Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Strategic Victory"

President Bush has used a speech to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, to claim the recent reduction in violence there marks a 'strategic victory' in his war on terrorism. The number of attacks in Iraq has certainly fallen sharply over the last nine months or so, since more US troops were deployed as part of the so-called surge. But to claim any kind of victory is just as premature as Mr Bush's infamous 'mission accomplished' address following the defeat of Saddam Hussein in May 2003.

Far from being a strategic victory, the folly of US policy in Iraq was based around a catastrophic strategic misjudgement. Lots of very clever and important people thought Iraq would quickly turn into a relatively stable democracy, and that this would spread throughout other countries in the Middle East, just as democracy spread throughout Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. But there was one flaw with this idea. It was spectacularly wrong. Baghdad is nothing like Bucharest.

These days things are indeed finally looking up in Iraq. Perhaps if the US had committed far more troops in the early days after the invasion, the security situation would have been good enough to allow democratic institutions to take hold, as they're still struggling to do now. But the incompetence of how the Bush administration handled the whole thing means we'll never know. If Iraq does eventually turn out to be the beacon of democracy the US has long wanted it to be, it will be despite President Bush, rather than directly because of him. We can expect more speeches from him like today's, in which he tries to claim some amount of credit for things that are going well. But in a few months we'll be able to ignore him - then it'll be up to someone else to solve all the problems.

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