A few months before the Iraq war began, Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel toured the Middle East, including Kurdish Iraq. They wrote this op-ed in the Washington Post:
The United States will face enormous challenges in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, as well as broad regional questions that must be addressed. These are both matters that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been focusing on for some time. During a week-long trip to the region, we came away with a better understanding of the possibilities and perils that lie ahead.
In northern Iraq we saw the extraordinary potential of Iraqis once they are out from under Saddam Hussein’s murderous hand. ***
Although no one doubts our forces will prevail over Saddam Hussein’s, key regional leaders confirm what the Foreign Relations Committee emphasized in its Iraq hearings last summer: The most challenging phase will likely be the day after — or, more accurately, the decade after — Saddam Hussein.
Once he is gone, expectations are high that coalition forces will remain in large numbers to stabilize Iraq and support a civilian administration. That presence will be necessary for several years, given the vacuum there, which a divided Iraqi opposition will have trouble filling and which some new Iraqi military strongman must not fill. Various experts have testified that as many as 75,000 troops may be necessary, at a cost of up to $ 20 billion a year. That does not include the cost of the war itself, or the effort to rebuild Iraq.
Americans are largely unprepared for such an undertaking. President Bush must make clear to the American people the scale of the commitment.
That 75,000 post-war troop estimate turned out to be low, but in the ballpark.
Dick Cheney, too, said before the war that we would have troops in Iraq for a long time after the war with Saddam was over. But the administration didn’t do anywhere near enough to emphasize post-war uncertainties or the long-term nature of our commitment. Biden and Hagel were right: the American people were “largely unprepared” for what happened after Saddam fell. This was the administration’s biggest mistake, one for which it is now paying a terrible price.
To comment on this post, go here.