Three weeks into the war, with the conflict's outcome increasingly clear, it is a good time to ask if General Myers was right. Will war colleges around the world be teaching the basic coalition strategy to their students decades from now, or will the conflict be seen as a case in which overwhelming military capability prevailed over a mediocre army from a mid-sized developing country?Six months after the invasion (September 2003) O'Hanlon wrote:
How can we really determine if the Iraq mission is going well? . . . To convince a skeptical public about progress in Iraq, the Bush administration would do well to provide more systematic information on all of these and other measurable metrics routinely -- even when certain trends do not support the story it wants to sell.And at Brookings, 9/30/03]:
The administration should want to do this, because on balance the Iraq mission is going fairly well . . . But most indicators are now favorable in Iraq . . . . Around Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, and other parts of the northern "Sunni triangle," for example, former regime loyalists have been sufficiently weakened that they need reinforcements from other parts of Iraq to continue many of their efforts. Most Baathists from the famous "deck of cards" are now off the street; many second tier loyalists of the former regime are also being arrested or killed on a daily basis. . . . In these counterinsurgency operations, American troops are following much better practices than they did in Vietnam . . . . Coalition forces and other parties were slow at times to anticipate such tactics, resulting in excessive vulnerability to the kinds of truck bombings witnessed in August and the kinds of assassination attempts that just took the life of a member of the Governing Council, Akila al-Hashimi. But these mistakes are being corrected, and future such attacks are unlikely to be as devastating.
But the Iraqis we met were nonetheless grateful for the defeat of Saddam and passionate about their country’s future. Their enthusiasm, and their desire to work together with U.S. and other coalition forces, warmed the heart of this former Peace Corps volunteer. Maybe that is why, on balance, I couldn’t help but leave the country with a real, if guarded and cautious, feeling of optimism.O'Hanlon testified in the House Armed Services Committee in October of 2003,
In my judgment the administration is basically correct that the overall effort in Iraq is succeeding. By the standards of counterinsurgency warfare, most factors, though admittedly not all, appear to be working to our advantage. While one would be mistaken to assume rapid or easy victory, Mr. Rumsfeld's leaked memo last week probably had it about right when he described the war as a "long, hard slog" that we are nonetheless quite likely to win. . . . That said, on the prognosis of Iraq's future, the Bush administration is at least partly and perhaps even mostly right. Negative headlines need to be quickly countered with good news, of which there is an abundance. . . Most of Iraq is now generally stable . . . Things are getting gradually better even as we progress towards an exit strategy that could further diffuse extremist sentiment.One year after Bush's invasion, O'Hanlon on March 19, 2004:
At that pace, one might think the war should be won by summer. . . .Overall, the glass in Iraq is probably about three-fifths full. Considering the growing strength of Iraqi security services and the fact that $18 billion in American money (as well as a few billion more from other foreign donors) is beginning to flow into Iraq, it is likely to get somewhat fuller soon.Even as O'Hanlon began expressing increasing concerns about instability in Iraq, it was almost always tempered with rosy overall assessments of the occupation, such as this, from May 16, 2004:
While the overall situation is disconcerting, there is still hope -- especially if the standard for success is defined realistically as an absence of civil war, a gradually improving economy, and slowly declining rates of political and criminal violence. The scheduled transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi caretaker government on June 30 may at least begin to defuse the growing anti-American anger that is helping fuel the insurgency. And most American assistance, tied up in bureaucratic red tape until now, should begin to jump-start Iraq's economy in the coming months, with a likely beneficial effect on security as well.Fast forward to 2007: in a July 30, 2007 op-ed piece in the New York Times O'Hanlon and co-author Kenneth M. Pollack, just back from eight days in Iraq, found progress being made.
As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily 'victory' but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.