Don’t break out the ticker tape just yet

There are a lot of generals who will tell us that victory in Iraq is now all but ordained, but they are far too emotionally invested to be taken at face value.  I admit, it is sometimes challenging to come up with an answer for the massive reduction in violence and apparent cooperation of the U.S. and Iraqi militaries in the past couple years.  However, no matter how wonderful the headlines and how flowery the generals’ speeches, there’s always that suspicion in the back of my mind: “It just doesn’t work that way.  Things don’t just magically get better in a year or two.  History tells us otherwise.”  Well, Thomas Ricks has an op-ed in today’s WaPo that confirms my suspicion: The reduction in violence is a veneer.  So why believe Ricks any more than the war’s cheerleaders?   Because Ricks’ editorial is written in a sober, objective tone whereas almost all of the “Iraq is saved if we just stay longer” op-eds are thinly veiled emotional appeals.

Ricks draws upon several years of his own research which included interviews with top commanders in Iraq.  Gen. Odierno (Commander, MNF-I) told Ricks that the Iraqi military had absolved itself of the Saddam-era mentality, but one of his subordinates closer to the facts told a different tale:

“When you got to know them and they’d be honest with you, every single one of them thought that the whole notion of democracy and representative government in Iraq was absolutely ludicrous,” said Maj. Chad Quayle, who advised an Iraqi battalion in south Baghdad during the surge.

As Ricks shows us, many years of Civil War-level reconstruction would be necessary just to repair the damage America wrought in Iraq, much less improve the quality of life above its prewar baseline.  Elections don’t put food on the table.  What’s more, just because violence is down dramatically does not mean that Iraq is at peace.  The usual assertions about us having saved Iraq are still childishly simplistic.

“Victory in the true sense implies that the state of peace…is better after the war than before.” – Basil Liddell Hart

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