Commentary Magazine


An Encouraging Picture of Iraq

In his most recent report, The Situation From Iraq: A Briefing from the Battlefield, Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), writes this:

No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. A combination of the surge, improved win and hold tactics, the tribal uprising in Anbar and other provinces, the Sadr ceasefire, and major advances in the use of IS&R have transformed the battle against Al Qaida in Iraq. If the US provides sustained support to the Iraqi government — in security, governance, and development — there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.

This is an important development. Dr. Cordesman, a respected voice on international affairs, has been highly critical of the lack of adequate post-war (Phase IV) planning in Iraq. He has long warned about the dangers of exiting Iraq prematurely and was a critic of those who argued we should divide Iraq into three ethno-religious entities. At the same time, Cordesman has been skeptical about the possibility of achieving stability in Iraq. Certainly no one could accuse Cordesman of wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to Iraq.

On May 2, 2006, Cordesman wrote:

No one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good. At best, the formation of a government will be the prelude to four months of debate over the constitution and every other divisive issue. There will follow two months of political struggle over a referendum to approve the result and Iraqis must then decide whether they can live with implementing the result. The “best case” is probably political turmoil well into 2007 and probably 2008… Even if victory is realistically defined as “muddling through” over half a decade more – the “2010 solution” – the odds are, at best, even.

On January 29, 2007, Cordesman (accurately) assessed things this way:

The insurgency in Iraq has become a “war after the war” that threatens to divide the country and create a full-scale civil conflict. It has triggered sectarian and ethnic violence that dominates the struggle to reshape Iraq as a modern state… Since its inception in the spring of 2003, the nature of the fighting in Iraq has evolved from a struggle between Coalition forces and former regime loyalists to a much more diffuse conflict, involving a number of Sunni groups, Shi’ite militias, and foreign jihadists, and which has spread to become a widespread civil conflict . . .

On February 5, 2007, in the aftermath of the President’s speech announcing the “surge,” Cordesman wrote this:

President Bush has presented a new strategy for the war in Iraq that may be able to defeat the insurgency and reverse Iraq’s drift towards large-scale civil war. His speech has, however, raised many questions as to both the risks it will create over the coming months and the real-world ability to actually implement his plans.

It turns out that the real-world ability to implement Bush’s plan was better than many thought. The risks were actually opportunities. And now, a year and a month after the surge was announced, we have seen progress far beyond what virtually anyone, even advocates of the surge, could have imagined.

We are still some distance away from Iraq emerging as a secure and stable state. “Serious threats can still bring defeat or paralysis over the coming years,” according to Cordesman, “although this seems significantly less likely than during the fall of 2007.” Yet, as Tony Cordesman now says, there is a very real chance that a secure and stable Iraq – one that is an ally instead of an adversary in the war against militant Islam – may yet come to pass. If it does, it will be an achievement of enormous, and perhaps even historic, consequence.