After all the blood and blunders, people are right to be sceptical when good news is announced from Iraq. Yet it is now plain that over the past several months, while Americans have been distracted by their presidential primaries, many things in Iraq have at long last started to go right.
This improvement goes beyond the fall in killing that followed General David Petraeus’s Ã¢â‚¬Å“surgeÃ¢â‚¬Â. Iraq’s government has gained in stature and confidence. Thanks to soaring oil prices it is flush with money. It is standing up to Iraq’s assorted militias and asserting its independence from both America and Iran. The overlapping warsÃ¢â‚¬â€Sunni against American, Sunni against Shia and Shia against ShiaÃ¢â‚¬â€that harrowed Iraq after the invasion of 2003 have abated. The country no longer looks in imminent danger of flying apart or falling into everlasting anarchy. In September 2007 this newspaper supported the surge not because we had faith in Iraq but only in the desperate hope that the surge might stop what was already a bloodbath from becoming even worse (see article). The situation now is different: Iraq is still a mess, but something approaching a normal future for its people is beginning to look achievable.
The article proceeds to explain the improvements in greater detail, and then concludes:
In highlighting the improved conditions in Iraq we do not mean to justify The Economist’s support of the invasion of 2003 (see article). Too many lives have been shattered for that. History will still record that the invasion and occupation have been a debacle. Iraqis even now live under daily threat of violent death: hundreds are killed each month. They remain woefully short of the necessities of life, such as jobs, clean water and electricity. Iraq’s government is gaining confidence faster than competence. It is still fractious, and in many places corrupt.
Nor does it follow that a turn for the better necessarily validates John McCain’s insistence on America staying indefinitely. A safer Iraq might make Barack Obama’s plan to pull out most American troops within 16 months more feasible, though at the moment a precipitate withdrawal looks foolish. But to guard the fragile improvements, the key for America must be flexibility. Both candidates have to keep their options open. If America’s next president gets Iraq wrong because he has boxed himself in during the campaign, all the recent gains may be squandered and Iraq will slide swiftly back into misery and despair. That would be to fail twice over.