If the “Mission Accomplished” speech on the Abraham Lincoln had not turned out to be so clearly and visibly erroneous, I am convinced now that the President would be declaring Iraq a victory. The mission at that point had changed from simply deposing Saddam’s regime in Iraq to stopping the chaos and civil war that the post-Saddam anarchy quickly turned in to because we never planned for what would happen once we either captured or killed Saddam.
I have previously said (actually, I’ve been saying for quite some time now) that “victory” or “failure” in Iraq can be defined thus:
Success is when Iraq is 1) reliably within the political and economic orbit of the West; 2)internally stable enough to support economic growth and pay us (and the British, Aussies, Italians, Poles, Canadians, and Spanish) back for all the money we’ve spent on them; and 3)strong enough to defend itself from Iranian or Syrian encroachment. Failure is any of A) political domination by Iran or Syria; B) emergence of a control group hostile to the West, particularly to the United States; or C) a bloody stalemate draining lives and money to no geopolitical effect (otherwise known as the status quo [of late 2006]).
Well, are we there yet? I think the answer is “yes.” At least, “as much as we’re ever going to be.”
Iraq is within the orbit of the West. The political situation there is a gigantic, corrupt mess but the one thing the political leaders of the country can agree on is that the only economic future of the country is from the sale of oil to the West.
Iraq is starting to open up its oil fields and generate revenues from it. Sure, lots of that money will be siphoned off to corruption. Sure, the Iraqi government hasn’t fully figured out how to distribute the money. Sure, the rebuilding of the oil infrastructure hasn’t gone nearly as quickly as thought. But it’s past the critical point of getting the oil flowing and now that oil is more valuable than ever in human history, the money is coming in.
We haven’t demanded repayment of all of the money but some of the post-Saddam money we’ve lent Iraq is starting to be paid back out of those oil revenues. We’ll never get it all back, of course. But we do seem to be on track towards permanent military bases there.
The Iraqi military is starting to take hold of the country. It is conducting operations independent of U.S. command and control, and going after the right bad guys. The Iranians and Syrians have not been able to openly assert themselves in Iraq for some time now; the Iranians last tried (to my knowledge) about six months ago and got spanked.
Violence and urban terrorism are down to something less than a dull roar. We concern ourselves with domestic crime and entertainment in our news media; the death count for military servicemembers in Afghanistan has now risen above the miltiary death count in Iraq. And most of America barely noticed when that happened. Iraq is about as peaceful as Israel during a bad month.
The Iraqi Parliament will never be a disciplined, well-organized political body the way the U.S. Congress or the British Parliament is. There will always be a struggle for political power between the geographic regions and religious sects of the country. Corruption will never be weeded out of Iraq, and urban terrorism will never completely go away there.
“Victory” is not when we can bring our troops home. We’re never going to bring our troops home — we wanted, fought for, and now essentially have permanent military bases in Iraq. That was one of our strategic goals all along. I’ve been saying that for more than three years on this blog. President Obama will find, very quickly upon assuming office, that the political and strategic calculus of 2004 simply no longer applies, and he will not be bringing home all of our troops and leaving Iraq without a very significant and enduring U.S. military presence. Does anyone, even the most ardent pro-Obama supporter or the most virulent war critic, doubt this prediction?
But it now seems to be more or less within tolerable limits, at least from a geopolitical standpoint. There is a functioning government in Iraq that is friendly to the United States, able to pay its debts and maintain its national autonomy. It’s less bloody and better-able to participate in regional and global politics than it was when I first wrote those words defining “success”. Granted, that’s not the victory we had originally collectively envisioned for the invasion way back in 2002, and the price in blood and treasure has been far dearer than we had been told it would be. But it’s about as good as we’re going to get and it seems like a satisfactory result at this point.