of outlays for Iraq, the United States cannot spend $150 billion for other defensive purposes….
* “Are we better off in basic security than before we invaded Iraq?” asks Jeffrey Record, a professor of strategy at the Air War College and the author of the recent Dark Victory, a book about the Iraq War. “The answer is no. An unnecessary war has consumed American Army and other ground resources, to the point where we have nothing left in the cupboard for another contingency—for instance, should the North Koreans decide that with the Americans completely absorbed in Iraq, now is the time to do something.”…
* “We’re really in dire straits with resourcing,” [an army officer] said. “There’s not enough armor for Humvees. There’s not enough fifty-caliber machine guns for the Hundred and First Airborne or the Tenth Mountain Division. A country that can’t field heavy machine guns for its army—there’s something wrong with the way we’re doing business.”…
* To govern is to choose, and the choices made in 2002 were fateful. The United States began that year… with tremendous strategic advantages…. World opinion was strongly sympathetic. Longtime allies were eager to help; longtime antagonists were silent. The federal budget was nearly in balance, making ambitious projects feasible. The U.S. military was superbly equipped, trained, and prepared. An immediate foe was evident—and vulnerable—in Afghanistan. For the longer-term effort against Islamic extremism the Administration could draw on a mature school of thought from academics, regional specialists, and its own intelligence agencies. All that was required was to think broadly about the threats to the country, and creatively about the responses. . . . . . The Bush Administration chose another path. Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq. It hampered the campaign in Afghanistan before fighting began and wound it down prematurely, along the way losing the chance to capture Osama bin Laden. It turned a blind eye to misdeeds in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and to WMD threats from North Korea and Iran far more serious than any posed by Saddam Hussein, all in the name of moving toward a showdown with Iraq. It overused and wore out its army in invading Iraq—without committing enough troops for a successful occupation. It saddled the United States with ongoing costs that dwarf its spending for domestic security. And by every available measure it only worsened the risk of future terrorism. In every sense 2002 was a lost year.