Let’s keep the champagne on ice

Newsweek is running a cover story about Iraq called “Rebirth of a Nation.” Its thesis is: “Something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq.” Newsweek’s piece follows Vice President Biden’s claim that Iraq looks to be a major success story of the Obama (sic) presidency.
Any proposition endorsed by both Newsweek and Biden is suspect, and skepticism is warranted in this case. Iraq is about to hold an important election, to be sure. But the election will be tainted by the dubious exclusion of various candidates by a panel headed by Ahmed Chalabi, an opportunist with ties to Iran. And no one really knows what will happen to Iraq’s fledging democracy following the election.
Iraq’s democracy is, in short, entitled to only one cheer.
But even one cheer in this part of the world is significant. And Peter Wehner is quite right to salute President Bush’s decision in late 2006 to implement a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, at a time “when most Americans were bone-weary of the war.” Without this courageous decision, Iraq in all likelihood would have continued on what Pete calls its “death spiral,” and al Qaeda would probably be ascendant in Anbar province and reaping the benefits worldwide of helping to inflict an ignominious defeat on the U.S.
But, as Pete warns, the successes in Iraq “remain fragile and can still be undone.” I agree with Max Boot that “the key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn.” I therefore fear that, to some extent, the triumphalism of the Newsweek-Biden line smacks of Sen. Aiken’s proposed Vietnam strategy — declare victory and leave.
Boot argues that the Obama administration should negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011, not necessarily in a combat role, but “as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars.” As Boot says, “the continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy.”
Perhaps then Iraq can get to two cheer status.