Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Iraq Liberation Ten Year Anniversary Scorecard

Ten years ago today, the United States led a coalition of the willing to liberate Iraq from the Saddam Hussein regime.  Let's run through the neighborhood and examine the strategic results.

Iraq.  The liberated Iraqi people suffered anywhere from 109,000 to over 1,000,000 deaths, depending on who does the counting and whether it includes sectarian violence and deaths from disease or malnutrition.  Iraq is no longer governed by an autocrat but its democratic institutions are still weak.  The country is still periodically beset by sectarian violence and instability.  The good news is that Iraq has functioning democratic institutions and is producing oil for export, although energy supermajors are beginning to sour on Iraq's business climate and poor infrastructure.  The bad news is that the Sunni and Kurd minorities are not full partners in Iraq's governance.  Iraq is a winner, just barely.

Iran.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has been ascendant since the overthrow of the Saddam regime.  Its remaining regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are unwilling to officially cooperate to restrain potential Iranian hegemony.  A continued U.S. military presence in the Middle East deters Iran's overt ambitions.  This does not deter Iran from using asymmetric methods to influence the Syrian insurrection (Quds Force support to the Assad regime) or the Iraqi government (support to Shiite sect leaders).  Iran is probably the biggest winner of the war.

Saudi Arabia.  American assurances sustain the kingdom against external threats.  Oil revenue sustains it against internal unrest.  The House of Saud bribed its citizens to ignore the Arab Spring and the gamble paid off.  The Gulf Cooperation Council Peninsula Shield Force stopped Bahrain's unrest from spreading.  It's business as usual in Riyadh as if nothing changed in Baghdad.  Saudi Arabia is a big winner.

Kuwait.  The Saddam regime posed an existential threat to Kuwait as long as it existed.  Kuwait now has a much freer hand in dealing with its neighbors.  A large U.S. military presence in the Emirate ensures its security.  Kuwait is a big winner.

Israel.  The oldest democracy in the Middle East is no longer faced with the threat of land invasion or ballistic missile attack from Iraq.  The Palestinian insurgency is still a problem but it has one less Arab sponsor.  Israel is a big winner.

United States.  America's years in Iraq cost over 4400 combat-related casualties and have afflicted thousands more veterans with combinations of mild ailments and severe wounds.  The best estimates of the financial costs exceed US$2T including direct appropriations, interest on debt, supplementary expenses in related budget lines (State Department aid), and deferred costs of veterans' care.  The opportunity costs of careers unfulfilled and businesses interrupted by repeated mobilizations of the military reserve components are incalculable.  The U.S. gained no permanent military basing rights other than the right to continue a large advisory mission under the supervision of its embassy in Baghdad.   Concessions for U.S.-based energy producers were mostly limited to support services and a U.S.-Iraq trade framework has taken eight years to implement.  The U.S. strategic position as guarantor of the balance of power in the Middle East is unchanged; this came at an enormous cost in lives, prestige, material, and treasure.  The United States cannot lose as long as it remains engaged in the Middle East with all elements of its national power, but the price of truly winning is now higher than ever.