Despite President Bush’s articulation of a new strategy for victory in Iraq, the American debate remains polarized. An increasing number of critics argue that the war is already lost and that we may as well withdraw, while others claim we are clearly headed to victory, and Americans would know that if only the press would stop emphasizing the negative.
Our judgment, based on data compiled by the American government, the news media and independent monitors, is that trends in Iraq do not support either of these extreme views. Things are in a state of continual turmoil, with many hopeful signs but also some deeply disquieting realities. In the good news category, one could place the real, if belated, progress in training Iraqi security forces, the greater availability of telephone and television services, renewed economic growth and more children in school (reading much better textbooks).
On the negative side, electricity and oil production remain below the levels of the Baathist regime, even as Iraqi expectations for improvement soar. Among Sunni Arabs, who stand to greatly increase their representation in Parliament after tomorrow’s elections, passive support for the terrorists is all too common. And the insurgency remains as strong and deadly as ever.
A sober reading of the data argues against a rapid withdrawal, which would concede the fight to the terrorists. But this does not mean we can’t shift policy. We could announce a plan for substantial troop reductions (but not complete withdrawal) over the next 12 to 24 months, as most Iraqis say they desire. Together with the Iraqi government, we might create a job-training program in response to the chronically high unemployment rate. In the end, however, the most important factor may be how the new government decides to amend the Constitution, particularly in terms of ensuring equitable sharing of oil money and bringing lower-level former Baathists back into public life.
View the Op-Chart (graphic by Amy Unikewicz)