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Iraq in the Rearview Mirror


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American Spectator:

Historians may someday conclude that the most curious incident of Barack Obama's presidency occurred in October 2011. When Obama announced that the last of our troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year's end, the news was almost lost amid the tsunami of economic news and metronomic campaign debates. There were no great outpourings of emotion, ringing speeches, or UN hyperbole. The moment was, like Sherlock Holmes' observation of the dog in the night-time, curious because of the silence that surrounded it.

Why would the most controversial war since Vietnam end without as much controversy as when it began? The reason is that that America tuned out the Iraq war years ago. The horrific Sunni vs. Shia violence that overwhelmed Iraq after the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006 was quelled by General Petraeus's troop surge. When the violence subsided to Iraq's new normal, so did the controversy. From late 2008, America has been interested in almost nothing but economic news. And, from 2009, we've had a president who kept the willing media focused on everything other than the war.

Too little political attention has been paid to the war in general and Iraq in particular. To the extent that Americans debated the war at all, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan--and the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki--were isolated events, worlds away from the economic crisis that diverted our attention from everything else.

We know, from the memoirs of George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and George Tenet, the reasons for the decision to launch the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They've also tried to explain the choice of a post-war occupation and nation-building effort that commenced there and in Afghanistan. That wisdom (or lack of it) cannot be measured at this moment in time.

Too many books have already been written on whether we "won" or "lost" the war in Iraq. That question is unresolved because of President Bush's failure--and that of his successor--to define correctly the war that began on 9/11. (There is a strong argument that it began long before 9/11, with bin Laden's fatwa against America in 1996, or as far back as 1979 with the advent of the Iranian kakistocracy.) Neither Bush nor Obama had the wisdom to define it correctly as a war with the nations that sponsor terrorism and the hegemonic ideology of Islam that propels them. That war could not have been won within the borders of Iraq, though it may have been lost.

We know what it has cost us. At this writing, we've spent 4,287 American lives. Last summer, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the war at that date was about $709 billion. (The Congressional Research Service set the cost higher at $748 billion.)
President Bush said (and wrote in his memoir) that our goal was a unified, democratic Iraq that could govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself, and serve as an ally in the "War on Terror." As we shall see, it's apparent that no part of this goal has been achieved, and that the progress made toward them is fleeting.snip
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Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan can be built as a democracy for two reasons. Just as Iraq is a concatenation of neighbors without a uniting nationalism


Is it? I ask this because of something I read a couple of years ago (sorry I've lost the link) the author in talking to a number of Iraqis said that one thing that happened under Saddam is he made a nation of them, by that I believe he meant they were all in the same boat together. I would also add there are a large number of mixed marriages in Iraq, where one member is Sunni and the other is Shia.


Will this experiment be successful? Ask me in 20 years. One thing we can say, one of the worst regimes in modern times is gone. So I remain optimistic.

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