Looking back over a quarter of a century of chronicling current affairs, I cannot recall a more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster.
This is the basic point, but it's also something that has not penetrated the brains of the Very Serious People who rule our elite discourse. They fucked up. Lots of people died. Lots of people continue to die. Each of them, in their own little way, contributed to this "comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster," and most of them are unwilling and unable to face up to that fact. This is truly the era of Bush, where accountability is for suckers, and I've come to conclude that's pretty much the dominant cultural fact of elite Washington.
And still the very serious people imagine they know what to do. I'd say there's about a 30% chance that come September the Maliki government will "fail," and that "soft partition," as discussed in the article, will be the new Pony Plan. Just give it a couple of Friedmans, why don't we.
Now a pained and painstaking study from the Brookings Institution argues that what its authors call "soft partition" — the peaceful, voluntary transfer of an estimated 2 million to 5 million Iraqis into distinct Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, under close U.S. military supervision — would be the lesser evil. The lesser evil, that is, assuming that all goes according to plan and that Americans are prepared to allow their troops to stay in sufficient numbers to accomplish that thankless job — two implausible assumptions. A greater evil is more likely.
In an article for the Web magazine Open Democracy, Middle East specialist Fred Halliday spells out some regional consequences. Besides the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalizing of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the Al Qaeda brand; the eruption, for the first time in modern history, of internecine war between Sunni and Shiite, "a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition"; the alienation of most sectors of Turkish politics from the West and the stimulation of authoritarian nationalism there; the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
For the United States, the world is now, as a result of the Iraq war, a more dangerous place. At the end of 2002, what is sometimes tagged "Al Qaeda Central" in Afghanistan had been virtually destroyed, and there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq. In 2007, there is an Al Qaeda in Iraq, parts of the old Al Qaeda are creeping back into Afghanistan and there are Al Qaeda emulators spawning elsewhere, notably in Europe.
Osama bin Laden's plan was to get the U.S. to overreact and overreach itself. With the invasion of Iraq, Bush fell slap-bang into that trap. The U.S. government's own latest National Intelligence Estimate, released this week, suggests that Al Qaeda in Iraq is now among the most significant threats to the security of the American homeland.
The U.S. has probably not yet fully woken up to the appalling fact that, after a long period in which the first motto of its military was "no more Vietnams," it faces another Vietnam. There are many important differences, but the basic result is similar: The mightiest military in the world fails to achieve its strategic goals and is, in the end, politically defeated by an economically and technologically inferior adversary.