Mattis says Iraq war was strategic mistake

Business Insider:
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Defence Secretary called the invasion of Iraq a “strategic mistake” at a conference last year, in an audio recording obtained by The Intercept.

In a wide-ranging speech at an ASIS International Conference in Anaheim, California that covered everything from Iran, ISIS, and other national security hotspots, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis told attendees: “We will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, a strategic mistake.”

The assertion is not particularly controversial, given the faulty intelligence that led to the invasion, the many missteps afterward, and the unravelling of a country that eventually gave birth to the terrorist group ISIS.

But it is interesting as it’s the first known instance of Mattis portraying the invasion in a negative light, especially given his leadership of 1st Marine Division in 2003, which he led across the border and, eventually, into Baghdad.

“I think people were pretty much aware that the US military didn’t think it was a very wise idea,” he said. “But we give a cheery ‘Aye aye, Sir.’ Because when you elect someone commander in chief — we give our advice. We generally give it in private.”
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He was asked specifically about whether there was a scenario in which he may have retired in protest during a talk in San Francisco in April 2014. Mattis allowed some unethical orders and other scenarios that would lead him to do so, but he said, “you have to be very careful about doing that. The lance corporals can’t retire. They’re going. That’s all there is to it.”

He added: “You abandon him only under the most dire circumstances, where the message you have to send can be sent no other way. I never confronted that situation.”
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What is not clear from this story is why he felt it was a strategic mistake at the time.  It is easy with hindsight bias to make that assertion.  No one knew the intelligence was faulty at the time.  There were tactical mistakes that made the invasion more difficult than it should have been.  The US sent just enough troops to topple the government, but not enough to protect the people from the inevitable insurgency and had to surge troops to do that as the situation appeared to be spinning out of control.

The article does not address Obama's strategic blunder of withdrawing US forces which actually led to the ISIL genocides.  That was a completely predictable result at the time.

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