Dean Rohrer

Learning the Lessons of Iraq

Americans increasingly believe that the troop “surge” in Iraq has cowed the insurgents, bringing a decline in violence. But the surge deserves little of the credit, is unlikely to bring long-term stability, and has diverted attention from the huge economic, military, and strategic costs of occupying another country in order to determine its future.

NEW YORK – The Iraq war has been replaced by the declining economy as the most important issue in America’s presidential election campaign, in part because Americans have come to believe that the tide has turned in Iraq: the troop “surge” has supposedly cowed the insurgents, bringing a decline in violence. The implications are clear: a show of power wins the day. 

It is precisely this kind of macho reasoning that led America to war in Iraq in the first place. The war was meant to demonstrate the strategic power of military might. Instead, the war showed its limitations. Moreover, the war undermined America’s real source of power – its moral authority.

Recent events have reinforced the risks in the Bush administration’s approach. It was always clear that the timing of America’s departure from Iraq might not be its choice – unless it wanted to violate international law once again. Now, Iraq is demanding that American combat troops leave within twelve months, with all troops out in 2011.

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