TOO SOON TO TELL

So says Thomas Friedman in assessing whether the Iraq mission has been a success. This is, as all faithful readers know, a blatant rip-off of Steven Taylor’s latest column in the Birmingham News. These danged NYT columnists. . . .

Actually, Friedman does come up with some material of his own. This sounds about right:

In a fluid situation like Iraq, there are 10 things happening every day. All you want is that 6 out of the 10 be positive and moving upward — unlike Afghanistan, where only 3 out of 10 are positive and moving downward. Right now, talking to U.S. officials, I’d say the score in Iraq is about 5 to 5.

On the positive side, street life is coming back all over, restaurants and shops are reopening, Baghdad is getting about 18 hours of electricity now, and gasoline lines, a mile long four weeks ago when I was last in Iraq, are now virtually gone. Security has improved, but it still has a long way to go. Schools have been operating. Newspapers are exploding and political parties forming.

The regional news is also net positive. The student uprising in Iran, the stutter-step movement toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace, the ferment within Saudi Arabia, yesterday’s elections in Jordan, are all trends that were enhanced by the downfall of Saddam’s regime. Far from the Arab street, or press, rising against the U.S., the Arab media are replete with introspection and even self-criticism of how the Arab world mishandled Saddam.

This is more problematic:

On the negative side are two huge unresolved issues. Contrary to the blather of the Bush team, we have not finished the war and we have yet to establish an interim Iraqi political authority that can eventually work together to govern Iraq — instead of Saddam’s iron fist or ours.

The war ended too soon. Because there was no battle for Baghdad, Falluja, Tikrit and the other Sunni Muslim strongholds that were the base of Saddam’s power, many elements of Saddam’s regime and two divisions of Republican Guards just melted into the woodwork — instead of being killed or captured. (There are also disturbing signs lately that the Iraqi Sunnis, who have dominated Iraq forever and are not eager to see Iraqi Shiites rule, are recruiting Sunni Arab fighters from around the region, particularly from Wahhabi groups in Saudi Arabia, to join the battle against the U.S.)

While I agree that these problems exist, it would have been foolhardy to expect them to be solved now. Jim Miklaszewski was on Imus this morning, talking about how, contrary to the expectation that the Iraqis would embrace their liberators, some are shooting at our troops. Well, gee. In any situation like this, there are winners (the vast majority of the Iraqi population, including all Shi’a and Kurds) and losers (Ba’ath loyalists who were reaping the rewards of Saddam’s regime). The losers sometimes fight back.

And, while I understand that Friedman is being somewhat metaphorical with “the war ended too soon,” I’m not sure what the alternative was.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.