CBS News Consultant Ret. Col. Mitch Mitchell provides occasional commentary on miliary matters for CBSnews.com.
One year ago the United States and a few allies were poised to attack Iraq and bring down the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein. Our actions were in contravention to the wishes of the United Nations, but we felt justified in carrying out the attack.
Intelligence indicated that Saddam was in a dangerous and threatening position with his weapons of mass destruction programs. There were also indications that he was supporting terrorist organizations, and we were just finishing up our large military operations in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda's main support bases.
Turkey balked and would not allow our 4th Infantry Division to assemble forces there for the attack into Iraq, so we launched the attack without our northern component. In less than two months we and our allies destroyed Iraq's military forces, brought down its government and put Saddam and his thugs to flight.
The battles themselves were not without their difficulties. Long and inadequately protected supply lines were attacked, causing us to divert our attention from the main thrust toward Baghdad. Fedayeen Saddam forces put up unexpected stiff resistance throughout the country. Our forces discovered long before Baghdad fell that they were also engaged in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist operations against a number of opponents.
Iraq was freed from Saddam's stifling repression, but hostilities were far from over. The Iraqi people were happy to be rid of Saddam, but they didn't welcome us as liberators. — In the eyes of most Iraqis, we were viewed more as an occupying power, a necessary evil for the short-term. The problem was that we went into the conflict without an adequate recovery plan for Iraq, and short-term recovery proved impossible to achieve.
We are now engaged in a patchwork quilt plan to return Iraq to its people. We are inventing the solution as we go and giving rise to increased Iraqi dissatisfaction as we muddle through the execution of our makeshift ideas. Meanwhile, the American combat death toll moves steadily toward 600 and beyond, as our troops are given missions that constantly make them easy targets for terrorists.
For all the wrong reasons and despite all the errors made along the way, we and our allies have given the people of Iraq their freedom from tyrannical repression and an opportunity to determine their destiny. We have rid the world of a monster whose exploits for more than two decades paralleled those of Hitler and Stalin. In the long run, the world will be a better place for what we did.
Consider and marvel at the incredible circumstances that brought us to this point:
We proved that the world's mightiest nation could stand virtually alone and still have its way, but at what price? Can we afford to be reckless and independent gunslingers in future conflicts? Does such arrogance erode our leadership in the war against terror? If the Iraqis ever get around to thanking us for what we did, we would do well to remind them that they were the lucky recipients of a series of unprecedented political and strategic blunders that, at great cost to us, worked to their long-term benefit.
By Mitch Mitchell