General Petraeus thought he had a successful war strategy for the 21st century, but nothing is quite as effective as killing the bad guys and scaring the fight out of fence sitters. The real test of Petraeus’s post-Vietnam strategy of gaining the locals’ trust and empowering them to self-rule was Iraqis’ ability to sustain peace and democracy on their own once American troops left and stopped bribing the Arab clans to not fight each other.
Fallujah, which was the site of the most intense fighting during the Iraq campaign, fell in January. Dan Murphy writes in the Christian Science Monitor:
Most of the Shiite Islamist politicians who lead Iraq today lost multiple friends and family members in a crackdown, brutal even for the Hussein regime, on underground Shiite political movements after the first Gulf War. Today they view securing the political and military ascendancy of their sect as the top priority.
The Sunni Arabs of Anbar, who were bought off with state largesse during the Baath years, are viewed by Maliki and other leading Shiites as a potential threat to this goal. His government’s systematic persecution of prominent Sunni Arab political figures is a key reason that ISIS has such a strong opening in Iraq right now.
Saddam Hussein was an authoritarian and a tyrant, but he suppressed Iraq’s internal divisions and kept the country stable, a valuable service considering its strategic location and sketchy neighbors, and something Arab democracy has failed to do. Basher al-Assad and Muammar Gadhafi, detestable as they were, performed similar functions in Syria and Lybia. There was no civil tradition the people could lean on once those yawning power vacuums were created, so those countries degenerated into chaos.
Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi, said Mosul, the effective capital of northern Iraq, is now entirely in insurgent hands.
“When the battle got tough in the city of Mosul, the troops dropped their weapons and abandoned their posts, making it an easy prey for the terrorists,” he told a televised news conference in Baghdad.
Democracy is fine for people who get along with each other. But for people who don’t, democracy is just another means to power. When those means fail them, they look for other means, like violence and terrorism.