Failure in Iraq would be characterized by any of the following disaster scenarios:
- Iraqis’ rejection of their democracy.
- Democratic institutions scrapped by a strongman (“Saddam lite”) or an Islamist radical.
- Leaders drastically thrown off their political schedule.
- Security training thwarted by intimidation of recruits.
- A nation inflamed in civil war.
None of these have occurred. We can dwell on mistakes of the occupation, as you and others have done. Every successful military campaign and postwar reconstruction is guilty of making mistakes. But these do not always result in an overall failure to meet strategic objectives. Yes, the jury is still out on Iraq. Violent hurdles are thrust upon us and the Iraqis every day. But we’re nowhere near losing Iraq.
Iraqis have not rejected their democracy—instead they’ve embraced it by risking their lives to vote. Iraq’s first free election did not produce a strongman or an Islamist radical, but rather a leader who is committed to the protections of individual and minority rights enshrined in the interim constitution. Iraqis have not been thrown off their political schedule but have actually met every deadline. Iraqis have not been deterred by the almost daily slaughtering of Iraqi army and police recruits—instead they continue to line up to serve in the face of this violence. And, while there is certainly sectarian tension in Iraq, for the most part it is not being addressed through violence.
Indeed, a promising model for channeling sectarian tensions has survived through all this bloodshed: the evolution of the Sunni political strategy over the past year.
The United States handed over sovereignty to a government that included six Sunnis. Feeling like they had too much to lose in Iraq’s first election just six months later, the Sunni political leadership successfully called for a boycott. Thus, no Sunnis were elected. But the Shiites—who won convincingly—produced a government with about one-fifth Sunni representation.
Some of this new momentum was lost when only two Sunnis were chosen for the committee to draft the permanent constitution. But the two sides soon reached a compromise with the addition of a number of Sunni positions and a commitment by the Shiites to approve the new constitution by consensus only. Just this week, two Sunni members were assassinated, but if the last two years provide any guidance, Iraqis will overcome this tragic hurdle, too.
You would be hard-pressed to find another political system in the region where decisions are reached by consensus with minorities. Sunnis are increasingly advancing their agenda through politics rather than violence. Every Sunni political leader I have spoken to over the past two weeks told me that Sunnis will turn out in large numbers in the next election.
In assessing Iraq, it is important to consider just who is behind the campaign for failure. If Iraqis from all walks of life were sympathetic to the insurgency, we would be in big trouble. But the insurgency has virtually no support from the vast majority of the Iraqi people. It is not an indigenous rebellion of the disenfranchised—on the contrary, Iraqis recognize that the terrorists seek to take away their hard-won democratic gains. Unlike Hezbollah and Hamas, which provide social welfare services and have political wings that seek a role in local government, the largely foreign insurgency in Iraq does not even attempt to gain popular support.
This is not to downplay the violent, chaotic, and at times very depressing situation in Iraq. Indeed, I just returned from a trip to Baghdad last night and found all these things to be true. But despite the daily horrors, Iraqis—and American troops—continue to overcome the precursors to failure.