Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up
Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:
In a speech to a disabled veterans’ group in Georgia today, U.S. President Barack Obama will draw attention to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Under the current withdrawal plan, which the president says is on track, the American force will shrink to 50,000 troops by the end of August, down from 144,000. These remaining “advise and assist” troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
“Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats,” Obama says in his prepared remarks.
Politically, the speech is likely an effort to draw attention to a largely unheralded success as criticism of the increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan mounts, particularly within his own party. The White House has pointed out that the total number of U.S. troops on the ground in both wars has declined from 177,000 when he took office to about 146,000 by the end of this month.
The U.S. military on Sunday refuted the Iraqi government’s claim that July was the deadliest month in the country since 2008. According to U.S. data, 222 people were killed in Iraqi violence last month, less than half the number claimed by Iraqi authorities.
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
Well, at least he didn’t announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq under a banner that said “Mission Accomplished.” He did it in front of the Disabled American Veterans, the most grave and sober audience imaginable. And appropriately so, after a war that should never have been fought, a war that by some estimates will cost $3 trillion before it’s done (including the health care services rendered to those represented by the DAV), a war whose casualties number in the 100s of thousands. The war in Iraq hasn’t been much in the news over the past year, but this is an important moment, a moment for reflection, for humility in the face of a national disaster.
There is no “victory” in Iraq, nor will there be. There is something resembling stability, but that might not last, either. There is a semblance of democracy, but that may dissolve over time, or in the next few months, into a Shi’ite dictatorship–which, if not well-run, will yield to the near-inevitable military coup. Yes, Saddam is gone–and that is a good thing. The Kurds have a greater measure of independence and don’t have to live in fear of mass murder, which is a good thing, too. But Iran has been aggrandized. Its Iraqi allies, especially Muqtada Sadr’s populist movement, remain a force that will play a major role–arguably one more central than ours–in shaping the future of the country. This attempt by western neo-colonialists–that is, the Bush Administration–to construct an amenable Iraq will most likely end no better than previous western attempts have. Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation–the carnage and tragedy it wrought–will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own.
What has America achieved by its intervention, if anything? Such is the continuing rancour about the decision to invade Iraq in the first place that it is almost impossible to debate this question dispassionately. The Economist was a strong supporter of the invasion (see here, for example), not because we thought Saddam Hussein had anything at all to do with 9/11 but because we were afraid that he was going to break out of the box that was built to contain him after the Gulf war of 1991, with hugely dangerous consequences for the region. But we were wrong about his WMD programmes. And we were terribly wrong about the human cost of the war. Had we foreseen that the country would collapse into such bloody mayhem after the invasion we would not have supported it.
All that said, where does Iraq stand now? Still a chaotic mess in most ways. The New York Times has an excellent, depressing story on how America and its allies have failed to provide something as simple and (especially in the scorching heat of Mesopotamia) vital as a decent supply of electricity for Baghdad since they took over the country the better part of a decade ago.
In politics, however, the picture is more mixed. Iraq has not yet replaced Saddam with another dictator, as many feared. And for the time being the country’s politics is not riven violently along sectarian lines. A largely peaceful election took place last spring with a high turnout but failed to produce a clear majority, and since then drift and stalemate have been the order of the day. The election showed that, contrary to what many experts say from afar, Arabs have no difficulty in understanding what democracy is all about and would like it for themselves. The subsequent stalemate shows why they do not get it: incumbent rulers cling leech-like to power no matter what wishes the people express at the ballot box.
The interesting question about this particular moment is: can America use its remaining military, political and economic heft in Iraq to jolt its politicians into heeding the wishes of Iraq’s voters? Should it even try? The prize is potentially huge: a peaceful election that actually succeeded in changing a government peacefully would be a signal achievement not just for Iraq but for the Arab world as a whole. The problem is that as America draws down its forces its ability to influence events diminishes, too. Besides, Iraq is supposedly sovereign now. So by what right can America meddle in its internal politics?
Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:
The political impasse is worrying Iraqis. “Everything is stopped,” one told the Washington Post. “There’s no work, no jobs. People are waiting. People are just buying food and saving money because they are afraid the situation will get worse in the future — worse than in 2006 and 2007.” People also are bummed by the lack of electricity, especially in the brutal height of Iraq’s punishing summer. And someone keeps blowing up the houses of police officers in the Fallujah area.
President Obama is gonna talk today in a speech to vets in Atlanta about how all this is no longer gonna be our problem.
I wonder if we had done a census in Iraq in say 2005 if that would have settled some of the political issues that have led to Iraq’s impasse.
* Anybody remember that promise to end the Iraq War? In a measure of how much things have changed since Obama took office, the president plans to deliver a big speech today underscoring that he’s making good on his pledge to pull out of Iraq — and it’s anybody’s guess whether it will have any meaningful political impact.
The White House is hoping that Obama’s delivery on such a major promise will, you know, matter a bit to people. Public anxiety over Iraq was powerful enough to help decide a presidential election less than two years ago. But now, amazingly, it’s unclear how powerful a motivator this will be even for Democratic base voters.