Sunday, December 25, 2011

Iraq: What Remains

The world has changed a great deal since the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003–thanks in part to that invasion and to the earlier invasion of Afghanistan. And yet, watching President Barack Obama welcome home the troops at Fort Bragg on December 14, and the media coverage of that event, it struck me that one thing has not changed. Despite the vast expenses incurred by news organizations following the occupation, and the considerable time that politicians in Washington spent debating its merits, many Americans continue to see in Iraq a reflection of their own country’s ideals and contradictions. They will remember Iraq as an American trauma. But it was, above all, an Iraqi trauma.
The country that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have left behind is free of Saddam Hussein, but it is needy and volatile and may tip back into sectarian war. In addition to 4,500 US soldiers, well over 100,000 civilians have lost their lives. Millions have fled into exile or have had to leave their homes in Iraq, ancient Christian communities have been obliterated, and only a shared pursuit of oil revenues keeps the country’s most important groups (the Shia Arabs, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds) precariously united. Even for a president seeking re-election, Obama’s description of Iraq as “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant” seems unduly optimistic.
The ramifications of the US-led coalition’s failure extend far beyond Iraq’s borders. Had the operation in Iraq succeeded, Iran could well have been next. Obama’s Iran policy is relatively cautious, relying on containment through sanctions and, possibly, acts of sabotage. But there can be no doubt that the power of Iran in Iraq and in the region has increased as a result of the USinvasion. It is hard to imagine America and its allies again launching such a vast military enterprise, or presenting it as part of something so obscure and unexplained as a “war on terror.” America’s failure in Iraq marks the end of a century of ill-judged invasions, coups, and other attempts by western powers to manipulate events in the Middle East. It is an important moment.
The neocons regarded intervention in Iraq as a means of establishing a beachhead for liberal, democratic values in the region...