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Entries in Iraq (33)


Iraq at ten years

Cartoon found here (in an FT op-ed that fits this post nicely - if orthogonally).

Read through a variety of the tenth-year anniversary reviews, and I thought Thomas Friedman's was the best - despite the weird title (Democrats, Dragons or Drones?).

His basic notion that it takes the next generation to create and shape the subsequent reality is correct.  Friedman pegs it at "9 months and 21 years to develop."

Fair enough. But the question (as he also notes) hinges on that generation's journey.  Done well, it works.  Done badly enough and a vicious spiral ensues.  In truth, the jury remains out on that score.

We won the war - no doubt, and then took a pass on the postwar.  If we hadn't, then questions of "why?" fade away.  In the post-9/11 mood, America possessed the desire to reshape the region and Saddam was the obvious target. Direct causality was not the issue, although Dick Cheney tried to sell that.  Nor was direct threat, referring to the late and frantic oversell of the WMD to Congress.  The purpose - all along - was structural retribution: as in, you reshaped our world, now we reshape yours.  Americans are just deeply uncomfortable admitting that, so we needed a clear and present storyline to drive our revenge-flick dynamics.

The resulting strategic "pre-emption" was oddly symmetrical in ambition but certainly not in cost (and why should it be so between a superpower and a non-state actor?).

So when we take that pass on the aftermath of the war, and basically pretend that what comes next doesn't really matter, we abort the entire regional restructuring ambition (which, if you remember, was on a nice roll for 2-3 years there) and we allow ourselves to be swallowed up (in terms of strategic effort and attention) by an insurgency that was completely foreseeable and completely manageable - if we had bothered to embrace that inevitability.

But instead of embracing it, we did what we always do and called the postwar another war.  And wars yield a singular answer in US military history - called, more firepower.  And then we found that made things worse (go figure).

And then the White House, chastened finally by the 2006 midterms, relabeled the conflict and rebranded the mission - and then we succeeded again.  

But by then the public narrative had already been cast (Bush lied, too many deaths, too much cost).

So ultimately the Bush administration pays the legacy cost for its mistakes, which mostly had to do with stubbornness.  They had their narrative of a successful war and stuck to it - until it hurt so bad that they had to change.

So what are we left with?

In structural terms, I like what the Middle East has become.  The inevitabilities are being processed and Iran is more isolated than ever.  And thanks to larger structural changes in the global economy, the area is coming under new superpower management - inexorably.  None of it is nice, but it was never going to be anything but painful and violent.  The Arab world has an enormous amount of catching up to do WRT globalization, and it will be awful in execution (and with Africa leaping ahead on many fronts, the Middle East and North Africa - or large portions of it - risk becoming globalization's long-term basket case).

If the US had handed off the region still encased in its many dictatorships, China would have a much easier time over the next two decades.  Now, it faces challenges that are likely to alter its own political structure significantly - just like it did to the US.  Some naturally see the "defeat of American empire" in the region, but since empire was never America's goal, that judgment is meaningless.

All that matters is the relative evolutions of the three superpowers of the 21st century:  China, India and America.

America did, per my original Esquire piece, take strategic ownership of the Middle East in a big way.  That ambition was both debilitating and liberating:  we took our shot (badly) and now we're done "owning" things there (besides Iran's nukes).  In that way, Iraq processed our inevitable post-9/11 over-reaching response (we are a democracy) and hurried us along the exhaustion-collapse-rock bottom-recovery-resurrection dynamic that was always slated for us in the post-Cold War world (our inability to handle the success of the "end of history" - aka, the globalization of our economic connectivity model).  We had gotten used to running things, and we weren't going to stop until something made us stop - an unpleasant journey but a necesssary one.

Now, in grand structural terms, the race among my C-I-A trio is well underway.  The Obama administration, needing a switch-over target, sells its Asian pivot.  This is not a good answer, as I have noted frequently - but rather a red herring.  The real struggle in Asia doesn't involve us except in an off-shore balancing role.

Instead, the real struggles of the future involve the very same frontier integration I've been talking about for a decade now.  On that score, we are looking fine enough in our ongoing restructuring of our portfolio, while China's grows frighteningly larger relative to its ability to deliver and manage regions distant from its shores. India is just begining to recognize what responsibilities lie ahead.

You'll say that China will do it differently, but the structure of the system will force the same responses: China cannot afford to lose its growing overseas dependencies (much greater than any borne by the US), and so the responses will be mounted.  And when they don't go well (whoever gets it right - right off the bat?), change will double back upon China - to its general benefit (along with the world's).

Iraq was always a means to an end (when in history has great power war ever been anything else?).  During the real-time execution, it seems like everything - as does every war throughout history.  But half a century later?  It looks very different.  It's a stepping stone for superpowers:  some step up and some step down, some step away and some step in.  None of it is exactly what it appears to be in the light of present-day reporting.  Per Zhou Enlai's take on the French Revolution, we will be witnessing the downstream consequences across the century.


Just starting Wikistrat simulation: Iraq 2023

From the preview page:


The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2020, Iraq will roughly double its current oil production of 3 million barrels a day. Already, Baghdad exhibits the air of a raucously corrupt boom town, so it’s fair to say that the economic forces driving Iraq today will grow magnificently more profound over the next decade, as the country migrates from an Iran-sized oil industry to one eventually approaching that of Saudi Arabia.
With the current Persian Gulf security situation fixated on the Arab Spring, Iran’s reach for the Bomb and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions, it’s all too easy to ignore Iraq’s rapid rise as a world oil power (e.g., today’s Iraq accounts for more of the world’s rise in oil production than any other state), which begs the question: What kind of Iraq is possible 20 years post-Saddam?

Should be an interesting scenario drill.  As always, if you want to join Wikistrat's global community of strategic thinkers, the door is open.  Simply contact me and I will put you into the process of application.


The real Turkey-Iran battle over Iraq

Blogged a piece a while ago about how Iranian products just aren't making it in Iraq, while Turkish ones are far more welcome.  This FT piece by Daniel Dombey (whom I cite a lot) argues that what the geo-pols consider Turkish empire re-building is undergirded for the most part in wanting to dominate export models (my read of his analysis).  Why?

Turkey has hit that middle-class phase where the people want to consumer a lot and thus imports rise - along with consumer credit.  Unless you combat that with exports, you end up a bit too much like the US.

Iraq has just overtaken Italy as Turkey's second-biggest export market, with the KRG leading the way.

Turkey has similar eyes for Syria and - ultimately - a post-changed-regime Iran.

These are good ambitions, the best kind of "imperialism" - really:  making consumers happier than the crappy regime that lords over them.


Fascinating achievement of US foreign policy: Iraq outcranks Iran on oil

You have to credit Bush the Elder on the northern NFZ after Desert Storm because that set in motion the KRG we know today.  You also credit Bush on the surge and Obama on the latest sanctions strategy, because it's collectively a significant restructuring of the correlation of forces in the region - a dynamic obviously driven by the ability to export oil (FT says Iran's exports = 1/2 gov revenue and 80% of total export value).  Iraq hasn't outproduced Iran since their mutual war in the late 1980s.

Iraq dreams of 12mb by 2017, but the industry pegs 4.5mb as more realistic, according to the article.

By December, analysts say, iraq will have earned more selling its oil than Iran for the first time since Saddam Huessein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

All this is to remind of Zhou Enlai's response to a question concerning his opinion of the French Revolution: "Too early to say."


Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Predicting Iraq's future

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq began 9 years ago this week, triggering a conflict that cost the U.S. approximately 4,500 lives and a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money. In honor of that anniversary, Wikistrat’s an alytic “crowd” debated: a) what America ultimately accomplished in Iraq, and b) where Iraq is likely headed in the years ahead. These are our six primary judgments.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Van Creveld tuned into Iran v. Turkey

Temp Headline Image

CSM op-ed, by way of WPR's media roundup.

As readers will attest, I've been saying this for a long time myself, both here and in columns and posts for other sites, but felt kinda odd that no one else was picking up on it. Knew I wasn't making it up.  Just wondered why the real lead being buried by MSM.

Well, this is one credentializing op-ed from Martin Van Creveld and somebody else.

Check it out.  I don't agree with all of it, but it's a powerful piece.

My annotated rundown:

[SUBTITLE] Many analysts say the Middle East is the focus of a geopolitical power struggle between the United States and Iran. That misses the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing soft partition of the Arab republics between Turkey and Iran, with Turkey the stronger power.

What's not said: the power Turkey wields is entirely "soft," meaning the attraction of its culture, politics and its economic heft.  Turkey is not threatening with hard power, nor reaching for nukes - none of what Iran does. Instead, it's primary attraction is its success in growing and keeping happy an expanding middle class.

This is primarily China's soft-power attraction, so when we seek to counter it with a military "pivot" to East Asia, we don't look strong but weak.

During the last decade many right-wing American and Israeli analysts have described the geostrategic struggles unfolding in the Middle East as a new “cold war” pitting the United States against Shiite Iran. They have warned of an Arab “Shiite crescent” – stretching from Lebanon to Iraq – connected to Iran via ties of religion, commerce, and geostrategy . . .

Van Creveld puts Iraq too easily in Iran's camp - at least the Arab portion. I don't think it's such a done deal by any stretch, and we've seen plenty of reports that say the Turkish attraction is greater there on a lot of levels.

Back to the argument:

What this view of the Middle East overlooks is the fact that both the US and Iran are mired in internal political and economic difficulties. Simultaneously, inside the region, both are being outmaneuvered by an ascendant Turkey.

I don't think the US is being "outmaneuvered," just outperformed and out-clevered - if you will. Turkey, as a "young" rising power, has the strategic imagination required for the task, whereas the US strategic community is mired in a plethora of 20th-century concepts, many of which are so outdated as to be laughable. Turks just see the region with clearer eyes than we do.  No great mystery there.  Iran, thank Allah, is just as mired in the past.

Moreover, Western observers have missed the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing asymmetric Turkish-Iranian soft partition of the Arab republics. Concomitantly, the American position as regional hegemon is vanishing. Today, only the Arab monarchies and Israel continue to look to the US as their primary patron.

I believe this to be true, but again, Turkey is winning and Iran's grip is tenable - see Syria.

Following the US withdrawal from Iraq, KRG officials bemoaned their need of a regional patron to protect them from dominance by Baghdad. Landlocked Iraqi Kurdistan also needs a conduit to export its oil to the West. The only country that can fulfill both roles is Turkey. That is why KRG officials, instead of supporting their ethnic brethren inside Turkey, have often sided with Ankara against the Kurdish separatist PKK.

This was made obvious to us when Enterra did its development work in the KRG.

Should more pipelines leading from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Mediterranean via Turkey be built, the result will be the de facto creation of an Iraqi-Kurdish buffer state. 

And frankly, the KRG is the nicest part of Iraq in terms of combined hydrocarbons and arable land.

In the southern part of Iraq, the situation is just the opposite. There, a Shiite Arab buffer state, buttressed by Iran as a bulwark against Turkish, American, or Saudi encroachments, is being created. The last two weeks’ events have removed any doubt that Prime Minister Maliki is “Iran’s man” in Baghdad. 

Again, I differ here on writing off the south, but point taken.

Yet despite this de facto partitioning of Iraq over the last month, Turkey and Iran are not challenging each other’s spheres of influence. Thus, Iraq has reverted to its traditional position as the Poland of the Middle East.

Cool analogy.

In post-Arab Spring North Africa, too, Turkey and Iran have essentially partitioned the resurgent Islamist movements between themselves. The Turks support the victorious “moderate” Islamists from Tunisia to Egypt. Iran backs the Salafist spoilers, even though they are Sunni.


Key point:

Since North Africa lacks indigenous Shiite populations and the “moderate” Islamists have now emerged as the main players in the region, it is Sunni Turkey, along with Qatar, that appears to be the rising political and commercial patron in North Africa.

Not arms, but soft-power backed by serious wealth accumulation.

Next arguments about Turkey and Iran synching their approaches to Israel-Palestine problem strikes me as weak. Van Creveld and his guy are interpreting Turkey's reorientation away from quasi alliance with Israel and a reorientation toward Iran's hard line.  I see nothing of the sort, but rather Turkey proving its Islamist credentials as it openly seeks regional leadership.  Israel here is just the litmus test.

Van Creveld and Pack see a clear struggle between the two powers in Syria, but again with an eye to soft partition, as they put it:

In a fragmented post-Assad Syria, Turkey will support the Sunnis, while Iran will remain the patron of the Alawites. Moreover, both will surely find a way to protect their strategic and financial interests in whatever regime emerges.

Strong finish on a point I have railed incessantly - our obsession with Iran's nukes blinds us to everything else going on in the region:

Throughout 2011, the continued Western obsession with the Iranian nuclear menace prevented policymakers from grasping the most salient dynamics at play in the new Middle East. Those who, like Mohammed Ayoob, have warned that “Beyond the Arab Democratic Wave” lies a “Turko-Persian Future” have been mostly ignored.

The Arab Spring has vastly weakened the Arab states, leaving them open to fragmentation, increased federalism, and outside penetration. With hindsight, 2011 may come to represent as sharp a rupture in the political landscape of the Middle East as 1919 did.

True to my "new map" approach: globalization, entering the Arab world, creates fragmenting tendencies (remapping, as I have long described it), and the two states seeking to take advantage represent polar opposites on adapting themselves to globalization's many challenges: Turkey embraces and is stronger for it, Iran does not and in its fight to keep it out becomes decidedly weaker (here our sanctions do help). Toss Qatar in the same basic globalization camp as Turkey.

Van Creveld and Pack view all this in terms of great power control over weaker states, and yes, we will witness plenty of these dynamics in the initial remapping process, but Turkey won't "own" the Middle East any more than China will "own" SE Asia.  Ultimately, as globalization takes deep root and economic opportunities arise, states will gravitate according to market power, not pol-mil influence.  Turkey will be prominent because of its significant market size (just like China in East Asia or India in South Asia or the US in the Western Hemisphere), adhering to my general principle that what rules in globalization is not supply (especially of hard power) but demand (the ultimate soft attractor).


WPR's The New Rules: A Foreign Policy Wish List for 2012 

Last year was a tough one in terms of global economics, humanitarian disasters and political leadership among the world's great powers. But it was also the year of the glorious Arab Spring and hints of similar developments in Myanmar, Russia and Ethiopia. So while the year's "fundamentals," as the economists like to say, weren't so good, it left us with plenty to be grateful for as globalization continues to awaken the desire of individuals for freedom the world over. Keeping all that in mind, here is my foreign policy wish list for 2012.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: How to Stop Worrying and Live with the Iranian Bomb

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programsurprised no one, even as it created the usual flurry of op-eds championing preventative “next steps.” As I’ve been saying for the past half-decade, there are none. Once the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the question went from being, “How do we prevent Iran from getting the Bomb?” to “How do we handle Iran’s Bomb?” That shift represents neither defeatism nor appeasement. Rather, it reflects a realistic analysis of America’s strategic options. With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why Iran’s successful pursuit of the Bomb is not the system-changing event so many analysts are keen to portray.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: For all you Iran-is-winning types, the sad truth

You get two variants of this logic: 1) if the US leaves Iraq, Iran wins automatically (or it's won already because the Shiite majority actually rules); and 2) even more than al-Qaeda, Iran is the real beneficiary of the Arab Spring.

Both judgments are wrong in the way that America's capacity for frantic self-doubt and self-blame are routinely wrong.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.



Being realistic on Iran's long-term influence in Iraq: it will lose out to Turkey and China and Kuwait

Story in WAPO gets the Iran-is-winning crowd all jacked up: Iraq is condemned for not siding with the anti-Assad movement in Syria and actually offering support to the regime! This is spun as clear evidence of Iran's influence, when there are a host of pragmatic reasons why Baghdad isn't so interested in having the Arab Spring topple the dictator Assad.

Some analysis that's far more nuanced and realistic is found in the NYT Sunday ("Vacuum Is Feared as U.S. Quits Iraq, but Iran's Deep Influence May Not Fill It," by Tim Arango).

The best bits:

As the United States draws down its forces in Iraq, fears abound that Iran will simply move into the vacuum and extend its already substantial political influence more deeply through the soft powers of culture and commerce. But here, in this region that is a center of Shiite Islam, some officials say that Iran wore out its welcome long ago.

Surely, Iran has emerged empowered in Iraq over the last eight years, and it has a sympathetic Shiite-dominated government to show for it, as well as close ties to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. But for what so far are rather obscure reasons — perhaps the struggling Iranian economy and mistrust toward Iranians that has been nurtured for centuries — it has been unable to extend its reach.

In fact, a host of countries led by Turkey — but not including the United States — have made the biggest inroads, much to the chagrin of people here in Najaf like the governor.

“Before 2003, 90 percent of Najaf people liked Iranians,” said the governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, who has lived in Chicago and Michigan and holds American citizenship. “Now, 90 percent hate them. Iran likes to take, not give” . . .

So big surprise: those who deliver economically achieve real standing. Iran simply cannot do this, because it's economy is broken - just like its "revolution."

Now to address the conventional wisdom: 

A standard narrative has it that the Iraq war opened up a chessboard for the United States and Iran to tussle for power. One of the enduring outcomes has been an emboldened Iran that is politically close to Iraq’s leaders, many of whom escaped to Iran during Saddam Hussein’s government, and that is a large trading partner.

Yet the story is more nuanced, particularly in the Shiite-dominated south that became politically empowered after the American invasion upended Sunni rule. It has been other countries — most powerfully Turkey, but also China, Lebanon and Kuwait — that have cemented influence through economic ties.

The patterns were established soon after the American invasion. Shoddy Iranian goods — particularly low-quality cheese, fruit and yogurt — flooded markets in the south, often at exorbitant prices, said Mahdi Najat Nei, a diplomat who heads the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran office in Baghdad. This sullied Iran’s reputation, even though prices have since plummeted, creating an aversion to Iranian goods that lasts to this day, Mr. Nei said.

This has made it difficult for Iranian businesspeople to make investments in southern Iraq, said Ali Rhida, who is from Iran and is building an iron factory on the outskirts of Najaf. “The real problem is with the mangers of the economy in Iran,” he said. “After the fall of the regime, many Iranian companies came here but they screwed it all up.”

As always, the real winners are the ones who deliver opportunity. Iran makes demands and delivers burdens.

“Investment from Iran has almost stopped,” said Zuheir Sharba, the chairman of Najaf’s provincial council, referring to a phenomenon that has more to do with Iran’s anemic state-run economy than it does to Iranian ambitions. Speaking about Americans, he said, “They were coming, but they’ve stopped.”

Mr. Sharba continued: “We wish that American companies would come here. I wish the American relationship was that, instead of troops, it would be companies.” Mr. Sharba is a cleric, and he spent 14 years in Iran in exile during Mr. Hussein’s government.

Our failure at economy-building staring us in the face.  Why? We became obsessed with the notion that government-building equates to state-building, when it's economy-building that triggers the locals to make their own state happen. We acted like the Gorbachev here: imagining politics determines economics, when we should have played it like Deng, understanding that you start with the economics and let the politics slowly evolve.

Yes, Iran can make trouble, but who cuts the deals?

While Iran may be flagging in the battle for hearts and minds, it is still able to create trouble. A rise this summer in American troop deaths in southern Iraq at the hands of Iranian-backed militias raised alarms in diplomatic circles and became the core of the argument put forth by those who want a longer-lasting American military presence to counter Iran’s clout.

But the troublemaking does not extend to the more important arena of commerce, officials say. “Because of the political sensitivities of Iran, many people say Iran is controlling the economy of Iraq,” said Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament and a close confidant to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “No, the Turks are.”

Mr. Maliki once lived in Iran, and he surrounds himself with aides who have close ties to Tehran. Yet even these relationships have not translated into economic or cultural influence that could endear Iran to the Iraqi public at large. “I’ve yet to meet an Iraqi who trusts the Iranians,” said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East.

But the mythology dies hard in Washington, so eager are we to crap on ourselves and see "loss" in everything right now. It's silly and it's childish, but that's what we are right now.

Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said that because of numerous small projects — particularly related to religious tourism in Najaf, including a large underground toilet facility, and some construction projects in Basra — “a lot of these myths get perpetrated” about Iran’s influence in the south. “In the aggregate, it doesn’t add up to much,” he said.

Atmospherics trumping reality. Iran is a master at spewing this nonsense and we are adept at swallowing it, much like Ahmadinejad's diatribes and threats against Israel.

The Saudis know better and so do the Turks.  Given the choice, I choose Turkey, which, BTW, is really "winning" in Iraq - and that's just fine by me.

Will we Americans ever grow past this pathetic need to view all interventions in such black-and-white terms? I have great faith in the Millennials. The Boomers were raised in a Manichean childhood, and it permanently ruined their strategic thinking.


Time's Battleland: Arab Spring with same impact as "big bang strategy": Islam at war with self - not West


Nice piece in the NYT at the end of September pointing out that the primary impact of the Arab Spring is that, in giving people chances to rule themselves and not be subject to dictators, Islamic activists find themselves splintering from within . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: Globalization at the barrel of a gun

Careful where you aim that weapon, buddy!

That phrase, with its powerful imagery, was often tossed at me following the publication of my 2004 book, The Pentagon's New Map. In it, I argued that globalization's expansion was, and would continue to be, the primary cause of unrest and conflict in the world, as connectivity - in all its forms - extended itself into the non-integrated regions and triggered rising expectations (as in, "If the Indians and Chinese are getting richer, then why do we continue to submit to this incompetent government that keeps us unduly disconnected from all that opportunity?").

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: "Counter-terrorism beats nation-building? Are we going to bury COIN all over again?"

My old classmate Fareed Zakaria recently made the argument that counterterrorism beats nation-building when it comes to winning the war on terror. Taking Osama Bin Laden's killing as a point of American pride, he says that sort of military/intelligence operation is what we're good at, and so we should stick with it versus pursue the larger counterinsurgency (COIN) effort that General David Petraeus has now led in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a broad point to be making off the Bin Laden operation, especially as Petraeus heads to CIA. While I may agree with Fareed WRT Af-Pak, let me express a larger concern.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Iraq: the Bull-ish view

Bartle Bull in the WSJ on Iraq's oil-based future (what other future do you start with when you possibly own the world's largest oil reserve?).

His opening bid:  what was once a dictatorship and bully of the region (now replaced by Iran) is currently the region's best-functioning democracy (yes, the stalemate finally passed without any fight) and probably the world's biggest crude producer within a decade (the ambition).

After three decades of non-exploration, the country is now going to get surveyed.  Why? This is what the Iraqis offer:  you can own 100% of Iraqi companies, you only pay 15% flat tax on profits and you can re-pat those profits at your pleasure. [I don't think that describes the oil industry, however.]

Larger point:  having seen how the Saudis rose and got rich when their oil production took off.  The investment based on the oil deals signed last year could add up to $200B into the economy, and that money will attract that much more money.

Toss in the ability to grow food (once the region's breadbasket--especially considering the water-plentiful north) and the fact that the economy is unusually free for the region, and you've got a very dynamic package now that the basic security is there.

All the economic basics are solid, and the oil profits look to be extended to the public on an individual basis a la the Alaska oil account model.

Corruption still bad, but the oil industry is - by comparison - stunningly transparent (witness the auctions).  If anything, the biggest problem is the government's slow-paced bureaucracy. But a well-educated and ambitious people and - again - that stabilized security environment (40% fewer deaths from violence than Mexico - not to pick on Mexico but to provide some relative measure). 

A decade from now, when Iraq is rich and powerful and a hugely stabilizing force in the region, people will look back on the intervention with different eyes.  It will be viewed as a process of enormous difficulty, lots of screw-ups, stunning and unforgivable amount of wasted spending (we refuse to seriously organize ourselves for such things and remain - to this day - unilateral control freaks), a godawful amount of evolution forced upon the U.S. military (beneficial), incredibly painful for the Iraqi people -- and totally worth it given the positive outcome.

This is what I wrote in Esquire before the invasion:

As baby-sitting jobs go, this one will be a doozy, making our lengthy efforts in postwar Germany and Japan look simple in retrospect.

I wasn't particularly surprised by the difficulty of the occupation. The plans going in looked crazy optimistic and I knew our military just wasn't shaped for the challenge (we saw that in Somalia earlier). So I figured it would be bad and we'd change in response (think North Africa, 1942-43). As for the recovery. history told me it would be a generation - roughly.  So an Iraq that's on par with Saudi Arabia's oil production in 2020 sounds about right, because that country is going to experience once helluva boom.


WPR's The New Rules: A Wish List for the New Year

To kick off 2011, I thought I'd put together my top-10 international affairs wish list for the year, going from left to right on my wall map. But like Spinal Tap, only better, my list goes to 12:

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Explaining the surge's successes

WSJ weekend interview with General Odierno, once the poster boy for a shoot-em-up Army ill-suited for SysAdmin work, now the longest serving general in Iraq and the poster boy for COIN done well enough.

Good quotes:

[The surge] shows we learned to adapt, to change.  We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations--all while in contact [with the enemy].  That's an incredible feat.


In 2007 I would go out and Americans would show up in a community where they hadn't been in a while. For the first three days, no one would talk to any of the Americans.  But as soon as they started setting up their base—usually meaning they put T-walls around a couple buildings—[Iraqis] would come out of the woodwork. Why? Because when they saw the T-walls go up they knew it was gonna be somewhat permanent, that [the Americans] were going to stay . . . not just gonna come through here for a few days and leave us and we'll be slaughtered.


Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you're there living and reading their newspapers and what they're saying—it's very clear they want to be their own country. They don't want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.


A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.


It's going to be three to five years [after 2011] for us to figure out if this is going right and if it's what we want. There's a real opportunity here that I don't think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there's an opportunity we might never get again.

Good interview.


Everybody's got a definition of what was won and lost in Iraq

"There’s a guy selling fish. He’s got a fish cart. He’s cooking fish. And there’s a watermelon stand and then there’s an electronic store right next to it, and people are everywhere. And I’m sitting in traffic and I’m going, ‘Man, this is unbelievable.’ That’s a victory parade for me."

--COL. ROGER CLOUTIER, on conditions in Baghdad.

See the excellent Steven Lee Myers story on the combat pullout from Iraq.

One reasonable description of what just happened:

The invasion has left behind a democracy in an autocratic part of the world, but a troubled young one with uncertain control over its security and destiny.

I have yet to see a young democracy start in any other way.  It's a very American story.


Quelle surprise! State now freaks out over its just-assumed--and huge--SysAdmin job in Iraq

Unremarkable, I-told-you WAPO story about State realizing that it is unprepared for the SysAdmin role it's stepping into in Iraq.

Sad to say, but this may be the failure we're looking for in terms of eventually birthing the Department of Everything Else.

People always ask me what good thing needs to happen to bring it into existence, and my answer is always that it'll take the right bad thing.

Waiting on State's evolution here is a fool's errand.  I need my good cop (State) and I will always treasure my bad cop (DoD), but I need somebody in between to play midwife across the Gap as globalization remaps a lot of fake states (thank you Europe and Uncle Joe!).

State will freak out and then backtrack in its ambitions to the point of dissipating a great deal of what's been achieved with blood and treasure since the end of 2006, and that level of tragedy will trigger some intense debate.

I can hope for better from State and from the Iraqis themselves, but I am not optimistic.

And so the search for seriousness continues . . ..


A non-ideological assessment of our nation-building success in Iraq

Canadian military slide

David Brooks in the NYT, featuring none of the usual ideological bias on the subject of nation building.

Worth quoting at length:

America has spent $53 billion trying to reconstruct Iraq, the largest development effort since the Marshall Plan.

So how’s it working out?

On the economic front, there are signs of progress. It’s hard to know what role the scattershot American development projects have played, but this year Iraq will have the 12th-fastest-growing economy in the world, and it is expected to grow at a 7 percent annual clip for the next several years.

“Iraq has made substantial progress since 2003,” the International Monetary Fund reports. Inflation is reasonably stable. A budget surplus is expected by 2012. Unemployment, though still 15 percent, is down from stratospheric levels.

Oil production is back around prewar levels, and there are some who say Iraq may be able to rival Saudi production. That’s probably unrealistic, but Iraq will have a healthy oil economy, for better and for worse.

Living standards are also improving. According to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, the authoritative compendium of data on this subject, 833,000 Iraqis had phones before the invasion. Now more than 1.3 million have landlines and some 20 million have cellphones. Before the invasion, 4,500 Iraqis had Internet service. Now, more than 1.7 million do.

In the most recent Gallup poll, 69 percent of Iraqis rated their personal finances positively, up from 36 percent in March 2007. Baghdad residents say the markets are vibrant again, with new electronics, clothing and even liquor stores.

Basic services are better, but still bad. Electricity production is up by 40 percent over pre-invasion levels, but because there are so many more air-conditioners and other appliances, widespread power failures still occur.

In February 2009, 45 percent of Iraqis said they had access to trash removal services, which is woeful, though up from 18 percent the year before. Forty-two percent were served by a fire department, up from 23 percent.

About half the U.S. money has been spent building up Iraqi security forces, and here, too, the trends are positive. Violence is down 90 percent from pre-surge days. There are now more than 400,000 Iraqi police officers and 200,000 Iraqi soldiers, with operational performance improving gradually. According to an ABC News/BBC poll last year, nearly three-quarters of Iraqis had a positive view of the army and the police, including, for the first time, a majority of Sunnis.

Politically, the basic structure is sound, and a series of impressive laws have been passed. But these gains are imperiled by the current stalemate at the top.

Iraq ranks fourth in the Middle East on the Index of Political Freedom from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit — behind Israel, Lebanon and Morocco, but ahead of Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia. Nearly two-thirds of Iraqis say they want a democracy, while only 19 percent want an Islamic state.

In short, there has been substantial progress on the things development efforts can touch most directly: economic growth, basic security, and political and legal institutions. After the disaster of the first few years, nation building, much derided, has been a success. 

Brooks goes on to say that social trust and human capital are both way down, but that's pretty normal for a country that's gone through a civil war.

Point is, if Brooks can offer this sort of assessment now, what do you think will be possible, say, in 2020?

Premature judgments abound because so many Americans made up their minds on this war back in 2006, but I have to hand it to Brooks on this one.  Very intelligent piece.


Democracy slowly gaining ground in Iraq

WSJ op-ed that argues democratic habits are taking hold in the Iraqi parliament, despite the gridlock on the new government.

A reasonably optimistic take that shows it'll take many years before we know how much Iraq gained versus how much both Iraq and the US sacrificed--and how much impact Iraqi democracy has on the wider region.

As usual, Austin Bay (one of the two co-authors) impresses with his ability to peer pas the conventional pessimism.

A second Daily Star op-ed by Safa A. Hussein, an Iraqi government official with some real history, focuses on the dog that isn't barking:

Iraq is undergoing swift and deep social, political and economic change. There is competition over the distribution or re-distribution of power among political entities: a struggle between the pre-2003 and post-2003 power-holders, and competition among diverse post-2003 parties themselves. There are fears of losing power or of the abuse of power by others, and concern over the distribution of power and wealth among the central government, the Kurdistan region and the provinces, the disposition of disputed areas with the Kurds and relations with neighboring countries.

These struggles are often colored by sectarian and ethnic divides, and further complicated by politics of fear driven by Iraq’s political history of oppression, making compromise more difficult. The good thing, however, is that so far the political parties are referring to the Constitution and courts in their disputes, not resorting to violence.

Given these complexities, there is no quick fix.

Again, we have a surfeit of experts willing to admit defeat, but too few willing to spot the progress--like four fre elections in a row in a region that barely knows of such things.