May 01, 2008

What if the Mission was Accomplished?

Today marks the 5th-year anniversary of Dubya?s infamous landing on the USS Lincoln, and just as sure as Keith Olberman will countdown ?three years since the announcement of Mission Accomplished? at the end of his show, there have been countless ?I told you so? posts throughout the blogosphere, many of them highlighting John McCain?s own ?greeted as liberators? and ?cakewalk? fantasies and his total obliviousness of Sunni vs. Shia.

All fine and good, and McCain deserves whatever he gets. Still, on this day, I?m struck by another fantasy:

What if we had really meant it when we declared ?Mission Accomplished? and simply gotten the hell out of there?

At the time of Bush?s landing underneath the banner, an interim government had yet to be established in Baghdad; however, if we had planned a quick exit we certainly wounldn?t have bothered with the whole de-Baathification nonsense and worked harder to establish order without trying to democraticize the society. Moreover, the guy we eventually put in charge, Ayad Allawi, whom Newsweek called ?Iraq?s New S.O.B.,? actually seems far more sensible than Maliki. He?s a Shia but then as a former Baath Party member he’s far less likely than the current PM to align with Iran. He was Washington?s man from the beginning, perhaps its only good personnel decision, and we could have easily installed him earlier.

Secondly, lacking the presence of U.S. troops, no insurgency would have materialized. The conflict that very well might have arisen would have been that between Baghdad and the Shia militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Well, this has happened anyway. And as William Lind has argued, it might not be that bad if al-Sadr takes over. He?s a good second-option strongman. 

The Kurds probably would have broken away, but again, they seem to be doing this now. 

So here it is. Upon leaving Iraq on May 1, 2004, we would have eliminated a dangerous Middle East dictator (who actually wasn?t that dangerous), made sure that all WMD programs in Iraq were scuttled (even if they didn’t exist anyway), Iraq would have been stabilized under a strongman, and Washington could have proved to the world that the U.S.of A. can still kick ass and take names. We could have even called it “democracy”! 

Mission Accomplished! Such a project probably wouldn?t have been ?worth it? on final inspection. But then the campaign would have become one of those splendid, forgettable little wars that doesn?t wreck the country, if not all at once. At the very least, our invasion of Mesopotamia would not have become the inestimable strategic disaster that it is today.

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