Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Half-full territory

How bad was the decision to invade Iraq? You might be an optimist, and choose to take hope in the recent, relatively peaceful and credible elections. That was good news, of a kind.

Here's a random fragment from one of Bush's happy-talk speeches about the progress being made in Iraq.
The people of Iraq are now seeing some of the tangible benefits of their new democracy. They see that as freedom advances, their lives are improving. Iraqis have approved a bold constitution that guarantees the rule of law and freedom of assembly, and property rights, and freedom of speech and the press, and women's rights, and the right to vote. They see their freedom increasingly being defended by their own soldiers and police instead of foreign forces. And they see that freedom is bringing opportunity and a better life.
It's a glorious story, and it would be fantastic news if it were true. Because of this fantasy, howwever, American and Iraqi lives are being thrown away in a fruitless PR campaign to maintain the president's sense of self as a person who is never wrong, and who does not change his mind. The Iraqis hate and distrust us, and desperately want us to leave. The neo-Baathists blow up Shiites and then blame it on the ubiquitous al-Zarqawi to keep their hands clean. The Kurds will cooperate until it no longer makes sense; they don't believe in anything except achieving their own state, even if it means that Kurdish soldiers in the Iraq army will even kill their Arab colleagues.

We could have waited for a long time. The final report from the CIA showed that there were nothing more than high hopes (large PDF file) for reviving a WMD program once the sanctions ended. (Shorter HTML versions of the report are here.)

Statistical models of pre-war Iraq showed that the likelihood of a coup in Iraq was high. Everything in the model still applies today, and many factors is even intensified in the chaos that rages there. (My friend Aaron Belkin wrote this op-ed and the original journal article it is based on.)

Now, where are we? What have we accomplished?

The war will cost 1 to 2 trillion dollars, ten times the original estimate. Iraq is on the verge of civil war, according to an American General

What have we gained for these sacrifices? Nothing. We will wind up holding ashes.

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