History marches on in Iraq

Francis Fukuyama finds that history hasn’t ended after all; it has simply moved to the Middle East. Fukuyama provides a sobering assessment of the history yet to made in Iraq. He believes that, to accomplish our goals, our military will need to remain actively engaged for many years, and that the costs of reconstruction will far exceed current estimates. And even if all eventually goes reasonably well, the Iraqi state still will be no great shakes.
Fukuyama argues that “for all of the reasons offered by President Bush, it is absolutely critical that America stay the course and ensure that Iraq becomes a stable, democratic country.” Yet his assessment of what this will cost, and the limits on our ability even at that cost, to accomplish this mission, makes one wonder. My view is that we need to focus on the short-term goals of re-establishing security and moving towards elections, thereby motivating the Iraqis to (in Fukuyama’s words) “organize political parties, step forward as leaders, and take greater responsibility for their own affairs.” Then, at the end of the year, we should see where we are. If the plan isn’t working or the road looks too long, we should consider less ambitious options.
Our mission in Iraq was two-fold. The first part, taking out Saddam Hussein, was an unambiguously worthwhile accomplishment. The second part, creating a stable democratic Iraq, would also be unambiguously worthwhile, but was always going to be more difficult to accomplish because it depends on the Iraqis. Essentially, the Bush administration was betting that the Iraqi could become stable and democratic if we provided enough assistance. The bet has not been lost yet, but we need to recognize that a positive outcome is not inevitable (as Saddam’s overthrow more-or-less was). Accordingly, whatever the administration’s public pronouncements, there must be a point at which we are prepared to admit that we were wrong about the Iraqis and that a relatively stable Iraq (or three stable elements of the former Iraq) is all we can accomplish. We are not there yet, far from it. But we don’t seem to be winning our bet either.

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