Simply put, Bush could have said: "My bad," then prudently cut the Iraqis a check for the damages thus saving his nation's blood and treasure for times when a legitimate security threat loomed.
However, for an administration that seems to never miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity, the failure to quickly withdraw was just the start of a seemingly endless cascade of opportunities missed. In ignoring a vivid constellation of foreboding historical precedents and perhaps more tragically, stubbornly applying a pernicious bargain-basement type approach to nation-building to the cavernously multi-faceted culture of Iraq, Bush again missed an opportunity to avoid turning a “slam dunk” into a quagmire.
Instead, the result of a recklessly conceived and clumsily-executed adventure has been the swift transformation of an internationally marginalized repressive state into a virtually open-ended failed one. In all reality the true “slam dunk” should have been the ease at which it is to figure out that nation-building in Iraq would be next to impossible.
“Iraq,” wrote Washington Post op-ed columnist Robert J. Samuelson in Farewell to Pax Americana, “has reminded us that religious and ethnic loyalties dim the appeal of democracy, freedom and materialism.”
What they have so artlessly revealed since the start of their Iraqi plunge, is that all this seems to have been lost on the so-called “Bushies.” But probably not to the families of the more than 3200 U.S. soldiers killed since Bush's “mission accomplished” moment. It's just as unlikely to those of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and the roughly 2 million refugees now surging out of Iraq into areas including Syria, Lebanon and to a lesser extent, Jordan.
Unfortunately for each unsuspecting casualty, embedded in all the “regime change” and WMD rhetoric, the broader goals of de facto nation-building – a concept the Bushies paraded around gussied up in the outlandish guise of “spreading democracy” -- were embarked upon in a manner doomed for the grotesque type of failures that have followed Bush throughout his adult life.
The opening act of course was the general operational paralysis that ensued within the Coalition during that brief period immediately following Baghdad's fall. That initial inertia allowed the squandering of the so-called “Golden Hour,” a time experts say, when indigenous resistance is extremely limited or at best, highly unorganized. Forever lost was the foremost opportunity to avoid the Viet Nam-like quagmire that engulfs the mission today.
Although not specifically addressing the Iraq debacle, the Rand Corporation's recently-published Beginner's Guide to Nation Building makes stark note of this, pointing out: “... If the intervening authorities are to take advantage of this opportunity, they need to control enough personnel and material resources to secure and supply at least the capital.”
Indeed within a few short weeks, Coalition forces – then well-established in Baghdad -- were experiencing an ideal confluence of circumstances. Saddam was dethroned and in hiding; the once-powerful Baath Party was emasculated; the oil fields were certainly secured; and the Iraqi population, yet to have been splintered along sectarian lines, was as close as it would ever come to recognizing the occupying forces as "liberators." A withdrawal at that point would be seen as nothing less than logical -- more like cutting our losses rather than “cutting and running.”
Certainly, at the time of the Commander-in-Chief's ostentatious and premature USS Abraham Lincoln deck swagger to proclaim the conclusion of "major combat operations," the U.S. had expended a comparatively paltry sum -- $150 billion compared to the current half-trillion dollars and rising; Coalition losses totaled around 80 according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count; and the loss of life among Iraqi citizens was a mere fraction of what a Johns Hopkins study estimated last year to be 600,000-plus.
It's quite clear however, with revelations of evidence being “fixed around the policy” of an invasion and other diffident antecedents, that Bush's Iraqi fixation went far beyond the stated goals of mere WMD elimination and US-security-enhancing regime change. Even were it overtly promoted as a lethal, PNAC-inspired exercise in Iraqi-style disaster capitalism, furthered along by Bush's Oedipal urge to finish the job started by his father, the complicated nature of the Iraqi culture all but assured that, desired or not, the Iraqi venture as undertaken by the Bushies, would oscillate into full-blown nation-building.
Nation-building is described in part by Wikipedia as: “deliberate efforts by a foreign power to construct or install the institutions of a national government ... typically characterized by massive investment, military occupation, transitional government.”
The Rand Corporation's nation-building document describes two approaches to the venture: co-option -- whereby “the intervening authorities try to redirect competition among existing institutions for power and wealth from violent to peaceful channels.” In other words, typical of the approach taken in UN-led “peacekeeping” missions.
The second: deconstruction -- the “shotgun diplomacy” approach that probably best characterize most recent US-led missions -- is a process whereby “intervening authorities dismantle the state apparatus and build a new one.”
As is now obvious, among the underlying elements of the Bushies pre-war planning -- acquiring a strategic foothold for regional military operations and procuring Iraq's oil – nation-building clearly loomed large. After all, once the presumed threat had been either removed or determined non-existent, there seems little point in sticking around. For example, after a SWAT team completes the job of extricating a hostage-taker from a building, it doesn't then take over that dwelling like heavily-armed squatters. The threat is eliminated. Thus, they move on.