Victory in Iraq?
By Andy Ross, November 23, 2008
Declaring victory and moving on is a good tactic when you've done what
you set out to do. US forces have removed any serious military danger to
the outside world from Iraq for the foreseeable future, hazy
possibilities of terrorism aside, and given the Iraqis the opportunity
to reshape their own future along more democratic lines. More was never
likely or reasonably possible. Now is the time to go.
In face of
that truth, the new administration in Washington has no good
justification for continuing the US investment in shoring up Iraqi
internal security arrangements. Let the Iraqis sort themselves out. They
have enjoyed all the support for the last five years that they could
wish for, and prolonging the US presence much longer will only fuel the
sort of resentment that creates more insurgents later.
war was always Bush's war, and now that he is departing there is no need
to prolong it. Any business interests the United States may have in Iraq
are better conducted independently of a military presence, and are
likely if anything to be damaged by such a presence. American
multinationals have learned to dominate markets within plenty of nation
states that never hosted US military forces.
Since the main
business opportunities in Iraq revolve around oil and the current
recession suggests that demand for oil will be muted for a while,
perhaps until alternative energy sources have a larger market share, the
United States has only geopolitical reasons to maintain its military
stake in Iraq. And there may be better ways to build a bulwark against
the threat of a militantly Islamist Iran.
The legacy of the Iraq
war for the US military is one they can be proud of. Scandals involving
the improper treatment of prisoners or detainees excepted, political
confusion in the command chain over objectives and rules of engagement
well noted, and shortcomings in the supply of equipment aside, the
military tasks were accomplished successfully and convincingly. This was
no shameful defeat.
The feat of arms was considerable and
overwhelming. A massive force of ground-based and sea-based attack
aircraft was deployed efficiently and practically without losses to
paralyze and disrupt the Iraqi forces sufficiently to set the stage for
the ground campaign. The armored ground assault then took Baghdad fast
and dug in. Just one problem: they had no plans for an occupation and no
Result: the cost of the war was excessive. The
United States has suffered well over 4,000 military deaths. Iraq
suffered very many more casualties. The full and final dollar cost may
never be known exactly, but it certainly exceeds a trillion dollars.
Given the return, both so far and into the future, and in view of the
present US financial crisis, this outlay is an obscene, atrocious waste.
In terms of world history, a clash between the historically
Christian modernizing forces of the West, spearheaded by the United
States, and the traditional cultures of the Islamic world, with their
center in the region of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, may have been inevitable.
After this symbolic clash of arms, perhaps the modernization of the
Islamic world can now proceed more peacefully. But not quite yet.
Two big problems remain: Iran and Israel. The emerging Iranian
challenge to Western hegemony in the region requires a response backed
by military force, including the will to go nuclear if necessary. And
the challenges from Hamas and Hisbollah to Israel could explode and
engulf the whole region in war. A failed Iranian attack on Israel,
followed by forced pacification of Iran, might clear the air.