Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Is Failure the New Norm?

It may just be anecdotal but the claims made this week by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker about progress in Iraq suggest that we may have entered an era where we've set the bar so low as to render failure irrelevant.

Five years to the day after Saddam was deposed America's top general and its chief diplomat in Iraq assured congress that progress is indeed being made, that Iraq may be about to turn the corner. That's all nonsense of course, it's all been said before, but that doesn't matter. Simply by refusing to admit failure they've guaranteed another extension for the occupation of Iraq by American forces.

What would success actually look like in Iraq. That's hard to pin down but I think it would definitely feature the following:

1. A national constitution that genuinely unites all Iraqis - Arab and Kurd, Sunni and Shiite;
2. An oil law that serves the Iraqi people, not foreign oil companies;
3. Some sort of recognition of Iran as a regional power and engagement of Tehran;
4. The return and resettlement of Iraq's 4-million displaced citizens;
5. The re-establishment of Iraq's professional classes - doctors, teachers, engineers;
6. The restoration of Iraq's core infrastructure, notably water, sewer and electricity utilities.

Five years down the road these things are not too much to ask and yet progress on these essentials has been minimal at best. Until these conditions are met, Iraq cannot and will not break its dependence on the United States and its armed forces. Can't be done, won't be done.

The lack of progress on these issues screams failure but rather than acknowledging that and finding ways to do things differently, means to success, the approach is to "stay the course." That, in turn, enshrines failure as the standard for the occupation which, if it achieves nothing else, is bound to perpetuate failure as the norm for years to come.

This is a never-ending dog & pony show. The essentials to return Iraq to viable statehood - things as mundane as safe water, sanitation and electricity - are almost as distant today as they were when the infrastructure was originally destroyed. Imagine ongoing gasoline shortages in Iraq, a country that is a veritable sea of oil.

For diplomats and generals, Iraq is viewed in the context of the enemy du jour. In this year's hearings the villain of choice is Iran, by a landslide. In previous years it was Saddam's Baathists, the deadenders, the Sunni insurgency, al-Qaeda or the Shiite militias. They rotate in and rotate out as necessary to perpetuate the narrative of the need to keep America's military strength bleeding out into the Iraqi sands for yet another year.

But even that is a failure. Look at the list: Baathists, deadenders, Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda and the Shiite militias. Name one that's actually been eliminated, just one. They've ebbed and flowed, to be sure, but not one of them has been defeated and removed from the equation. The ironic part is that it is in the context of these enemies that America now judges its progress in Iraq.


Anonymous said...

no matter what happens Bush & Co. call it progress and much of the media and plain-folks sallow it whole

Now its time for McCain to finish the job and attack Iran

hope I'm wrong

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Anon. If there's anything that will ensure the silencing of forces of moderation in Iran it's an American attack on that country. That would also make Iran, Shia or no, the third Muslim country in a decade to be attacked by the US which would ignite radicalism throughout the rest of the Muslim world, particualarly in American proxies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as into Pakistan and Indonesia.

The blowback could be enormous. All Iran would have to do is keep a number of its mobile anti-ship missile batteries safe from the US air assault and it would be able to utterly shot down the Persian Gulf to oil shipping. That, in turn, would plunge western economies, already credit wobbly, into a full-blown depression of the type not seen in 80-years.

Let's hope McCain hasn't become that addled.