On Sunday, the New York Times reported on an unpublished draft of a U.S. government history of the Iraq reconstruction effort. Titled "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience," the government report concludes that after five years, "the United States government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure" needed to accomplish the goals. The report finds that
"the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed."
The Iraq War has mostly disappeared from news headlines, replaced by the U.S. economic crisis and due to the somewhat lessened incidence of violence in Iraq in the last year. But the fiasco of the war remains, and is an important factor in the decline of the U.S. both domestically and internationally--the subject of Chapter 7 of The End of the American Century. The decision to invade Iraq was based on false information and taken without international support. It has claimed the lives of more than 4000 American soldiers and at least 90,000 Iraqi civilians. It has cost the U.S., so far, more than $500 billion. The war triggered economic and social collapse, sectarian animosity, political fragmentation, civil war, and regional instability. It has also inflamed anti-Americanism and stimulated terrorism both in the Middle East and worldwide.
President-elect Obama intends to withdraw most troops from Iraq by the summer of 2010. This will help the United States, but it is not at all clear if it will help Iraq. The country has been devastated, and it will take years to rebuild and reestablish stability. Probably U.S. support for this effort will diminish--though as "Hard Lessons" has shown, there has been negligible progress even with the efforts of the last five years. There are disturbing signs of the growth of fundamentalism in Iraq (including in school curricula). And almost certainly sectarian violence will continue, and probably escalate with the removal of American forces.
The same day that the draft of "Hard Lessons" was leaked, an Iraqi journalist hurled two size-ten shoes at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," he shouted. It was a discouraging sign that even among Iraqis, there is much resentment toward the U.S. for its efforts.