Rusty Shackleford thinks that we should speak of two wars in Iraq:
There was a war in Iraq and there is a war in Iraq. In fact, we’ve had two wars in Iraq: Iraq War I & Iraq War II. The war now is not the same as that war. The first war in Iraq was against Saddam Hussein, the second war is against Islamists of various stripes, but mainly al Qaeda.
All would agree that the invasion liberated Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. That was the First Iraq War.** It ended the day Saddam Hussein was captured. . . The vacuum left by the Baathist police state was filled by yet another tyranny: the tyranny of Sunni Islamists, like al Qaeda; and the tyranny of Shia Islamists, like those following Muqtada al Sadr. This is when the Second Iraq War started.
The first war was against Iraq, a nation-state. The second war is against terrorists and Islamist rebels.
Then he makes his point:
Failing to see the two war distinction is critical. From Obama we hear that he was “against the war” from the beginning. From Clinton we hear that she “changed her mind on the war sometime after she realized that the war was a mistake.”
Continuing to allow politicians to criticize the war in Iraq by criticizing the decision to topple the Hussein regime is to allow them to conflate two very separate issues: 1) should we have invaded Iraq? 2) should we now give up fighting al Qaeda and anti-government Islamist elements in Iraq?
Answering no to question number one says nothing about how question two should be answered. Nothing.
The Second Iraq War may have been of our own making, but it is the very war the Democrats say they want to fight: a war against terrorists.
I appreciate his point, but I see things a little differently. What we are looking at is two campaigns in one theater, as part of a larger war. During World War 2, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the US immediately entered the Pacific theater. After a year’s delay, the US Army landed in the North African theater. Their first campaign was against (Vichy) French forces in Morocco and Algeria. France folded quickly, and a second campaign against Germany and Italy began.
In the Global War on Terror, the US (almost) immediately entered the Afghan theater. After a year-and-a-half delay, the US entered the Iraqi theater, where we fought our first campaign against Saddam, and our second campaign against Al Qaeda et al.
The two wars (WW2 and the GWOT) are not very similar. WW2 was primarily a conventional war, while the GWOT has focused more on counter-insurgency. In Iraq we expected a difficult fight against Saddam and followed by an easy terrorist mop-up. In North Africa we expected a tough fight against Germany, but didn’t expect to have to fight France first at all. Moreover, the Axis and the Islamists are very different enemies.
Still, there are some similarities. Expectations aside, what we actually encountered in both North Africa and Iraq was an easy initial invasion followed by a long, brutal conflict against our primary enemy. Moreover, both theaters — North Africa and Iraq — were seen by many as a distraction.
In WW2, American generals favored an immediate invasion of Europe, while Churchill favored fighting in North Africa first. Roosevelt sided with Churchill, and it proved to be the correct decision. We faced some serious reverses, but ultimately prevailed. Even in the darkest days — much less when we closed in on Tunis — no one said we should pull out of Africa and abandon our allies. That would have stupid. Of course, in WW2 everyone wanted to win.