Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What is Next for America in Iraq?

To look at the almost nonexistent news coverage, one would think that the Iraq war was over, except for the (near-daily) car bombings and suicide bombings. It seems that we know a very few things. First, the number of US casualties is now at a sustained level that is around 10-20 per month, significantly down from much of the past five years of grinding engagement. Second, the level of US troops in Iraq is at or near peak levels, and cannot be sustained at those levels, although lower levels could be sustained. Third, the incoming Obama administration has announced an intention to complete withdrawal over the next 16 months, which more or less matches the "Status of Forces" agreement signed with Iraq. The era of US occupation is coming to a close.

It seems to me that while the situation is calm by the standards of the past five years, the level of violence is, in fact, unacceptably violent to permit economic revival or promote politcal stability. The exit of US forces will remove one irritant in the situation, true, but not all. The country remains very divided politically, and the US mostly achieved the lower casualty rates by (re-)arming a huge number of Sunni young men, a number in excess of 100,000 that can pose a significant risk to the poorly trained and largely Shi'ite army. Also, the level of economic development remains poor. Electricity is still not available 24 hours per day. Oil production remains very low. It is very hard to imagine an influx of foreign investment under the current conditions.

In other words, we may have achieved a temporary reduction in the fighting - at least in the eyes of the world - that will allow us to leave Iraq with some sense of honor, but we have not really "won" the war the way conservatives claim we have.
It seems highly unlikely that we will be able, in the next decade, to point to much in the way of accomplishment in Iraq. The Shi'ite-dominated government will probably do the obvious: turn from US military support to Iranian military support. Our best hope may be that Iran finds Iraq to be a worse investment than we did.

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