Sunday, December 11, 2011

Looks Like 3 for 3

Our military is leaving Iraq, as we promised. Iraq will have to build on what we achieved with only a minimal American military presence. These writers have doubts about what we achieved:

In the beginning, it all looked simple: topple Saddam Hussein, destroy his purported weapons of mass destruction and lay the foundation for a pro-Western government in the heart of the Arab world.

And as we leave, we can look back and see that we toppled Saddam Hussein, destroyed the stockpiles and infrastructure that would have allowed him to restart chemical weapons production and resume research into biological and nuclear weapons, and have a pro-American government (with Iran trying to undermine us) that is buying weapons from us and otherwise still needs us.

The writers, being properly trained journalists, don't seem to think that we achieved the benchmark objectives they led off with, notwithstanding the fact that Saddam Hussein is currently at room temperature, no UN inspectors play hide and seek with Iraqis trying to verify whether there are any WMD programs going on, and that our embassy in Iraq will be our largest in the world as some type of indication that we are working closely with Iraq. We didn't physically move Iraq from its pre-war location on the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys, so they're still even in the heart of the Arab world. Bonus!

Are there problems to confront despite our victory? Of course. That's how it works. Our problems in Asia and Europe didn't end on VJ and VE Days, now did they? Did the post-war problems invalidate the victories we achieved in World War II? Of course not.

Oh, and in Iraq we established a democracy that is developing and which is working better than what the European Union farcically calls "democracy." The writers didn't mention the democracy part, although they might have been able to look for clues in the name of our invasion operation: "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

So 4 for 3. And let's not forget that al Qaeda got "distracted" from the "real war" against them in Afghanistan by making Iraq their main effort. Despite the difficulty, in the end we broke al Qaeda's back in Iraq. So 5 for 3, then. I'm thinking this looks like a win. Let's defend it, eh?

I'd also like to remind people who say Iraq suffered too much for this win and that it is our fault that all those people were killed. We liberated Iraq pretty quickly and with low casualties. Iraqi civilians suffered because Syria, Iran, and al Qaeda decided that Iraq would make a lovely battlefield to fight us and invaded the long-suffering country. We defended Iraqis from those aggressors, if you'll recall.

The article goes on with idiocy ebbing and flowing in intensity, but still mostly a patch work of bad memories and poor analysis. Read it all, if you like. It's your dime. But it is a worthless retrospective of the war. Better would be this post and this one that get us through spring 2007. Our surge did better than expected and by the time General Petraeus was being called a liar, I was a bit astounded at how well things were turning out so quickly. By fall 2007, victory seemed clear. By November 2008, I was willing to conditionally call VI Day. Note, too, contrary to President Obama's defenders who say leaving Iraq this month is just carrying out the Bush policy finalized in 2008 that I assumed a new agreement would replace that one.

Look at me, without a journalism degree, going out on a limb to assert victory!

UPDATE: President Obama will finally speak with Prime Minister Maliki:

Monday's meeting between Obama and al-Maliki is expected to focus heavily on how the U.S. and Iraq will continue to cooperate on security issues without the presence of American troops. Iraqi leaders have said they want U.S. military training help for their security forces but have been unable to agree on what type of help they'd like or what protections they would be willing to give American trainers.

The White House said Obama and al-Maliki would also discuss cooperation on energy, trade and education.

This is good. I hope that one of the conclusions that we reach really soon is that the presence of American troops is required for achieving those security issues. There is no shame in Iraq needing American troops for external security. After World War II, West Germany needed American troops for external defense despite building a very good military. Not until the Warsaw Pact imploded in 1989 could West Germany look forward to the day when their own resources are sufficient for territorial defense.

And as I've written many times, the most important role our troops in Iraq can provide is providing a visible guarantee that Iraqi political factions will restrict their struggles to the political arena within rule of law. I worry that someone will resort to violence to settle differences--even if it is out of genuine fear that if they don't do so, one of their opponents will resort to violence first.

Things might work out just fine without our presence. But the odds would be better with our military presence.

UPDATE: It was somewhat depressing to listen to President Obama at the joint speech with Maliki. Unable to utter the word "victory" in relation to the Iraq War, President Obama ends up essentially sounding ashamed and distressed that we won even though liberals said our effort was doomed. The president instead appeared to thank our troops for honorably ending a war built on lies that we never should have fought in the first place but which could result in good things although we won't keep any troops there to reach those goals.

There is so much wrong with the president's views on Iraq, not the least of which is that for Iraq, the war still goes on--in greatly reduced intensity, of course--against the forces that we once jointly battled.

UPDATE: Ok, one more take. The Washington Post editorial rightly says that it is kind of odd for President Obama to say the war is over when Iraqis still fight the remnant forces that caused so much death and destruction. I don't think it sends a good message to Iraqis that as long as our troops aren't at risk, the war just doesn't register with us. While we are mopping up resistance, it is not destroyed. And as we proved in 2001 when we helped the almost defeated Northern Alliance destroy the Taliban government, almost destroyed isn't good enough.

Perhaps strangely enough, I'm not as pessimistic as the editors appear to be. I don't blame Maliki for trying to root out Baathists. Too many aren't really former Baathists and believe Sunni Arabs should rule Iraq as they have for centuries. Iraq is at war and I can't forget that Americans kept pressing South Vietnamese President Diem to be more inclusive despite being at war. We got rid of him thinking Diem was the problem and too late realized that he was actually winning the war until we supported his removal in a coup. Let's not make the mistake of thinking one man is the difference between victory or defeat--or if it is that we know who that one man is. Focus on strengthening rule of law in Iraq. I hope one day we'll see a peaceful transfer of power from the losing incumbent to the winning opponent and it won't seem strange at all. Our continued troop presence would have helped that goal along a great deal, I think.

And I even appreciate that President Obama says we plan to be partners with Iraq. I actually believe him. Our huge embassy shows our intent even if I think it was a huge mistake to fail to get an agreement with Iraq to keep our troops in Iraq. But I also worry that without our troops on the ground in Iraq to deter Iran, we rely on Iranian fear of President Obama making good on his assertion of partnership. And after the drone debacle of losing it, failing to destroy it, and publicly asking for its return, I worry that Iran believes it has nothing to fear from President Obama.

Oh well. We have what we have. I hope we stay involved despite the limits we've placed on ourselves. We've won much already and can win more. Work the problem, as I often say.