Tom Ricks, The Washington Post's military correspondent, has doubts. He recently returned from his fifth visit to Iraq. In March 2003 he thought the invasion was a strategic mistake in the struggle against terrorism. His assessment of subsequent events is the title of his book, coming in September: "Fiasco." Now, however, he thinks that a U.S. withdrawal would leave chaos that might lead to radical Islamists acquiring what they most want -- Saudi oil fields and Pakistani nuclear weapons. So America, he thinks, needs a plan to reduce fatalities to two or three a week, then two or three a month.
But who, he wonders, will control the likes of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr? Imagine, Ricks says, another cleric, the Rev. Al Sharpton, controlling the Bronx with a militia he can call into the streets at any time. Last Monday, the day the president again celebrated Iraq's progress from tyranny to December's "elections for a fully constitutional government," this was life in Iraq, as reported by The New York Times:
"Shiite vigilantes seized four men suspected of terrorist attacks, interrogated them, beat them, killed them and left their bodies dangling from lampposts. ... In Sadr City, the Shiite slum in Baghdad where the terrorist suspects were executed, government forces have vanished. The streets are ruled by aggressive teenagers with shiny soccer jerseys and machine guns. They set up roadblocks and poke their heads into cars and detain whomever they want. ... 'This is our government now,' (a retired teacher) said, nodding toward Mr. Sadr's glowering face on television. ... "
Conditions in Iraq have worsened in the 94 days that have passed since Iraq's elections in December. And there still is no Iraqi government that can govern. By many measures conditions are worse than they were a year ago, when they were worse than they had been the year before.
Three years ago the administration had a theory: Democratic institutions do not just spring from a hospitable culture, they can also create such a culture. That theory has been a casualty of the war that began three years ago today.