Let's be plain. Under Saddam, the country was ruled by a bloodthirsty tyrant who tortured his opponents, and allowed dozens of his henchmen to rape and murder at will. But there was law and order for everyone else. After the invasion, because we went in without a decent plan for running the country, we wound up torturing people for no better reason than that they were arrested in street sweeps, and the Iraqi people are beset by thousands of thugs who rape and murder at will because there is law and order for nobody. The economy was a shambles under Saddam, but it's worse under us -- in part because of our strange reluctance to put Iraqis to work rebuilding their own country. After Gulf War I, Saddam put down a rebellion (which we had encouraged), rebuilt the infrastructure, and got the lights back on; we haven't been able to do any of that, despite having thrown billions of dollars not so much at the problem as at Halliburton. And Time Magazine says that even our own officers know the upshot:
- [Maj. Gen. Peter] Chiarelli last month had hoped to drain recruits from al-Sadr's Mahdi militia by hiring 15,000 Sadr City men to clean the district's filth-filled streets. When a truce between coalition forces and al-Sadr broke down, however, the work project collapsed. The state of the district helps explain, Chiarelli says, why "a guy in Sadr City feels there is no hope." There's sewage in his yard, he gets one hour of electricity out of six, and he has no job. "If someone offers him money to shoot an RPG at Americans," Chiarelli says, "I would imagine it's not a hard choice."
Which brings up the nastiest part of the problem: wherever there are American troops, there are attacks on them. Which means that not only can't we establish law and order -- our failure on that score is beyond plain -- our mere presence keeps anyone else from doing it either. As Time puts it:
- U.S. patrols are a magnet for attacks, resulting in higher casualties and sparking the very violence they are trying to suppress.
I said months ago that if our mere presence is doing harm, and we weren't obviously doing any good to compensate, we ought to leave. Our presence is plainly doing harm, and as to the good we're doing, Time's reporter Chris Allbritton, in a post on his own blog, after cataloging the problems -- no-show ministers in the transition government, no-go zones covering much of the country, professionals of all sorts desperate to leave, says
- In the context of all this, reporting on a half-assed refurbished school or two seems a bit childish and naive, the equivalent of telling a happy story to comfort a scared child. Anyone who asks me to tell the “real” story of Iraq — implying all the bad things are just media hype — should refer to this post. I just told you the real story: What was once a hell wrought by Saddam is now one of America’s making.
Having made this mess, we ought to clean it up if we can. But it's certain that George Bush can't. If no one else has a better idea, then we ought to get out.
More: Juan Cole relays a Turkish newspaper report of a situation where the U.S. installed a Kurdish security officer over a city of Turkmen, who then proceeded to beat up on the Kurds. The Turkish government is furious.
Another argument for staying in Iraq as that at least so long as we stay, there can't be a civil war. But the more stories like this we see, the more it looks like the civil war is already on, and we're just one of the sides.
Not only that, but the sides we're choosing, and the actions we take, are causing us trouble with other Muslim states. We are not without natural allies in that part of the world. The current king of Jordan, for instance, thinks well enough of Western modernity that while still a prince, he arranged to have a cameo on Star Trek. But if the face we show these people is the Abu Ghraib abuse photos, or an Apache helicopter gunning down children and a reporter who is live on the air, we will lose them. All.