August 5, 2008
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My Bet With Francis Fukuyama (Brett Stephens, August 5, 2008, Wall Street Journal)
There followed between us an exchange of emails, in which Mr. Fukuyama pointed to various pieces he had published prior to the war indicating some concerns about how the U.S. would go in, and some foreboding about what might follow. He also mentioned a $100 bet he had made in May 2003 with a friend -- a supporter of the war -- that Iraq would be a mess five years after the invasion, the definition of a mess being "you'd know one if you saw it." We agreed to make the same bet.
I nearly forgot about the bet until last Friday, when the Washington Post reported U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq for the month of July. The total came to five. Six other soldiers were killed in noncombat situations.
The rate of combat fatalities may again inch higher. For all the progress made in the last year, Iraq remains a dangerous (if no longer terrifying) place. But to speak of Iraq as a "war" no longer accurately characterizes the nature of the situation: For purposes of comparison, U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam in 1971, when America's involvement was winding down and U.S. troop levels stood roughly where they are today in Iraq, averaged 115 a month.
Speaking of "war" also confuses our understanding of what the U.S. should do next. Put simply, and pace Barack Obama, "getting out of Iraq" and "ending the war" are no longer synonymous.
With this in mind, I wrote Mr. Fukuyama to suggest that he owed me $100. He conceded, albeit strictly on "the narrow terms" of the bet itself.
Mr. Fukuyama insists, however, that he has been vindicated on the broader issue: "We've spent a trillion or so dollars, 30,000 dead or wounded, a large loss in international influence and prestige, all for the sake of disarming a country with no WMDs."
If liberating 21 million Iraqis from Saddam wasn't worth one fifteenth of one year's GDP and 30,000 casualties (4,000 dead) out of a population of 300 million, what was the maximum in life and lucre we should have spent to liberate Western Europe in WWII? And if we stayed below those ratios how far would General Marshall have advanced? Would we even have finished the Sicily campaign?
Building on Progress in Iraq (Stephen Biddle, Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, 8/04/08, Real ClearPolitics)
With a degree of patience, the United State can build on a pattern of positive change in Iraq that offers it a chance to draw down troops soon without giving up hope for sustained stability.Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2008 6:10 PM
The last 18 months have brought major changes in the underlying strategic calculus facing Iraq's main combatants -- undermining the Sunni insurgency, weakening the Shiite militias, severely degrading al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), strengthening the Iraqi security forces (ISF), and creating new, more positive political dynamics and incentives. But these developments have also brought new, if less acute, challenges to the fore -- demanding corresponding changes in U.S. and Iraqi strategy. Simply staying the course will not work under the new conditions in Iraq.
Both to deal with the new problems and to guard against any revival of the old ones, any further troop drawdowns, now that the "surge" is over, should be modest until after Iraq gets through two big rounds of elections -- in late 2008 at the provincial level and in late 2009 at the national level -- which have the potential either to reinforce important gains or to reopen old wounds. But starting in 2010, if current trends continue, the United States may be able to start cutting back its troop presence substantially, possibly even halving the total U.S. commitment by sometime in 2011, without running excessive risks with the stability of Iraq and the wider Persian Gulf region.