Now that all U.S. combat troops are officially out of Iraq, Ray Odierno, the man who has been in charge of combat operations for the last four years, will be departing as well. Yesterday, looking over American involvement in the country, he offered an assessment of sorts to The New York Times. It’s not terribly uplifting, to put it mildly.
“We all came in very naïve about Iraq,” he said.
“We came in naïve about what the problems were in Iraq; I don’t think we understood what I call the societal devastation that occurred,” he said, citing the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf war and the international sanctions from 1990 to 2003 that wiped out the middle class. “And then we attacked to overthrow the government,” he said.
The same went for the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions, he said: “We just didn’t understand it.”
Asked if the United States had made the country’s divisions worse, General Odierno said, “I don’t know.”
“There’s all these issues that we didn’t understand and that we had to work our way through,” he said. “And did maybe that cause it to get worse? Maybe.”
Oy. As I’ve written in the past, I think it’s terribly naive to claim the Iraq surge has “worked.” The real test of the surge is still to come — when (if?) Americans pull out of Iraq entirely, and we see if the relative peace achieved by the surge is self-sustaining. Or if it’s just an artificial state of affairs that will collapse in the absence of perpetual reinforcement by American blood and treasure.
So far the signs are inconclusive, but hardly encouraging. As the article notes, despite elections in March, touted at the time as a success of democracy-building, an actual working government coalition has yet to emerge. Continued legal and political infighting between the various factions that make up Iraq have stalled the process, and may even force another round of elections to try and settle the disputes. All of which is beginning to look a bit like the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. Meanwhile, the insurgency continues its attacks and attempts to destabilize the country.
None of this bodes terribly well for Afghanistan, either. To no small degree, the argument for Obama’s surge was predicated on the supposed success the same strategy had already achieved in Iraq. So we’ll see, I guess.