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 It is far-fetched to believe that 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq in a "training and backup role" will be withdrawn by the end of 2011 as scheduled.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