The Lessons of Iraq, Gates-style

Robert M. Gates, the man slated to fill the “stuff happens” combat boots of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, offered his first cautious pass at the lessons of the Iraq War this week. In a questionnaire he filled out for the Senate Armed Services Committee in preparation for his upcoming confirmation hearings, he responded to a query about what he would have done differently with the following, according to the Associated Press:

“‘War planning should be done with the understanding that post-major combat phase of operations can be crucial,’ Gates said in a 65-page written response submitted to the committee Tuesday. ‘If confirmed, I intend to improve the department’s capabilities in this area…With the advantage of hindsight, I might have done some things differently.'”

With the advantage of “hindsight”… hmmm.

So, let’s see if we can get this straight: With hindsight, his lesson would be that, in the next Iraq-style invasion and occupation, we should focus more on that “post-major combat phase” – a nice phrase that resonates with our President’s famed “mission accomplished” moment on May 1, 2003 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, when he announced that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

Of course, by then, a lot of “stuff” had already happened and Baghdad, as well as much of the rest of Iraq had been thoroughly looted. But assumedly the new Secretary of Defense has learned his lesson: More troops for the occupation, more well-trained US MPs for the streets, a few people who actually speak the language of whatever invaded countries we might end up in, and maybe a good strongman in our pocket, not to speak of an undisbanded army of well-trained locals to keep him and us company.

It’s so early in the “withdrawal” game and yet Gates’ sad answer sums up the sad state of what passes for debate right now in the mainstream, including among the members of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group.

Of course, there’s only one lesson of the Iraq War to start with, the sort of lesson that parents tell kids every day: Don’t do it!

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Secretary of Defense who, having absorbed the lessons of this war, would begin planning to do no planning for future invasions of Iraq-like countries, not to speak of the post-major combat phases of such invasions. But we might as well wish for the confirmation of Tinkerbell.

Cross-posted from The Nation blog. Visit TomDispatch for more Tom Engelhardt.