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Mission Accomplished

Or so says whoever wrote the headline to Bartle Bull’s lengthy essay in the British, center-left magazine, Prospect. The author’s actual contention is more realistic. He writes [italics and bolding added]:

The mission in Iraq may be on the way to being accomplished  , but it has clearly been imperfect and costly. At least 80,000 and perhaps 200,000 or more Iraqis have been killed since the invasion, almost all of them by Iraqis and other Arabs (although this should be weighed against the 1.5m people killed by war and political violence during the 35-year Baath reign). The Sunni insurgency has degraded the country’s utilities infrastructu re, with the result that services remain patchy in much of the country and very bad in Baghdad: from April to June 2007, Iraq as a whole averaged 12.8 hours of electricity per day, while Baghdad averaged just 9.2. Oil production is down by 20 per cent since the invasion. Many of the country’s professional s—doctors, teachers, academics— have left. There has been much local sectarian cleansing, with around 1m people internally displaced since 2003 and up to another 1m externally displaced. The US-led coalition has lost almost 4,100 lives, with many more wounded. Much money has been stolen, and some of Iraq’s priceless historical legacy looted. In parts of the country, local disorder has opened opportunitie s to criminals and fundamentali sts. Much of the police force is militantly Shia, and many units are loyal to militias. Although General Petraeus’s military “surge” has had some success in reducing violence, Iraqis are still dying violently at an alarming rate—aroun d 1,500 a month.

The author asks and answers this question:

 The question is whether the war is winnable and whether we can help the winning of it. The answer is made much easier by the fact that three and a half years after the start of the insurgency, most of the big questions in Iraq have been resolved. Moreover, they have been resolved in ways that are mostly towards the positive end of the range of outcomes imagined at the start of the project. The country is whole. It has embraced the ballot box. It has created a fair and popular constitution . It has avoided all-out civil war. It has not been taken over by Iran. It has put an end to Kurdish and marsh Arab genocide, and anti-Shia apartheid. It has rejected mass revenge against the Sunnis. As shown in the great national votes of 2005 and the noisy celebrations of the Iraq football team’s success in July, Iraq survived the Saddam Hussein era with a sense of national unity; even the Kurds—whos e reluctant commitment to autonomy rather than full independence is in no danger of changing—c elebrated. Iraq’s condition has not caused a sectarian apocalypse across the region. The country has ceased to be a threat to the world or its region. The only neighbours threatened by its status today are the leaders in Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran.

Understandin g this expensive victory is a matter of understandin g the remaining violence. Now that Iraq’s big questions have been resolved—b reak-up? No. Shia victory? Yes. Will violence make the Americans go home? No. Do Iraqis like voting? Yes. Do they like Iraq? Yes—Iraq’s violence has largely become local and criminal. The biggest fact about Iraq today is that the violence, while tragic, has ceased being political, and is therefore no longer nearly as important as it was.

I haven’t heard so optimistic an outlook for the Iraq War since someone described the Iraqi insurgency as being in the “last throes”. It is an interesting essay whether one agrees with its premises and conclusion (and I’m not at all certain that I do, though I’d dearly love to) or not.

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8 Responses to “Mission Accomplished”

  1. he answer is made much easier by the fact that three and a half years after the start of the insurgency, most of the big questions in Iraq have been resolved. Moreover, they have been resolved in ways that are mostly towards the positive end of the range of outcomes imagined at the start of the project. The country is whole. It has embraced the ballot box. It has created a fair and popular constitution . It has avoided all-out civil war. It has not been taken over by Iran. It has put an end to Kurdish and marsh Arab genocide, and anti-Shia apartheid. It has rejected mass revenge against the Sunnis. As shown in the great national votes of 2005 and the noisy celebrations of the Iraq football team’s success in July, Iraq survived the Saddam Hussein era with a sense of national unity; even the Kurds—whos e reluctant commitment to autonomy rather than full independence is in no danger of changing—c elebrated.

    The only thing true here is that comment on the soccer team.

    The ballot was along sectional - religious lines.

    The kurds would leave in a NY minute except that they are afraid of Turkey & the US.

    Most of the Iraqi violence has been along religious lines.

    When we leave ( tomorrow or ten years from now) there will be a blood bath.

  2. Well, Christopher. What we have here is a classic he said - he said. I take no position on any of the matters but someone must respond to your points or there will be no conversation at all and I am interested in your responses so here goes.

    Point 1: The ballot was along sectional - religious lines. This proves that what is a lie how? He claims, regarding the ballot, that Iraq embraced the ballot box. There were three votes. In the final election, some 11 to 12 million Iraqis went to the polls. Americans should embrace the ballot box so heartily. You say that they voted along sectional religious lines which, I suppose is to refute the comment about “sense of national unity” comment. Yes. I think that’s the weakest of the author’s assertions. Although, to be fair, he doesn’t claim that theirs is a particularly strong sense of national unity. The comment could be read to mean only that they are not without any sense of being a nation, that is to say, not without some sense of being Iraqis, that their sense of belonging to the nation of Iraq is, say, stronger than was evident among the southern states around the time of Abraham Lincoln’s first election.

    Point 2: The Kurds would leave in a NY minute. I find this assertion interesting  (not to say that I either accept it or dispute it) but I have a question: Where would they go and why when they enjoy the nearest thing to autonomy and are sitting upon a lot of oil. Why would they leave that? For what?

    Point 3: Most of the Iraq violence has been along religious lines. I’m not sure which of the author’s assertions that this is meant to refute. That is to say, I don’t for a minute deny it. In terms of what is contained in the paragraph that you quoted, so what?

    Point 4: Blood bath is inevitable. Now there’s a fine prognosticat ion. My crystal ball is in the shop so I don’t know how that could be defended or refuted so I’ll leave the defense to you and simply say that, as a rule, human beings do not come equipped with clairvoyance so I am somewhat disinclined to simply take your word for this. Ten years is a long time. By then, we may have abandoned the whole democratizat ion project and installed a strong-arm dictator whose armed forces and police forces will be strong enough to enforce peace. I just see no reason why this must be thought inevitable.

    This, of course, still leaves a whole slew of assertions made by the author that you leave unaddressed except to call them untrue so I have no way of addressing them either.

  3. The above comment is by me: Craig R. Harmon

  4. Craig,
    Point 2: They wouldn’t leve, so much as secede taking the oil with them, forming a new country of Kurdistan which would almost immediately be at war with Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

    Point 3: I suspect this is to refute the nature of the violence as merely criminal rather than political.

  5. point 3 was to refute It has avoided all-out civil war. Once we leave that is what they will have.

    I took him to mean that they embraced the ballot box and this made the situation better. I fail to see how given how the vote went and remember we went to civil war after Lincolns first election.

    I am assuming that we are not going to install a Tito or Hussain. Given the history of vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo, our history since the civil war with racism, and the fact that they have been going at it for 600 years( or so I have read)t there can be no other conclusion but that they will kill each other.

    Kurdish independence

  6. Paul and Christopher,

    Thanks for the clarificatio ns. I appreciate it. “Once we leave [all-out civil war] is what they will have.” Again with the crystal ball gazing. Pretty hard to refute an iron-clad positive claim to see the future so I won’t try.

    As for Kurdish independence  (the link Christopher provided) I notice it’s a bit out of date…three and a half years out of date. There’s quite a bit happened since Feb. 2004 in Iraq…like two elections, one for a temporary government charged with drafting a Constitution and one the first permanent elected government, and a Constitution . Is it not possible that opinions have shifted regarding acceptance of autonomy within Iraq?

    In any case, I see none of the crystal ball gazing in the post that you too are engaging in. It’s certainly possible that all that you’ve described will occur. As I tried to indicate with italics and bold print in my post’s quotes, for the author it is no more than possible (”may be”) that there are positive indications  (”on the way to being accomplished ”) of about as good an outcome as can be hoped would occur (”mostly towards the positive end of the range of outcomes imagined at the start of the project”).

    Anyway, thanks for your responses. I’m not getting many these days. :^(

    Craig R. Harmon

  7. Perhaps that is because your not posting much these days..where did you go Craig?

  8. Dusty,

    I got tired of leaving posts and comments that were, largely, given the big ignore. I blog and comment for interaction. If I’m not getting that, I get sad and mope. :^(

    Anyway, I’ve been reading offline much more. I’ve read some excellent books so it hasn’t been a total wash-out. Anyway, thanks for asking.

    Craig R. Harmon

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