Guess who thought that conquering Iraq would lead to a quagmire?

It turns out that at least one highly intelligent player in the national security world accurately predicted the disaster in Iraq more than a decade before it happened. Try to guess who what prescient thinker might have been. No fair peeking, now!

I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we’d have had to hunt him down. And once we’d done that and we’d gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we’d have had to put another government in its place.

What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi’i government or a Kurdish government or Ba’athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it’s my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.

(Thanks to reader Michael Connolly for the pointer.)

I should note my own lack of prescience. Not only was I reluctantly in favor of war this time (on the WMD argument and because of the high human cost of the sanctions regime) I still have my Saddam Hussein Still Has a Job. How About You? lapel button from the 1992 campaign. But if I were, say, Howard Dean, I’d be pretty annoyed at my speechwriters for not having found, and then pounded on, this quote.

As for now, the question “How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?” seems to have a very special relevance.

Note that Mort Halperin, who’s much smarter about this stuff than Dick Cheney (or the undersigned), thinks the answer from here has to be “some casulaties.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: