Iraq War: Mission Accomplished?
TNR’s Marty Peretz argues that “The Verdict Is In On The Long American Excursion In Iraq. And It Is Favorable.”
He admits right at the outset that, “Of course, Iraq hasn’t turned out that well. Sunni jihadniks are still routinely murdering pious Shi’a on pilgrimage to Karbala.” But, he contends, “There are three especially compelling personal testimonies arguing that Iraq is on its way to making its own inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian history, and it will be a relatively democratic history.”
- Gordon Brown is sticking to his guns, saying “It was the right decision made for the right reasons” despite both himself and the war being highly unpopular on the eve of elections.
- Fiasco author and longtime war critic Thomas Ricks now argues that “the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come.”
- Fouad Ajami argues that “The American project in Iraq has midwifed that rarest of creatures in the Greater Middle East: a government that emerges out of the consent of the governed” and that “We can already see the outline of what our labor has created: a representative government, a binational state of Arabs and Kurds, and a country that does not bend to the will of one man or one ruling clan.”
But this is pretty thin.
- Brown’s opinion is easily dismissed as the desperation of a politician insisting he was right all along (and having nothing to lose).
- Ricks still maintains that our initial plans were “grandiose” and that it has been “replaced by the more realistic goal of getting American forces out and leaving behind a country that was somewhat stable and, with luck, perhaps democratic and respectful of human rights.” Further, he attributes much of the progress to the fact that we “effectively put the Sunni insurgency on the American payroll.” Yes, he thinks that, in hindsight, “the surge was the right thing to do.” But “That said, the larger goal of the surge was to facilitate a political breakthrough, which has not happened” and that “the existential questions that plagued Iraq before the surge remain unanswered.” He therefore figures that civil war will break out almost immediately if we leave.
- And Ajami was an enthusiastic supporter of the war as early as the summer of 2002, when he was cited by Dick Cheney as predicting “after liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are ‘sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.” In a pre-invasion 2003 Foreign Affairs essay he was much more sober about the consequences of invasion but still thought it worthwhile.
I was a reluctant supporter of the war who rejected the early arguments by Paul Wolfowitz and others but ultimately persuaded by the “we can’t let Saddam get nuclear weapons” argument after Kim Jong Il did it. But that rationale for the war proved unfounded.
Subsequently, my support for the war shifted to variations of “damn, it’s actually working” (during the euphoria after the second election and before the chaos spawned by the mosque bombing) to “we broke it, we bought it” and “we owe it to the Iraqis that got killed because they trusted us” as events developed on the ground. I’ve never been a supporter of the “grandiose vision” for the war, thinking it both an extraordinarily unlikely outcome and a never-ending rationale for American empire.
Still, far, far later into this exercise than seemed fathomable in 2003, we’re still there with a large number of American troops. We’ve lost 4380 dead and goodness knows how many permanently maimed. But I’m still, reluctantly, with Ricks on this one. Whether or not it was all “worth it” — a judgment that, sadly, it still remains too early to know — it makes sense to keep a reduced contingent of American soldiers there to prevent the unraveling of what has been accomplished.
But that’s hardly reason for celebration and gloating. It’s just a calculation as to our least bad option.