Thursday, January 30, 2014

The War Goes On

I don't assume Iraq is lost.

Yes, I wanted a post-2011 American military presence in Iraq to anchor a sizable civilian effort to keep Iranian influence and threats at bay, to help complete the defeat of al Qaeda, and to help rule of law gain ground in Iraq to provide a positive example in the Arab Middle East of an alternative to mullahcracy or autocracy.

Our absence has fueled problems.

And the failure to stick it to Assad when he was most vulnerable has provided some blowback into Iraq.

Don't forget our bizarre diplomacy that has enabled an Iranian revival that stokes added fear of Iran within Iraq.

But Iraq could still work out.

The al Qaeda resurgence is reminding Sunni Arabs and Shias that they do have a reason to work together.

Perhaps Turkish instability will deny that card to the Kurds and give Kurds new reasons to work within Iraq.

And as Iraq strengthens its military, it will gain the ability to resist Iranian pressure. Yes, Iran has the ability to use Shia religion to make inroads into Iraq. But a stronger Iraq will have Arab-Persian differences to keep Iran at bay.

There's still the rule of law problem. I don't see as much hope there without us there. But I don't rule out that a desire among Kurds, Shias, and Sunni Arabs to avoid civil strife will make these the least unacceptable common framework for resolving their problems.

So, yeah, Iraq could still be a success under President Obama. I've never abandoned that hope despite my conviction that President Obama has made it less likely to get a good result.

But while Iraq still has decent odds of being a small victory for us by having Iraq emerge as a friendly nation that opposes Sunni terrorism and Iran rather than being a Saddam-era threat to us, I have less hope that Iraq will evolve into a bigger victory that sets an example in the Arab world of a working democracy.

After 4,500 American dead there, I hoped for more than a small victory. But just getting any victory under the Obama administration would be something.

The outcome in Iraq still hangs in the balance. We should care about it.