Victory in Iraq?

By Andy Ross, November 23, 2008

Declaring victory and moving on is a good tactic when you've done what you set out to do. US forces have removed any serious military danger to the outside world from Iraq for the foreseeable future, hazy possibilities of terrorism aside, and given the Iraqis the opportunity to reshape their own future along more democratic lines. More was never likely or reasonably possible. Now is the time to go.

In face of that truth, the new administration in Washington has no good justification for continuing the US investment in shoring up Iraqi internal security arrangements. Let the Iraqis sort themselves out. They have enjoyed all the support for the last five years that they could wish for, and prolonging the US presence much longer will only fuel the sort of resentment that creates more insurgents later.

The Iraq war was always Bush's war, and now that he is departing there is no need to prolong it. Any business interests the United States may have in Iraq are better conducted independently of a military presence, and are likely if anything to be damaged by such a presence. American multinationals have learned to dominate markets within plenty of nation states that never hosted US military forces.

Since the main business opportunities in Iraq revolve around oil and the current recession suggests that demand for oil will be muted for a while, perhaps until alternative energy sources have a larger market share, the United States has only geopolitical reasons to maintain its military stake in Iraq. And there may be better ways to build a bulwark against the threat of a militantly Islamist Iran.

The legacy of the Iraq war for the US military is one they can be proud of. Scandals involving the improper treatment of prisoners or detainees excepted, political confusion in the command chain over objectives and rules of engagement well noted, and shortcomings in the supply of equipment aside, the military tasks were accomplished successfully and convincingly. This was no shameful defeat.
The feat of arms was considerable and overwhelming. A massive force of ground-based and sea-based attack aircraft was deployed efficiently and practically without losses to paralyze and disrupt the Iraqi forces sufficiently to set the stage for the ground campaign. The armored ground assault then took Baghdad fast and dug in. Just one problem: they had no plans for an occupation and no exit strategy.
Result: the cost of the war was excessive. The United States has suffered well over 4,000 military deaths. Iraq suffered very many more casualties. The full and final dollar cost may never be known exactly, but it certainly exceeds a trillion dollars. Given the return, both so far and into the future, and in view of the present US financial crisis, this outlay is an obscene, atrocious waste.
In terms of world history, a clash between the historically Christian modernizing forces of the West, spearheaded by the United States, and the traditional cultures of the Islamic world, with their center in the region of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, may have been inevitable. After this symbolic clash of arms, perhaps the modernization of the Islamic world can now proceed more peacefully. But not quite yet.

Two big problems remain: Iran and Israel. The emerging Iranian challenge to Western hegemony in the region requires a response backed by military force, including the will to go nuclear if necessary. And the challenges from Hamas and Hisbollah to Israel could explode and engulf the whole region in war. A failed Iranian attack on Israel, followed by forced pacification of Iran, might clear the air.