Ten Years Later

Sen. McCain and Gen. Keane discuss Iraq war at AEI

Gen. Jack Keane in Iraq in 2007 / AP
March 19, 2013

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Gen. Jack Keane held a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday to describe the lessons they believe America can learn from the Iraq war on its tenth anniversary.

The panelists’ said the largest lessons from the war are the necessity of good intelligence, the need to understand our enemies, and the risks America is making by not maintaining our leadership role.

McCain lamented that America invaded Iraq on faulty intelligence and that one of the military’s primary goals, finding Saddam Hussein’s weapons program, turned up nothing.

The intelligence failures leading up to the invasion "colored the opinion of many Americans" to any future decisions that need to be made in the interest of American defense, McCain suggested.

Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army and an author of the plan for the 2007 surge in Iraq, said the American military needs to improve its understanding of whatever enemy it faces.

Keane pointed to the invasion in March 2003 as an example of the military’s ability to run a successful campaign, but said the war’s leaders never understood what to do after capturing Baghdad.

"It took the American military three years," from 2003 to 2006, to understand that it was facing an insurgency, McCain added. And it was only after this recognition that American forces put together a plan to better fight the enemy in order to gain control in Iraq.

This model is similar to what we’ve seen in Libya, Keane said. America’s original strikes on Muammar Ghaddafi were extremely successful but the inability to recognize what would happen next with the rise of Islamic militias led to increased disorder.

Keane and McCain said the lack of American leadership in Iraq since the war’s end is having negative consequences for Iraq and the region.

The inability of the Obama administration to maintain a military presence in Iraq under the status of forces agreement was a serious blunder, McCain said.

The lack of American presence in the country has slowed the democratization of Iraq, leaving McCain with "little optimism for a stable government."

Iraqi instability has allowed Iran to maintain the presence it established during the war when Keane saw the Iranians help the Iraqis build bombs to kill Americans.

The lack of American leadership is also affecting other countries in the region, including Syria. McCain spoke of Obama’s unwillingness to aid Syrian rebels in that country’s civil war, calling it a "shameful period in American history."

He also discussed the unconfirmed reports that came out of Syria this morning of chemical weapon use, which, if true, would constitute the crossing of the president’s "redline."

The fall of the Syrian regime would be a massive blow to Iran, which McCain said would help slow down their nuclear ambitions.