The Iraq war — a summing up and a look ahead

James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation provides a good summary of the way things stand in Iraq:

Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned [for post-World War II Europe] either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.

I agree with all four of these points.
The big question is the one raised, but not really answered, in point 2: are the indisputable benefits associated with the overthrow of Saddam and our subsequent efforts worth the heavy price? Many Americans will feel they can answer either in the affirmative or the negative based on what we know now. I tend to think we need to see how things play out in the years ahead, both in Iraq and in the region.
To a large extent, the way things will play out is already determined — we just don’t see around those corners yet. To some extent, though, the way things play out will probably be influenced by decisions President Obama (and perhaps his successor) make about whether, to what extent, and how the U.S. should remain involved in Iraq.
The bad news is that, as a general proposition, there isn’t much reason to think Obama will make good decisions about these matters. The good news is that having touted Iraq as a success story — his success story — Obama has a distinct incentive to make decisions that will preserve that success.

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