Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lowering Expectations in Iraq?

U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq

The linked article reflects the lowering of expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq that now seems to be permeating official Washington. Not much of a choice given the realities on the ground, one might argue.

It was never realistic to expect that everything would sort itself out easily or quickly. It remains an illusion that state-building is something quick, easy or cheap. All the experience that we have speak to the contrary.

But that doesn't mean that it can't be done - it only means that it requires far more of strategic patience, political coalition building and economic resources than almost everyone that was part of the more vocal debates prior to the Iraq war realized.

They were often mesmerized by simplistic comparisons with what they believed they had achieved in Germany and Japan after 1945. But those situations were entirely different.

In Japan the US occupation authorities de facto ruled through an intact state structure under the ultimate authority of the Emperor. And in Germany everything was facilitated by the fact that the Americans were seen as the only thing that could save them from the threat of Soviet communism.

Iraq was always going to be different. There was no state authority left. And the US was rather seen as allied with at the least one state considered by many to be an enemy, namely Israel. A confrontational stance towards Iran didn't help too much either.

Add to that a distinct shortage of troops, a naive underestimation of the political and economic challenges and a tendency to go for short-term solutions time after time and it's hardly surprising that one now sees difficulties everywhere.

It will take a decade or so until we can judge how things will work out.

Things could go distinctly bad prior to that - and that we will certainly notice - but things are unlikely to go distinctly good in any time frame lesser than that.