The end of America’s combat mission, after seven and a half costly years, has raised questions that will provide fodder for argument for a long time to come: Was it worth it? And who, if anyone, won?
It’s too early to answer the first question, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man of sober judgment. “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run … How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen.”
For a sizeable group of Middle East experts, the second question is easier to answer than the first. “So, who won the war in Iraq? Iran,” says the headline over an analysis by scholar Mohammed Bazzi for the Council on Foreign relations, a New York-based think-tank. His argument: “The U.S. ousted Tehran’s sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shi’ite government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.
“As U.S. troops became mired in fighting an insurgency and containing a civil war, Iran extended its influence over all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions.” As a consequence, U.S. influence has been waning, Iran’s has been rising, and there are predictions that Iran will fill the vacuum created by the drawdown of U.S. troops to 50,000 who will “advise and assist” the Iraqis.
When President Barack Obama announced the completion of the drawdown in a somber speech on August 31, he made no reference to Iran – a curious omission – but said that “in an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners.” In the case of Iraq, only optimists find it easy to see shining success.