Foreign Policy

The State of Iraq

Nation building might work, but it's not worth it.


In the 1959 film The Mouse That Roared, an imaginary European nation called the Duchy of Grand Fenwick declares war on the U.S. "There isn't a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and to be defeated," explains the nation's military leader.

So it goes. The staunchly rational New York Times right-of-center columnist David Brooks asked readers this week how the nation-building reconstruction project in Iraq is working out.

Remarkably well, you'll be pleased to learn.

Economically, Iraq is the 12th-fastest-growing economy in the world; oil production is back; living standards are improving; about 20 million Iraqis have cell phones. When it comes to political freedom, Iraq ranks fourth in the Middle East—which, let's be honest, is like finishing fourth in the weak NFC West.

Though no one likes to play the part of the Ugly American, isn't there a more pertinent question we should be asking ourselves? Like, "What's in it for us?"

President Barack Obama claims that the end of the combat mission is no time for victory laps. But the president, who once accused the Bush administration of intentionally sending soldiers to die in Iraq to create a political distraction, now asserts that "America is more secure."

Are we? It is far-fetched to believe that 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq in a "training and backup role" will be withdrawn by the end of 2011 as scheduled.

Recently, coordinated bombings in 13 cities across Iraq killed more than 70 people and wounded hundreds of others. If the violence continues to escalate, are these 50,000 American troops going to take a "backup role" in Iraq's ethnic and religious wars?

Doubtful. And less secure.

Our long-term presence in Iraq, in fact, is likely to impede any ability to react militarily to genuine threats. Americans don't have the appetite for it. So if the Islamic radical leadership of Iran—which many experts believe filled the vacuum left by the toppling of Saddam Hussein—is, as many believe, an imminent nuclear threat, we are powerless to stop it.

And if every military action in defense of U.S. interests now comes with an obligatory 10-, 20- or 40-year Marshall Plan, you've made it even more politically unpalatable.

There are other questions that make the claim "we're more secure" highly suspect. If we do leave, where is the evidence that Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter) will blossom into a secular democracy and an ally in the war against Islamic radicalism?

Doubtlessly, it is Islamophobic to bring this up, but Americans are dying not only in the war on terror but also to codify Shariah. Brooks claims that in Iraq, "the role of women remains surprisingly circumscribed." Surprisingly? Actually, that's just a polite way of saying—and I quote directly from the Iraqi Constitution—"Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation."

That's one reason many of us regret our support of the Iraq war. Though I am not reflexively isolationist, I am reflexively suspicious of social engineering. And nation building is social engineering on the grandest of scales.

Decent people, no doubt, are pleased to hear that the Iraqi people are doing well. If war makes us more secure, why only Iraq and not Yemen? Or Iran? Or Cuba? Doesn't everyone deserve to live in freedom? Do not all people deserve to own cell phones and have a decent garbage disposal system?

Or do we reserve those perks for those who pretend to have WMD?

The question isn't whether nation building can work. It probably can. The question is whether it was worth it.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at



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  1. What do we want?
    Nation building at home!
    When do we want it?

    1. “NOOOOOOOOW!” Are we back to the tits thing?

      1. that’s MOOOOOOOOO, you idiot

  2. Once the last US force have left (including the “advisors”) the Iraqi Civil War will begin, ending only when either Saddam Mark II or some Ayatollah consolidates power.

    1. Well, now, there is always the “Lebanon East” scenario, where Iraq ceases to function as a single nation, and its neighbors fight proxy wars there.

    2. Sigh. When will you finally agree with me and call on your government to bring Iraq (or portions thereof) into your happy family of provinces and territories? It’s the only way the Iraq experiment can possibly succeed.

      Well, that or the restoration of the Ottoman Empire.

      1. there was a furniture empire?

        1. Well, yes, but only for furniture for feet.

          1. Get an amazing deal at

    3. In Iraq, the prevailing Shi’a school (centered in Najaf) of thought is very different from the official Shi’a school of Iran (the school of Qom).

      Unlike the latter, Najafi school explicitely rejects meddling of clergy into politics, and considers the Iranian model of velayat-e-faqih (guardianship of the jurist) as something between misguided corrupt policy and outright heresy.

      Saddam has been gone for 7 years already, and the Iranian school hasn’t gained any particular traction among Iraqi population. I think it is quite safe to say that they have missed their chance to get to power peacefully.

      They, nevertheless, may try an open coup. They won’t try as long as Ayatollah Ali Sistani is alive; that is also why he has very professional bodyguards, and always declines offered medical therapies in Iran, going to London instead … he remembers the fate of the late Ayatollah Khooei.

      1. Unlike the latter, Najafi school explicitely rejects meddling of clergy into politics,

        I guess that is why Sistani rejected meddling into politics, except when meddles such as this instance:

        In June 2003, he issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, stating that the framers of Iraq’s constitution had to be elected, not appointed, by U.S. officials and members of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council. In November 2003, he issued a statement saying that elections?not a system of regional caucuses envisioned by the U.S.-led coalition authorities?would be the proper way to select a transitional government. He also demanded U.N. involvement in overseeing the election process. In another difference with U.S. plans, Sistani called for a transitional assembly to ratify an interim constitution drafted by the Iraqi Governing Council and to define the terms under which U.S. and allied troops would remain in Iraq after sovereignty was handed over June 28. All of Sistani’s views have been accommodated.

  3. why everybody complaining about the democrats? If you want the best, you gotta put out a little extra money to get the best.

  4. Take up the White Man’s burden–
    And reap his old reward:
    The blame of those ye better,
    The hate of those ye guard–
    The cry of hosts ye humour
    (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
    “Why brought he us from bondage,
    Our loved Egyptian night?”

    1. The British Empire worked so well.

      Why did you leave early?

      1. lost their taste for curry?

      2. Women’s rights and birth control did in the Empire.

      3. Lost our taste for having all our food boiled, more like.

    2. Kipling right? He knew whereof he spoke.

      Roger Scruton wrote a good book, The West and the Rest.

  5. Hmmmm. Nope, not worth it. As much as I want everybody to really like us, I’m over it. We need some tough love. Maybe living the rest of the 21st century with 12th century laws and customs would do them some good.

    1. If everybody likes you, it means you’re as dumb as they are.

      1. I’m stealing that line.

  6. “”and I quote directly from the Iraqi Constitution?”Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation.”””

    And the funding is coming from where? 😉

    1. Some mosque developer in NYC.

      1. The circle is now complete.

  7. This reminds me of the man who sent Bush a letter saying the schools in Appalachia were all housing WMDs and that they needed to be bombed and then rebuilt and funded.

    1. How would you know if Appalachia was bombed?

      1. The IQ would increase.

  8. “Decent people, no doubt, are pleased to hear that the Iraqi people are doing well. If war makes us more secure, why only Iraq and not Yemen? Or Iran? Or Cuba? Doesn’t everyone deserve to live in freedom?”

    Sure everyone does. But sometimes the circumstances allow us to give freedom to people sometimes it doesn’t. And you could just as easily flip that rhetorical device on its head and say just because we can’t give freedom to everyone does that mean we should never give freedom to anyone even if we have the chance?

    Both arguments are sophistry. And it would be nice Reason employed editors who weeded this kind of lazy arguments out of their staff’s writing.

    1. I guess I wonder if war is the only way to do “give freedom” to people.

      1. Freedom is not a gift. It has to be earned to be valued and valued to endure.

        1. What we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly.

        2. Even if there was some way around that, I don’t think it’s the province of the U.S. military or its commander in chief to exhaust its citizens’ money and soldiers’ lives on the interests of the citizens of other countries. They should worry about the interests of the individuals from whom they took the money and the individuals who would be doing the fighting.

      2. Come over here, I’ll give ya some freedom!

    2. “But sometimes the circumstances allow us to give freedom to people sometimes it doesn’t.”

      It’s just that lying to the American public seems to be the popular “circumstance” lately.

      1. The Obamacare thread is below…

        1. But Obamacare is not about freedom but Teh Slavery!

      2. “”It’s just that lying to the American public seems to be the popular “circumstance” lately.””

        Lately? When was it not?

  9. Call me when the first peaceful transfer of power in Iraq happens after the US troops propping up the ruling elected government leave.

    Don’t worry about the time, you can wake me with the news.

    1. Don’t worry about the time, you can wake me dig me out of the grave with the news.

      After all, look at Korea.

      1. Indeed another useless war.

        1. South Korea was an ally, it was viciously attacked by the North…

          I wouldn’t call it useless now that we have the Hyundai Genesis.

    2. They did leave! The president said so! All that’s left is a highly trained cadre of college students on a semester abroad! Honest!

      1. and M-16s on full auto…

        1. Well, yes, but the right to bear arms is a fundamental American liberty.

      2. College students! Useless. Community Organizers git ‘er done.

  10. “Nation building might work, but it’s not worth it.” And sure as hell won’t work there.

  11. Harsanyi is all for nation destroying in Palestine. He’s a right-wing Zionist asshole who drank the libertoid Kool-Ade.

      1. No, no, undie uses Zionist as a compliment, not an epithet. He uses gay Nazi imagery for the latter.

    1. Max
      Most libertarians I know are for defunding both sides of that conflict.

    2. Harsanyi is all for nation destroying in Palestine.

      First, of course, the Palestinians would need to have a nation. Or even a functional society.

    3. He’s an atheist. How can he also be a Zionist?

      1. It’s simple logic, of the retarded variety. He’s not a liberal, therefore..uh…he’s a right-winger. Scary to even say. And that covers everything, except baby killer, not even – except embryo killer.

        Fuck, I thought this was a left-wing magazine. It’s like it’s day to day. Make up your minds, Reason. Maybe Reason is a Conservaliberal publication.

    1. But she’s a doctor!

      Sounds like this dude would have gladly chewed his own arm off to get away from her.

      I bet she was a freak, though…

      1. I wonder if she had room to masturbate before she finally asphyxiated. If you’re going to choke out, you might as well Carradine yourself into The Great Nothing.

        1. I would imagine that she went down with her arms over her head. It’s a shame – it would be pretty frustrating to be unable to make your asphyxiation worthwhile by getting off a quick one, I would think.

          1. She looked like a real cougar too. For shame.

    2. Wow, the writing on that story is barely understandable. Was it machine-translated from Stupid?

      1. I’m just impressed that some of the paragraphs have more than one sentence.

        1. Toward the end it became little more than an impressionist tone-poem.

    3. Following the missing person report, the doctor’s family consulted a psychic

      Only in fucking California.

      1. You can’t spell “psychic” without “chic”.

  12. Alt text FAIL:

    How could you pass up

    My Fellow Americans…

  13. I’ve been thinking about this Iraq thing. What would have been the right thing for Obama to do?* Should he have quickly withdrawn even though conditions would predict bloodbaths? I’m thinking of the hell the Vietnamese went through when we withdrew over there…

    *I’m ignoring the lil’ fact that he worked his ass off to give America the impression he would do something different than he has done here…

    1. Howbout the hell the Vietnamese went through while we were there?

      1. The funny thing is, Vietnam isn’t so bad anymore. Communism has fallen out of favor, and they are relatively free-market. Maybe leaving well(or not-so-well)enough alone actually does work?

        1. I love Ron Pauls’s line about accomplishing much more through peace than through war. Of course, the John McPains and neocons of the world are convinced our only mistake in Vietnam was leaving. “A few more napalmed villages and they’d turn against communism!”

          Turns out, like you said Cornholio, communism turns people against communism.

    2. I’m thinking of the hell the Vietnamese went through when we withdrew over there…

      And if we’d stayed there another twenty years, it could have all been prevented!

  14. Wow, the writing on that story is barely understandable. Was it machine-translated from Stupid?

    Did you read the comments?

    1. I’m too stupid to find the comments apparently. lnk plz

      1. Refresh. They don’t seem to come up every time for some reason.

        1. Wallace said he gathered information Saturday but he deferred to police Saturday night after a woman checking on Moodie’s fish tank discovered a foul odor and saw fluids in the fireplace.

          “fluids” gross!

  15. Yes, they are awesome. Conspiracy theories, cop-bashing, weepy calls for censorship, and a gooey layer of false-ass “I know her family and they are devastated and you people are monsters” boo-hooing.

    Monsters? Come over here, baby. I’ll show you monsters.

  16. Maybe they were playing the Santa’s Little Helper game.

  17. It does seem kinda silly, the message he’s putting out there right now…

    America was ready move past the Iraq War and focus on domestic issues in the 2006 election–half of us thought that’s what “Hope & Change” meant in 2008…

    Now, you’re ready to focus on domestic issues?! I know he’s really just trying to position himself and the Dems for the upcoming election, but don’t think we haven’t noticed what you’ve been doing for the last two years domestically, Mr. President. Bailouts and a craptacular healthcare scheme with your name on it.

    I remember when Bush got to this stage–it was after Katrina. He started flailing and flailing… The Dems won big the congressional elections, and Rumsfeld had to go…

    But the flailing started before that. …and that’s what this is. That’s what they do when they don’t have anything left. We see him as he is now. And they can’t spin that. So he just flails in the wind.

  18. All this in the article and not one reference to Dr. Chris Coyne’s After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy?

    Research more.

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  21. Suppose that 43 members of your extended family have been killed during the last 8 years, 6 from the initial U.S. invasion; 10 from U.S. soldiers mistakes after that, and the other 27 from random attacks by insurgents. Is having a cell phone a good substitute? How about a little more oil production. This article has a social engineering tone to it that I don’t like at all.

    1. @ Douglas
      I have been opposed to the Iraq war since the start, but this kind of bullshit just pisses me off.

      Suppose that ? members of your extended family have been killed during the last ? years by a bloodthirsty dictator named Saddam and the U.S. Army came and captured him and fucking hung his evil ass and gave you a fucking cell phone(Mass communication is actually pretty fucking important to a population trying to establish and keep a democracy). Also, the absence of a dictator along with a lot of hard work and money provided by the U.S. allowed for a growing economy where your kids and remaining family members might actually get rich and stay safe so long as you can keep another dictator from coming and taking power again.

      1. The hatred we ignited by invading outdoes any gratitude Iraqis may have for their “liberation.”

        No Iraqi was thinking “Boy, if those Americans DON’T take out Saddam I’m just gonna attack them!”

        1. I agree. I don’t think our military should be invading anybody or liberating anybody or taking-out dictators in an attempt to win the praise of anybody. I think they should protect us and that’s it. But people act like Saddam was just minding his own business handing out lolli-pops to all his little beloveds and everyone was getting along with the neighbors before America invaded and introduced chaos and violence to people who knew only peace and harmony. Saddam was slaughtering people in droves before we invaded and whoever takes over will be slaughtering after we leave. We tried to end that cycle. We didn’t do a very good job and we probably shouldn’t have bothered but that doesn’t equal mass murder blood for oil or some bullshit.

  22. Thank you Mr. Bush for freeing us from our burdens!

  23. This has been tried over 3 times in the last 60 years and accomplished nothing. It is a fools errand and leads only to waste.

  24. This data is very interesting. And they are just what I am looking for.Thanks very much..

  25. Speaking about Iraq, are we doing anything to end the blockade of Camp Ashraf? The USA has a legal and moral obligation to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, but I guess that most folks have never even heard of it, because the residents of Camp Asraf are peaceful and are not launching terrorist attacks against innocent civilians.

  26. If these were times where travel amongst nations took weeks and nations were truly isolated, I would agree to ignore these dysfunctional countries. But, we live in times where remote areas of the globe hosting belligerents could be in the modern western world in a matter of 24 to 48 hours. It is whether we like it or not in our interest to mollify these antique cultures and get them out of the 7th century. It is not islamophobic to refer to people in terms of islam when they refer to themselves in terms of islam and its edicts. In a century of Marshall Plans from Europe, to Bosnia, Korea and Japan why is rebuilding Iraq to be a modern society so objectionable? It be rooted in the fact that these rebuilding efforts mentioned were under the auspices of democrat administrations.

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