FrontPage Magazine | 8.4.10
By Alan W. Dowd
It’s been 20 years since Iraq invaded Kuwait. The invasion drew U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia, into Kuwait and ultimately deep into Iraq. That first war against Saddam Hussein—or if you prefer, the first phase of the war against Saddam—ended with the Iraqi dictator barely clinging to power and U.S. forces taking up long-term residence in the region. But that was only the beginning, as many of us warned at the time. U.S. forces would return to Iraq in 2003 to finish what was left undone. Seven years later, Saddam and his regime are gone, Iraq is healing and the U.S. military has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
In fact, the once-maligned surge—and the troops who executed it—have been so successful that even President Barack Obama has noticed. In an uncanny coincidence, Obama actually spoke of victory in Iraq on August 2, 2010—exactly 20 years after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
“While it was easy to be daunted by overwhelming challenges, the generation that has served in Iraq has overcome every test before them,” Obama declared. “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city…When terrorists and militias plunged Iraq into sectarian war, our troops adapted and adjusted—restoring order and effectively defeating al Qaeda in Iraq on the battlefield.”
Praising “the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners,” Obama noted that “violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years. And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces. In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.”
This follows Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration in February that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.”
The Obama team’s turnabout is no small matter. It pays to recall that Iraq, according to Obama, was the “dumb war,” and the surge was doomed to failure.
Whether Iraq is an achievement of the Obama-Biden administration or the Bush-Cheney administration—or of Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno—is a subject for another essay. Regardless, Americans should be thankful and proud of the achievement.
Of course, they haven’t heard much about the achievement from the morning paper or the evening news. That’s too bad, because the liberators of Iraq have just written an amazing chapter in American history. As Obama put it, “They have earned their place among the greatest of generations.”
The nonpartisan Brookings Institution offers some of the details:
-Insurgent attacks are down in every province, with some provinces reporting zero monthly attacks.
-With 34 of its 42 leaders killed or captured, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been eviscerated.
-At the height of Iraq’s postwar war, 904 Americans were killed in a single year (2007). So far in 2010, 39 have died—56 percent of them in non-hostile incidents.
Iraqi civilian deaths are down from a ghastly monthly toll of nearly 4,000 in 2006 to 137.
-Attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops are down from 1,800 per week to a couple dozen per week, and mortar attacks have virtually ceased.
-Some 83,000 Iraqis, many of them former insurgents, have joined the Sons of Iraq to become part of the solution.
-There are now 664,000 Iraqi security forces trained and standing their posts.
-With the troops leading the way, the U.S. has built 140 new hospitals and health care centers, a new electrical grid, an expanded water-delivery system and scores of schools free from Baathist indoctrination.
-There were 833,000 telephone subscribers in Saddam’s Iraq; there are 20.8 million today—19.5 million of them cellular. There were 4,500 Internet users under Saddam; there are 1.6 million today.
-Almost six in 10—58 percent—of Iraqis say things are good or quite good; 84 percent say security is good in their area; 78 percent say crime protection is good in their area; 74 percent say freedom of movement is good in their area; 59 percent feel very safe in their neighborhood; 61 percent have confidence in the Iraqi government; 64 percent want Iraq to remain a democracy.
-Iraq rates fourth in the region in political freedom, just behind Israel, Lebanon and Morocco.
-Iraq’s GDP has grown from $20 billion in 2002 to $60.9 billion.
-Not coincidentally, Iraq is producing 2.41 million barrels of oil per day (almost at pre-2003 levels) and exporting 1.88 million barrels per day (above pre-2003 levels).
I say “pre-2003 levels” rather than “prewar levels” because the war with Iraq began long before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. But that, too, is a subject for another essay.
As stability takes hold and the Iraqi military takes over, U.S. troops are finding Iraq to be an increasingly boring place.
“I haven’t come close to doing anything that I was trained to do,” says PFC Adrian Vesik, who happily notes that he is using the unexpected free time to take classes in salsa dancing, yoga and martial arts.
Other troops based in Iraq are participating in book clubs or pursuing online degrees, USA Today reports.
More important, the hard-earned stability in Iraq has allowed U.S. commanders to send more troops home and to cancel deployments of fresh forces.
As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, foreign investors are returning. A French firm is developing plans for a new international airport in south-central Iraq. Iraqi leaders want the airport to be operational within five years and to have an initial capacity of 5 million passengers annually—and perhaps as many as 35 million annually in follow-on years.
British oil giant BP and China National Petroleum have inked a contract to develop Iraq’s Rumaila oil field, while Italian oil company Eni, Occidental Petroleum and KOGAS of South Korea plan to invest $10 billion in the Zubair oil field. The goal is to increase production at Zubair from 195,000 barrels per day to 1.125 million barrels per day.
Whether or not Saddam’s removal, Iraq’s return to the family of nations, the Iraqi people’s freedom and Iraq’s stability were worth 4,412 American lives will be debated 20 years from now. Even so, all of this good news—which is non-news or at best back-page news in the major media—reminds us of what the media were reporting before and during the surge that saved Iraq.
In most cases, the media did not contrive what they reported. Iraq, after all, was scarred by car bombings, chaos and killings. Rather, major media outlets simply emphasized the negative and depicted America’s efforts in Iraq in the very worst light by emphasizing some facts, stretching others and burying still others. For instance:
-When a British journal guessed that 655,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed, the press dutifully made that the headline—and didn’t report the study’s serious flaws in methodology. Even Iraq Body Count, an anti-war group that estimated civilian deaths much lower, expressed “considerable cause for skepticism.”
-When CNN received video of snipers killing U.S. troops—video from “intermediaries” connected to the insurgency—it was broadcast for an international audience. Ever concerned about being manipulated by the Pentagon, CNN’s producers apparently didn’t contemplate the propaganda coup they delivered to America’s enemies.
-And as the surge stabilized central Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers incredibly ran a story bemoaning the sharp drop in burials at Iraq’s largest cemetery. In other words, even good news was bad news.
But good news is no news, too, as we are learning now that Iraq is healing.