Now that violence in Iraq is down to levels that were unacceptable a few years ago, there’s been much chest-pounding from certain quarters. But let’s assume that magically, by the end of this day, all violence in Iraq ceases, and within weeks all those who fled their homes – either leaving the country or at least their neighborhood – return. Let’s further assume that all is quiet from here on out, at least for the next 100 years. Let us assume an oil sharing law is achieved and all parties stick to it. These last two assumptions in turn generate a third… there is a reasonably strong central government as opposed to the collection of fiefdoms we’ve managed to establish in Afghanistan. And let’s further assume that government is democratic, and is run honestly. Finally, let us even assume it becomes a beacon for democracy in the region, whatever the heck that means.
Assume all of that… what then, will the US have achieved by invading Iraq?
Presumably, the government will be mostly pro-Iranian… Iraq is 60% Shia, after all, and it shares a border with Iran. That doesn’t mean annexation by Iran, but it does mean they’ll view their interests as being generally more aligned with Iran than with the US.
Iraqi society might also resemble Iran to a degree somewhat greater than Americans would be comfortable with. Women in a lot of Sunni and Shia areas know the consequences to not, um, dressing modestly. This is also true of women in the other country in the region the US has liberated – Afghanistan.
Which leads to another point… as I said earlier, let us assume Iraq becomes the beacon of democracy for the region. But… couldn’t the same thing have been accomplished in Afghanistan at much lower cost? Perhaps we didn’t have the half a million troops needed to do things right in Iraq from the beginning, but clearly (look at the Surge) we could have put an additional 160,000 troops in Afghanistan for a year – wouldn’t that have made Afghanistan into a more stable place by now? A beacon of democracy perhaps instead of an ongoing war?
There’s a demonstration that the US won’t be intimidated by Al Qaeda. Fine… that too could have been better demonstrated in Afghanistan. (Its not like Al Qaeda was in Iraq when Saddam was around.)
Then there are the military bases – presumably they can be used to project force in the region. But against who, and how much? Are the Iranians really going to worry that the US might invade, given the costs that we incurred in invading a much weaker Iraq, and an infinitesimally weaker Afghanistan? If the US had gone into Afghanistan and done it right – produced the peaceful democracy that GW talks about quickly and efficiently – maybe it would be enough to scare Iran. But best case scenario, what’s it going to do?
Maybe control of oil? With best case scenario piled on best case scenario, presumably Iraq makes long term oil deals with big American companies… Exxon and the rest of ’em. Not that this necessarily benefits the average American anyway, but the US has a long of history of intervening in foreign countries on the behalf of its large companies. (Just ask anyone in Central America.) Nevertheless, what little benefit there is to most Americans of that becomes a less of a benefit when you consider that the government doesn’t care if American companies are owned by despotic foreign regimes. So making Iraq safe for Exxon only means making Iraq safe for whoever owns the majority shares of Exxon, and if that happens to be the Chinese or Saudi governments, so be it.
Finally, there’s the benefit to the Iraqi people. On the plus side, Saddam’s regime is gone, on the minus, certain societal mores – fundamentalist mores, in particular – will have to be observed. A trivial issue, perhaps, to those who would observe those mores anyway, but not so trivial to those who would prefer to live in a less theocratic environment. And the US will be remembered – in Iraq and elsewhere in the region – as having helped that society.
Anyway… that’s the best case scenario I see in Iraq, and what we will get from it. Agree? Disagree?