How’s Iraq really doing?

Sep 232007
Authors: John Staayer

My wife insisted that I clean my office at home, so I began by reviewing and then tossing my file of newspaper clippings labeled “Iraq/Bush/separation of powers/budget/monarchy.”

Since the beginning, our Iraq adventure has seemed like a yo-yo – first up, then down, then up, then down again. The President says it is up now; we’re having success.

Initially, of course, things went well.

Our President, the “uniter-not-divider,” determined that after a contingent of exclusively non-Iraqis hit New York, Iraq needed fixing.

Saddam was a tyrant, had weapons of mass destruction, had the capacity for weapons of mass destruction, had plans to develop the capacity for weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi people deserved liberty and democracy, Saddam ignored the U.N., and it was time to act.

To use the language of our leaders, we stunned Iraq with shock and awe, accomplished the mission, prepared for the receipt of flowers in Baghdad and told the evil ones to bring it on. We pulled down Saddam’s statute, moved Americans into his palaces, built a green zone with pools and sports bars, said we’d deal with a bunch of dead-enders and found no weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq, our President said, had an opportunity to build a western-like capitalistic democracy, a model for the Middle East.

He sent dozens of young American administrators to help, but Iraqi history, culture, religion, ineffective leadership, shortages of jobs and electricity, outsiders who weren’t there when we got there, and now even our own Blackwater mercenaries, all got in the way.

But as the Commander in Chief who was opposed to nation building has said, building a nation takes time.

At home some politicians didn’t back the adventure, nor did France or others in old Europe.

Questions were raised about the purpose of the invasion and occupation, the competence of the post-combat leadership, the adequacy of equipment and troop numbers, even the final destination of billions in shrink-wrapped U.S. currency.

Negativism, the Chief said, hurt morale and hindered the effort, even provided comfort to the enemy.

As I perused and discarded the pile of clippings, now four and one-half years after “shock and awe,” I listened to what General Petraeus, our Commander-in-Chief and Congressional speechmakers were saying. This picture emerged:

One objective is a stable central government in Baghdad. The surge was designed to provide time and space to set it up and that hasn’t happened but other things have happened, so it is working.

The Chief said our most recent goal and the objective of the surge was to create “breathing space” – he visited Anbar rather than Baghdad and saw progress.

The surge increased troop numbers by 23 percent. The public wants a withdrawal, so that is what the General recommends; we’ll pull 3.373 percent of the troops very soon. We had to add before we subtract.

Our presence may be creating more enemies.

If we pull out of Iraq, Iran might create more mischief and a general regional mess.

Our military is stretched too far to do much in other places in the world.

More Iraqi neighborhoods are safer now, as many people are leaving the country or re-locating.

We’re there to “stand up” the Iraqi army, but it can’t stand up yet. Only a political solution will work, but there isn’t one.

2006 was a bad year in Iraq. Our withdrawal will be “condition based.” The General’s report was his alone and the White House liked what it heard before the report was presented.

Conservative columnist George Will wrote that when the Commander in Chief visited Anbar rather than Baghdad in advance of the General’s report, and “this underscored the fact that the surge has failed, as measured by the president’s and Petraeus’ standards of success.”

But that’s just George Will.

As the Commander in Chief told the Australians, “we’re kicking ass.”

Moreover, we’ve been in Korea for 50 years and have another Presidential election in 14 months.

Many Colorado State freshmen were 14 years old when this began.

John Straayer is a professor of political science. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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