I attended a conference hosted by the US Institute of Peace today entitled Iraq: Assessing Military and Security Issues. The only one on the panel with any real experience in the Middle East was Joseph Englehardt, who serves on the Board of Governors of the Middle East Institute. He was also, in my opinion, the one with the most interesting and relevant comments. For one, he spoke about the need to understand both the Iraq situation and the view of our foreign policy within the wider Arab perspective. As examples, he brought up our go-it-alone, know-it-all, one-dimensional approach after 9/11, atrocities like Abu Gharaib and Guantanomo, and our inflexible and unreasonable bias towards Israel. This approach just makes it extremely difficult for our moderate Arab friends to side with and support us and bolsters our enemies' popularity. Cliff May, President of the right-wing Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, brought up that, well, during Saddam's time, there were worse atrocities going on inside Abu Gharaib. Yes, that's true, Cliff, but he was a dictator and we supposedly stand for things like human rights, moral values, and freedom.
There was a lot of talk of changing our "strategy" and changing our "policies", and if we did have a clear goal and better policies, then we could win. I couldn't disagree more. We've had clear goals in the past; we've had a mission. In fact, we have had the will, money, and entire focus of the US government on Iraq as the number one foreign policy priority. Yet, we were not able to implement our goals, our vision for the future of Iraq, successfully. We, the world's superpower, were not able to even get the lights turned on in Baghdad, maintain security, or keep universities open. The reason lies partly with the lethargy and disorganization of our bureaucracy, our contracting practices that defraud the US taxpayer and do much worse to the Iraqi citizen, and short-sighted, near-term policies.
I will spare you the rest of the details but suffice it to say that we are royally screwed in Iraq. Englehardt and I chatted after the conference and came to the following dismal conclusion...
We can't leave Iraq because of the dire consequences our retreat would incur (terrorist safehaven sitting on half the world's proven oil reserves, for one reason). Yet, we are dealing with a government leadership that is totally opposed to and incapable of making Iraq the kind of country that we say we want and for which we are willing to stay until we get.