How Are We Doing in Iraq?
President Bush stated at his press conference today that he wouldn't keep the troops in Iraq if he did not think the American effort there could succeed. That raises the question of the extent to which we are accomplishing our objectives. President Bush has stated many times that the purpose of the invasion was to 1. remove Saddam Hussein from power; 2. create a stable democracy in Iraq; 3. have that new Iraqi democracy serve as a role model for other Arab nations; 4. weaken global terrorism. How are we doing in relation to those goals?
1. REMOVING SADDAM HUSSEIN. Here, the American military clearly succeeded. Saddam Hussein was overthrown, captured, and is now standing trial for his many crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the invasion seemed to have unleashed a whole new generation of Saddamist/Baath party psychopaths. By the time of the invasion, Hussein himself was a monster in decline. Worried about germ phobias, writing the Koran in his own blood, and so fearful that he withheld information on WMD from his own generals, Hussein was too self-indulgent and paranoid to be effective and his government seemed to have calcified around him. However, the removal of Saddam Hussein seemed to have released the energies and abilities of subordinates who were just as monstrous as Saddam himself. The remnants of the Saddam regime and Baath Party proved to be surprisingly effective at using nationalist rhetoric, bribery, and intimidation to organize the initial core of the underground resistance. Yes, we removed the monster, but removing the monster will not have been a complete success until we remove all the new monsters who were unleashed unintentionally by the invasion.
2. ESTABLISHING STABLE DEMOCRACY. Following the overthrow of the Saddam regime, the U. S. has pushed the Iraqi's through three rounds of national elections. As a result, many of the elements of a stable democracy are in place: an elected executive and national assembly, multiple political parties, a free media, and active political debate. These accomplishments have been very substantial and the whole effort would be counted a big success if these were the only factors in establishing "stable democracy." However, each step forward have been accompanied by enormous setbacks that make it doubtful that Iraq will be a stable democracy for decades if ever. The biggest setback to stable democracy has been the development of a determined insurgency based in the Sunni areas. The insurgents have launched a relentless series of assasinations, attacks on infrastructure, assaults on Shiite religious shrines, suicide bombings, and ethnic cleansing campaigns that have put the Iraqi government under tremendous pressure. As long as the insurgents enjoy a strong base among the Sunnis and support from global jihadis, it is likely that the Iraq insurgency will continue indefinitely like the long-term insurgencies in Columbia and Guatemala.
Compounding the problems caused by the insurgency, the elections resulted in a very weak government. The Shiite religious parties are the strongest bloc, but leaders of these parties have neither been strong enough to govern on their own nor skilled enough to forge working coalitions with Kurdish, Sunni, and secular politicians. As a result, Iraqi politicians have yet to settle on a permanent prime minister and cabinet line-up even though the elections were three months ago. The crunch point is whether the next government will be based on the Shiite parties or a national unity coalition. Both options are prescriptions for weakness. A Shiite government would be weak because it did not command the allegiance of the Sunnis, Kurds, or secularists. The kind of national unity government that the U. S. is pushing would be weak because every meaningful decision would be the subject of acrimonious four-way negotiations. Given the state of civil war caused by the insurgency, the chronic weakness of the Iraqi government has to be viewed as a factor that prevents the stabilization of democracy.
Another powerful barrier to stable democracy has been the infiltration of Shiite militia members from the Badr and Mahdi militias into Iraqi military and police units. As a result, the government's military apparatus has become a launching pad for Shiite death squads. Matching and sometimes exceeding the atrocities of the Sunni insurgents, the Shiite militias have ensured that Baghdad remains in a dystopian state of anarchy where nobody can feel secure for themselves or their families.
To sum up, the U. S. has succeeded in introducing a democratic form of government to Iraq. However, the democratically-elected government is extremely unstable and is a poor prospect for becoming more stable in the future. Even though it is faced with a powerful insurgency from the Sunni population, the Iraqi government is weak and corrupt at the top and riddled with death squads and militias at the bottom. Not only is the Iraqi government is not strong enough to stabilize itself against the insurgency, it contributes to the instability by countenancing violent militia activity.
3. CREATE A DEMOCRATIC ROLE MODEL FOR OTHER ARAB NATIONS. If the U. S. has failed to create a stable democracy in Iraq, it is obvious that Iraq has not become a role model that other Arab countries would want to emulate. The message from Iraq to countries like Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt is that loosening the reins of power gives Sunni fundamentalists to try to create Taliban-type states in their countries. It's a message that these countries had already been deriving from Algeria and Afghanistan. Condoleeza Rice has argued on several occasions that democracy is needed because current Arab governments are not stable enough to prevent terrorist activities in their own countries. If anything, the situation in Iraq has further stimulated the development of Arab global terrorism as young men from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt travel to Iraq to be indoctrinated in jihadi ideologies and trained as terrorist fighters. Far from providing a stabilizing role model for the rest of the Arab world, the invasion of Iraq has strengthened the position of global terrorism in countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia and weakened the case for democratization.
4. WEAKEN GLOBAL TERRORISM. This is probably the area where the invasion has had the biggest negative effect. VP Cheney was emphatic in saying today that terrorism had not been strengthened by the Iraq invasion. Paraphrasing his words, he claimed that terrorism was stimulated by American weakness rather than American strength. However, all the evidence points in the other direction. Before 2001, the global jihadis were confined to the Afghanistan margins of the Muslim world. Now have a strong military position in Iraq which (as we are continually reminded) is in the heart of the Middle East. Because of successful al-Qaeda recruitment efforts for the war in Iraq, global terrorism has become stronger in the rest of the Arab world as well. After their tours in Iraq, Jordanian and Saudi fighters are more committed, better trained militarily, and bigger threats to the stability of their home countries. Because of the American invasion, Iraq has become an inspiration to terrorist recruitment, an exemplary training ground for terrorist fighters, and a breeding ground for future terrorist threats. By stimulating global terrorism, the invasion of Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place for everyone.
To conclude, the U. S. invasion did result in the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of democratic institutions in Iraq. At the same time, the democratic institutions in Iraq have proven so weak and unstable that "stable democracy" is at best a long way off and at worst a utopian mirage to distract from the real state of civil war and anarchy. Far from being a positive role model for other Arab nations, the situation in Iraq serves as an object lesson on the disastrous consequences of loosening the reins. Likewise, the invasion has stimulated rather than discouraged global terrorism. Despite the real accomplishments associated with the American invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is very far from accomplishing most of their goals and the overall situation in relation to democratization and global terrorism is in many ways worse than it was before the invasion.