Years ago, I read a history of Scotland that contained this ditty (quoting from memory) about an 18th century battle during the Jacobite rebellion:
Some say that we won; some that they won; some say that none won at all, man.
But of this I’m sure, that at Sheriffmuir, a battle there was; that I saw, man.
If you substitute “Basra” for “Sheriffmuir” and lose the Scotish brogue, you might have the best answer (on available evidence) to the question posed in the title of this post. For what it’s worth, the consensus seems to be that the government did not achieve its primary objective of inflicting a meaningful defeat on the Shiite militias it attacked. (See, for example, this post from the Counterterrorism blog). However, our friend Austin Bay sees it differently.
In any case, it’s not clear whether meaningfully defeating the militias in Basra is an important U.S. objective. I doubt that we have a major interest in bringing the good life to Basra. Our realistic goals, it seems to me, should be (1) avoiding mass violence, which would raise serious humanitarian concerns and provide fodder for anti-war forces in the U.S. and (2) prevent Iranian domination (as opposed to Iranian influence which may be inevitable). These goals probably are accomplished if rival forces create a balance of power and if the U.S. and/or the national government proves from time to time that it can flex its muscle if the balance seems in jeopardy.
Some foreign policy realists made something like this argument about Iraq and certain of its neighbors during the Saddam Hussein era. In the context of an entire country with WMD capability, the argument had limited appeal. In the context of post-Saddam Basra, it may have a bit more.
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