Tuesday, December 18, 2007

'Iraq--The best story of the year'

Times of London writer Tim Hames is gratified that one of his prediction for 2007 of one year ago--that “Iraq is more peaceful in 2007 than at any time since the 2003 invasion,”--has so manifestly come true. ("Iraq--The best story of the year; Against all the odds, an optimistic prediction comes true").

Hames explains that he knows now that predictions can go wrong. “Never make predictions,” he quotes from Casey Stengel, “especially about the future.” But not only, he writes, has his prediction about Iraq come true, as he says, against the odds,

but it is the most important story in the world this year. By any measure, the US-led surge has been little short of a triumph. The number of American military fatalities is reduced sharply, as is the carnage of Iraqi civilians, Baghdad as a city is functioning again, oil output is above where it stood in March 2003 but at a far stronger price per barrel and, the acid test, many of those who fled to Syria and Jordan are today returning home.

At this point, he takes a break to curb his enthusiasm: “The cheering has, of course, to come accompanied by caveats.” I don’t see why cheering has to be accompanied by caveats. Is that a British thing? Do they do that at the World Cup? Is that why fans of rival teams engage in hooligan riots, because they hate each others' caveats?

I digress. Maybe it's just because it's The Times. Maybe it's in his contract. Anyway, the substance of Hames's caveats regard the persistent violence in the areas of British responsibility, such as Basra, where a “softly-softly” style was used, ineffectively, rather than an American-style surge. In other words, it’s not George Bush’s fault. Caveats done with, Hames resumes some pretty good cheering:

Yet none of this should detract from what has been achieved in Iraq so unexpectedly this year. First, the country will now have the time to establish itself. A year ago it seemed as if American forces would have been withdrawn in ignominious fashion either well before the end of the Bush Administration or, at best, days after the next president came to office. This will not now happen. The self-evident success of the surge has obliged the Democrats to start talking about almost anything else and the calls to cut and run have abated. If the US Army remains in Iraq in strength, continuing on its present path, then deals on a constitution and the division of oil revenues between provinces will be realised.

Secondly, the aspiration that Iraq could be some sort of “beacon” in the region is no longer ridiculous. It will never be Sweden with beards, but there has been the development of a vibrant capitalist class and a media of a diversity that is unique in the region. Were Iraq to emerge with a federal political structure, regular local and national elections and an economic dynamism in which the many, not the few, could share, then it would be a model.

Finally, Iraq in 2007 has illustrated that the words “intelligent American policy” are not an oxymoron. The tragedy is that the approach of General David Petraeus could and should have been adopted four years ago in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's enforced departure.

There's one more caveat heard from. Hames already understands Casey Stengel’s point about the hazards of guessing future events, but he wants to blame US war planners in 2003 for being unable to able to predict the future in Iraq with 100% accuracy, a prediction that would have enabled them to adopt General Petraeus’s strategy four years earlier.

The influence of The Times, I guess. The old, no cheering without caveats rule.

Ah well, the caveats still don't spoil the Best Story of The Year. I'll take it, caveats and all. And here's another thing: why would anybody want a Sweden with beards?

For those of you who got it right, congratulations. Your optimism was vindicated. Have fun bringing it up at those Christmas get-togethers.

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