I’ve been thinking about Iraq lately. For some reason, this week seems like a good time to re-evaluate what’s going on there.
First a little history: I wasn’t crazy about the invasion in 2003, but I wasn’t against it either. I basically just went along with it. I saw Sadaam as more of a nuisance than a threat — I didn’t think we were in any imminent danger, but I suspected he was slowly working his way toward becoming a threat to the Middle East region again. I thought his departure was a good thing, and I still think so. And after Sadaam was ousted and major combat operations ended, I thought we owed it to the Iraqi people to stay and help clean up the mess.
When I evaluate Iraq, I try to look at the situation the way it is, not the way it might have been. Critiquing the run-up to the war and the immediate aftermath is only useful in crafting political rhetoric. I have no doubt that things could have been handled better at every stage of the operation, but in my view, all of that is now ancient history. We are entangled in Iraq, whether we like it or not, and we should examine the situation from that standpoint.
As of now, I remain opposed to leaving before the mission is complete, but I’m increasingly unsure about what the mission actually is. I used to think we were just holding off the bad guys while we rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but now I’m thinking that after three years we’ve probably done about all the rebuilding we can do there. (At this point, it looks like the insurgents are destroying more infrastructure than we did.) Now we seem to be trying to hold off the bad guys until the Iraqi government asserts itself.
So what’s a successful mission? I suspect a “victory” for the United States means a strong, moderate, autonomous Iraqi government that can control its borders and keep its population from killing each other. Anything less than that will leave the region worse off than before. (As a bonus, the new Iraq should be friendly toward the United States.) Unfortunately, I think these goals are still very, very far in the future, and Iraq will therefore need an external police force for many, many years to come, and I fear most Americans, accustomed to instant gratification and 24-hour news cycles, won’t be able to endure it.
But why not leave? What’s the harm? Here’s the problem, as I see it: Right now, Iraq looks like another Afghanistan or Lebanon or Somalia. Technically, there’s a government, but they don’t have much power and not much of an army, which leaves the door wide open for anyone to come in and take over, including any number of extremist militias. If it weren’t for the Coalition forces on the ground in Iraq, the insurgents wouldn’t be scurrying around planting militarily useless roadside bombs, they’d be taking over towns, enforcing strict Sharia, and usurping the government. (See current events in Somalia for an example of what would happen.)
To be continued…