Saturday, March 22, 2008

Five Years in Iraq. Now what?

This week marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It’s really hard to believe it’s been that long.

Why did we invade? There was circumstantial evidence Saddam Hussein possessed WMD (we later found out the evidence was purely circumstantial), they were financing terrorism (indeed they were, but no more than any other Arab regime and certainly less so than our ally Saudi Arabia), and we thought we could turn Iraq into a flowering democracy (I’m speechless).

So, where are we now? Well, we didn’t have a thought out post invasion plan (again I am speechless) and the country basically fell apart. Tribal identities came to the fore, Iraqi Shiites (with links to Iran- how strongly is disputed) and Iraqi Sunnis began fighting each other. The Kurds up north look half a step away from declaring sovereignty (which would begin Iraq's official disintegration and potentially spark a fight with Turkey). And most people hate us.

Violence levels are certainly down with the surge (but to 2005 levels). The thing is, the surge was designed to keep violence levels down so that the Iraqis could gain breathing space to make political progress. Scant political progress has been made and not much looks likely in the future.

Militias formerly fighting against us are now our allies, but only because we pay them, not because they have any allegiance to the central Iraqi government. Sure, they are fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, but many analysts contend they are really just consolidating as much ground as possible for a future civil war once US Forces leave.

So what do we do now? I have absolutely no idea.

Nevertheless, I do not think we should withdraw. By toppling Saddam Hussein we knocked the cover off of Pandora’s Box (I like Greek mythology). We’re now in charge of the situation, we broke it so we bought it. Withdrawing from Iraq would open another Pandora’s Box, potentially more devastating than the first one opened five years ago. There’s a very strong likelihood Iraq could turn into 1970’s/80’s Lebanon. There could be a regional war, there could even be a genocide, and God knows what else. I’m not arguing these things will happen, just that we have to entertain the possibility. Whatever does happen will be on us.


The best book I have read about the war is George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate. Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker, traces the Neoconservative movement from its intellectual conception, the pre-war debate over whether it was the right thing to do, and the actual war and insurgency through 2005. He’s a very gifted storyteller and presents a nuanced picture, something hard to come by.


I have one request for people who were against the 2003 invasion. Can you please stop saying, “we never should have invaded in the first place,” when discussing what we should do NOW? It’s hardly relevant. The fact is that we did invade.

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