Iraq: a summing up, for now

Today, U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi urban areas, pursuant to a deadline contained in the Status of Forces Agreement that the Bush administration negotiated. Peter Wehner takes the occasion to attack three arguments that were frequently made based on events in Iraq back when things were going badly there.

The first argument is that, as Pete phrases it, “the effort to promote liberty in the Arab world was a fool’s errand” because “the cultural soil was too hard and forbidding.” Those who advanced this argument noted that even when elections occurred, the results were far from what President Bush had in mind with his “Freedom Agenda.” In fact, elections only seemed to deepen sectarianism and bring radicals to power.

This critique may still prove to be correct, but the recent evidence is to the contrary. As Pete points out, earlier this year, local elections in Iraq favored secular nationalists over clerical parties. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was defeated and in Kuwait women have been elected to parliament for the first time. And, of course, in Iran the desire for liberty has caused countless Muslims to take to the street, and risk their lives, in the name of democracy and freedom.

The second argument Pete takes on pertains directly to Iran: it’s the notion that Iran was the real winner in the war in Iraq. That argument certainly seemed plausible for a while. However, it began to lose plausibility when Iran’s so-called “Shiite client,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, gave the orders to go after the Mahdi Army, which was overseen by Iran’s real man in Iran, Moqtada al-Sadr. As Pete notes, “the Mahdi Army was smashed by Iraqi security forces in Basra, Sadr City, and Baghdad so definitely that al-Sadr announced plans to disarm and remake the Mahdi Army into a social-services organization.”

Nor was this all:

Major Shiite parties assured the passage of the strategic alliance Iraq signed with the United States, a deveoplment Iran fought hard to undermine. And in Iraq’s provincial elections earlier this year, secular and moderately religious parties (like the Dawa Party) did well; sectarian parties (like the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) did not.

Next, things took a worse for the Iranian regime in Iran itself. Unrest there has, among other problematic developments for the regime, opened up a theological rift within the Shiite sect. Some have suggested that Ayatollah Sistani, the Iraqi cleric whose forbearance from politics has played a significant role in the positive developments his country, is the Shiite cleric most respected by Iranians.

The final argument Pete focuses on is the view that global jihadists in general, and al Qaeda in particular, were massively aided by the Iraq war, which was said to be the greatest recruiting mechanism possible. This argument too had plausibility as long as the U.S. was taking it on the chin at the hands of jihadists in Iraq. But thanks in part to the surge, which Barack Obama opposed and insisted would not succeed, the jihadists began taking on the chin, and worse, at the hands of their fellow Muslims during the Sunni awakening.

As Pete puts it, “for a movement that believed it had the mandate of Allah and depended on the perception of strength to win recruits and support, the decimation al Qaeda experienced in the Iraq war — which it declared to be the central battleground in the war for jihad — has been pivotal.” Thus, a study released last year by American intelligence agencies, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” concluded that “there is little support for al Qaeida in any of the countries surveyed — Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or Yemen.”

It remains to be seen how things turn out in Iraq. Furthermore, even if they continue to go well, and even if the benefits of our recent successes in Iraq continue to spill over into other countries, it will always be possible to argue that the cost was too high. But it’s difficult to argue with the conclusion Pete draws at the end of his piece:

[T]hose who wrote off the war as unwinnable and a miserable failure, who made confident, sweeping arguments that have been overturned by events, and who had grown so weary of the conflict that they were willing to consign Iraqis to mass slaughters and America to a historically consequential defeat — they were thankfully, blessedly wrong. And the Land between the Rivers, which has known too much tyranny and too many tears, may yet bind up its wounds.

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