In his speech on August 2, President Obama affirmed that all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. That is a welcome stance, given that he has been under increasing pressure to keep American forces in Iraq to maintain order after that deadline. Last week, Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari of the Iraqi army suggested the United States must remain until 2020.
Ironically, some of the same people who argue that a continued U.S. military presence is essential also contend that the United States “won” in Iraq, and especially that the Bush administration’s surge strategy succeeded.
Those who make that argument apparently haven’t looked at Iraq recently. According to the Iraqi government’s own calculations, July was the bloodiest month in that country in more than two years, with over 530 people perishing in political violence. To put that figure into perspective, a comparable monthly toll in the United States, given the difference in the size of the two populations, would be some 7,000 dead. If that carnage were occurring here, I doubt many people would be proclaiming success. The Iraq toll looks good only compared to the even worse bloodletting of a few years ago.
Iraq is also plagued by disunity and a dysfunctional political system. As much as U.S. officials want to preserve the fiction that Iraq is still one country, it is just a fiction. In every way that matters, Iraqi Kurdistan is a de facto independent state. In rump Iraq, Sunni-Shiite tensions and other societal fissures are widening. The squabbling is so bad that five months after national elections, it has not yet been possible to form a new government. Basic services, such as electric power, are significantly worse than they were under Saddam Hussein.
And there are regional worries. Iraq is so weak that its hostile neighbors face irresistible temptations to meddle, and Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are giving in to those temptations.
Other than those minor problems, matters are going splendidly. And this wonderful “victory” has cost the United States a mere $800 billion in direct expenditures, plus hundreds of billions more in indirect costs. Some 4,400 young Americans have died in this crusade, along with another 10,000 or so who have been maimed. And there is the matter of at least 100,000 Iraqis who have been killed since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The verdict rendered by the ancient Greek General Pyrrhus of Epirus that "another such victory and we are undone" should be the epitaph for the American mission in Iraq.