Sunday, June 8, 2008

Good Enough is Good Enough

Matthew Yglesias makes an obvious point about the US occupation of Iraq:

[A]ny large military operation is logistically complicated. But a lot of people seem to have developed mental blocks -- real or imagined -- around the fact that yes we can actually decide that Iraq is going to become one of any number of troubled countries that gets along for better or for worse without 130,000 American soldiers hanging around. All it takes is a president who actually wants our forces to leave.
Here, here. There are indeed any number of nation-states that get along more or less well without the presence of 130,000 US troops providing security, brokering flimsy truces, and generally meddling.

Long before the US occupation, people in Iraq knew how to operate a power grid, maintain a highway system, keep the indoor plumbing humming, enforce law and order, etc. Now they have a new constitution and a new government that seems at least as capable and far more legitimate compared with the previous regime.

That said, Iraq faces challenges. It is, among other things, a point of intersection among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, whose mutual hostilities are deep and longstanding. It will be this same cultural, ethnic, and religious intersection for the foreseeable future. Nearby nation-states -- Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan -- routinely handle these and comparable ethnic and religious tensions without the need for 130,000 US troops.

The mistake in early 2003 was a species of magical thinking: a failure to appreciate how troubled a place Iraq was, and to suppose that the USA had answers for Iraq. Five years on and a couple of trillion dollars later, it remains a mistake to underestimate the degree to which Iraq is a troubled place for which the USA has no solid answers. Iraq is not Michigan, nor is it going to become Michigan no matter how many trillion-dollar bills, dead bodies, and PTSD cases we throw into it.

At some point, the USA is going to declare victory in Iraq and get out. I say we declare victory and get out sooner rather than later (beginning promptly tomorrow morning works for me), and let Iraqis handle Iraq, however imperfectly.

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