David Brooks' recent NYT column partakes in a highly-touted, celebrated fallacy regarding the hopeless quagmire, George Bush's Iraq War.
The fallacy is that "big successes" are happening in the most hopeless of regions, and that this counts as "big progress".
"We've won Diyala and Anbar Provinces!" they say. "Al-Qaida is on the run!"
1) Al-Qaida never but never was the primary enemy in the conflict, never even accounting for more than 10% of the total violence. True, "Al-Qaida" fomented the Sunni/Shi'a conflict with spectacular terrorist acts, but the source of Iraq's ruin is the civil war between Sunni and Shi'a.
Further, the "Al-Qaida" "terrorists" Iraq "experts" talk about are only partially ideologically aligned with Osama bin Laden, nor, to my knowledge, has it been shown that they receive his funding or training.
In other words, we are not "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here". Regional sectarian violence prevents any meaningful progress in what was once called Iraq.
2) The successes touted are in low-population, rural areas that are the equivalent of Montana for Iraq. Anbar Province, like Montana, lacks cultural diversity and economic importance compared to the country at large (no offense to Montana). Thus, it's really easy to say there's been progress when the primarily Sunni population of Anbar has cut down on terrorism in the area, primarily by forcefully blocking the entry of the Shi'a militias and Shi'a government-sponsored national army.
The biggest questions still remain: what will become of Baghdad and Basra, which are respectively the population center and the economic center? In Baghdad, the ethnic cleansing has gotten less violent but no less successful. In Basra, where most of Iraq's oil is controlled, $15 million a day in oil revenues disappear to fund corruption, militias, and further violence.
3) I agree with the point that the changes have come from the outside, not from the central government. I believe the civil war has lulled. Maybe the US should just get out now, or actively encourage partition, however horrible its consequences may be (confer India/Pakistan).
If anything, political reconciliation is more impossible now than it was in 2003-2006, with the entrenched factional conflicts cemented.
The US role is still that of essentially refereeing a civil war. This is even more apparent since the news that the US is arming both sides in the conflict.
4) All statistical data indicates a lack of progress, and the "positive" data that does not is either cherry-picked, false, or very suspect. Kevin Drum's blog at Washington Monthly has show this.
But: let me conclude. We know this is going to be a ten-year war. So, if we're at the four year and four month point. That's a long way to go.
The big change in the debate has come about because the surge failed, and it failed in an unexpected way.
The original idea behind the surge was that U.S. troops would create enough calm to allow the national politicians to make compromises. The surge was intended to bolster the "modern" — meaning nonsectarian and nontribal — institutions in the country.
But the surge is failing, at least politically, because there are practically no nonsectarian institutions, and there are few nonsectarian leaders to create them. Security gains have not led to political gains.
At the same time, something unexpected happened. As Iraqi national politics stagnated, the tribes began to take the initiative. The process started in Anbar Province, when the local tribes revolted against Al Qaeda. It has continued in Diyala Province and even in Baghdad neighborhoods like Ameriya. In the South, moderate Shiite parties have begun to resist the Sadrists, while in many places local groups that look like mafia families struggle to impose order on their turf.
How many lives, how many limbs, how much tax money, and how much bullshit are we willing to put up with? What a disaster, George W. Bush!!!
A smarter man than me asked long ago, "Why are we in Vietnam?" I second the sentiment: Why are we in Iraq?
Update: Thomas Friedman would be better off shutting up and listening. Example.
Scene 2: On my way into Iraq, I had a private chat with an Arab Gulf
leader. He said something that still rings in my ear: "Thomas,
everyone is keeping you busy in Iraq. The Russians are keeping you
busy. The Chinese are keeping you busy. The Iranians are keeping you
busy. The Saudis are keeping you busy. Egypt is keeping you busy. The
Syrians are keeping you busy..."
Update 2: Juan Cole on the "fallacy" I've described, in the entry here: