Securing Future History: The Iraq War

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Josh Marshall gets to the bottom of the Iraq War debate:

For [Bush], this is it. He’s not bigger than this. His entire legacy as president is bound up in Iraq. Which is another way of saying that his legacy is pretty clearly an irrecoverable shambles. That is why, as the folly of the enterprise becomes more clear, he must continually puff it up into more and more melodramatic and world-historical dimensions. A century long ideological struggle and the like. For the president a one in a thousand shot at some better outcome is well worth it, no matter what the cost. Because at least that’s a one in a thousand shot at not ending his presidency with the crushing verdict history now has in store.

Josh is right. For the past two years (at least) our Iraqi adventure has been rooted solely in an effort to help Bush save face. We’ve been faced with the same endgame since the February, 2006 mosque bombing in Samarra: spiraling sectarian violence that has prevented any sort of political reconciliation. That is not going to change anytime soon ((Staying in Iraq: just postponing the inevitable?)):

More Iraqis will probably die of violence just after a U.S. withdrawal than are dying violently now. That will hand the pro-war forces a rhetorical “I told you so.” Anyone who can blame what happened in Cambodia on U.S. doves is clearly shameless enough to blame the civil war in Iraq on the people who opposed the invasion rather than those who carried it out and then bungled the occupation.

But that’s not a good enough reason to hang around, unless at some point it stops being true: that six months, or a year, or two years, or five years from now we would be able to withdraw and not have civil war and massacre follow. If we’re spending blood and treasure only to postpone a catastrophe we can’t prevent, the “humanitarian” argument against a fairly rapid withdrawal collapses.

Matt Yglesias goes a bit further, arguing that a continued U.S. presence in Iraq — and especially our efforts to train and arm security forces — is only making the situation worse:

And thus goes all the talk of “training” Iraqi troops. The longer we stay, the more guns and training we hand out to multiple sides of the brewing conflict. This stuff matters. There’s a big difference between a civil war fought with sticks and stones and one fought with tanks and aircraft. Iraq is, obviously, somewhere in the middle. But as of now the one saving grace of the situation is that all the parties in Iraq (save the USA) are relatively lightly armed. With each passing month, though, we shift it to a deadlier and deadlier situation with better armed forces on all sides.

There’s going to be a lot of talk about the surge making progress in securing portions of Iraq in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, whatever progress we’ve made has been squandered: there’s less hope of a political reconciliation now than there was at the beginning of the year:

The report says that the influx of American troops in Iraq has achieved some successes in lowering sectarian violence, but concludes that Iraqi leaders “remain unable to govern effectively” and that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki “will become more precarious over the next 6 to 12 months” as rival factions led by Mr. Maliki’s fellow Shiites vie for power.

The assessment concludes that there is little reason to expect that Iraqi politicians will achieve significant gains before spring, when American commanders say they will have to begin to cut troop levels in Iraq, now at more than 160,000, to ease the burden on military personnel.

Whatever rosy assessments are trotted out during the next few weeks (and, let’s be clear: I’m pleased as punch that the security situation has improved) the fundamental problems remain. There’s no reason to think the political situation can be improved in the foreseeable future.

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