Well, that didn’t take long.
One day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, the nation appears on the brink of reverting to sectarian conflict. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi for allegedly ordering and funding the assassinations of Shiite officials, and asked the parliament to pass a no-confidence vote that would enable him to dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak. Both Hashemi and Mutlak are Sunni politicians aligned with the Iraquiya coalition, which is largely made of Sunnis and such secular Shiites as the coalition’s leader, Ayad Allawi. Maliki’s Dawa Party and its allies (including the backers of Moktada al-Sadr) consist largely of more religious Shiites.
Maliki has also deployed tanks outside the Green Zone homes of Hashemi and Mutlak.
Like a jack-in-the-box, Iraqi’s sectarian divisions popped up the moment American forces took their leave. The sheer speed with which Iraq reverted to its house-divided status makes it clear in high-definition that our nearly-nine year presence in Iraq failed utterly to construct the level of political trust required to build an enduring, or even transitory, democracy. Those who argue we would have had more success at building that democracy if we had stayed one or two or ten more years need to explain why an eleven-year stay, say, would have succeeded where a nine-year stay failed. When John McCain said during the 2008 presidential campaign that he would have been happy if U.S. forces remained in Iraq for 100 years, he presumably meant that a permanent U.S. base in Iraq would help secure the region for our interests. In actuality, McCain’s was an admission of despair —absent a military sitting atop the box, that sectarian weasel would pop out almost instantly.
Viewed as an experiment in democracy-building, then, our Iraqi adventure has to be judged an epic flop. It had no influence on the demonstrators who created the Arab Spring in other countries, and, indeed, Maliki’s regime is one of the few in the region that is still backing Syria’s dictatorship as it tries to violently crush that country’s democrats.
But if Bush’s war failed to bring democracy to the Middle East, at least it established as national policy the right to wage preventive war against a nation we claim has weapons of mass destruction even though it doesn’t. Just in case anyone asks you what this war was about.