In The Christian Science Monitor, Robert Dujarric and Andy Zelleke declare that there is nothing left to be won in Iraq.
Senator McCain has yet to give the American people clear answers to three fundamental questions: What, exactly, are the political objectives of keeping large numbers of American soldiers in Iraq for years to come? What plausible outcome would benefit the United States enough to justify the wrenching costs of achieving those objectives? And what, concretely, is the strategy for getting there?
Michael Totten responds mostly in terms of what can be prevented:
Even if an unambiguous victory is impossible in the short or medium term for the United States and the elected government of Iraq, a victory of any kind for Al Qaeda in Iraq or Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militia is likewise impossible while American forces remain on the ground and in the way.
As Totten says of himself, I am also not affiliated with the McCain campaign, and in fact am a Southern Democrat by political leaning. I agree with Mr. Totten that we all ought to respond to this question.
So I'll point to three things, each of which individually justifies the cost in my opinion.
1) The development of an allied state in Arabia with an army (ISF) that is trained and experienced in counterinsurgency (COIN), and also in combined operations with Coalition nations. There is no doubt that the Muslim world, and probably the Arabian world, will see additional insurgencies in coming decades. Terrorists and other bad actors benefit from destabilizing nations and regions, and making havens from the chaos.
Our best efforts are "Foreign Internal Defense" (FID) missions that build up these chaotic regions, stabilizing them and bringing them into the global community. COIN operations are a subset of such missions. A crucial part of COIN is cultural knowledge; another is language capacity. The ISF, and an allied Iraq, will add a crucial capacity to future efforts by the free peoples of the world.
Developing Iraq and its forces into an ally has the potential of stabilizing regions where the poor are kept in poverty and denied good governance by terrorists and extremists. It may help to avert future wars, each of which could be as expensive as Iraq has been. This alone will justify the expense.
2) There are benefits to the world economy from tying a stabilized Iraq into the global system. This is not limited to oil. The Mesopotamia region is historically fertile, and with proper capitalization could become another major source of food for the world's population.
We are in an era in which biofuels and growing populations in Asia are driving up food prices. An additional large-scale supply of food would have a tremendously beneficial effect in terms of keeping the world's poorest from starvation. Millions of lives may be affected across the globe by the very sort of projects the US military is currently funding with CERP grants, and the US State Department through its Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
Whether developing agricultural coops and unions, or providing fertilizer, or helping reinvigorate tractor factories like the one in the Iskandariyah Industrial Complex, we are helping the people of Iraq to capitalize their agriculture. In that way, we are also helping the people of the world -- especially the poorest people -- in a time of rising food prices. This moral good alone justifies the cost of finishing what we have begun.
3) In addition to that moral good, there is a practical good as well. How much wealth has been generated by bringing Japan into the global economic system, and in a way that prevents that wealth from being siphoned off into warfighting? How much in Germany? In South Korea?
There will be a tremendous economic boon from a stabilized Iraq. This is a tide that will raise all boats -- chiefly Iraqi boats, but foreign investors as well. We are starting to see such investment. If it's a subject that interests you, the most complete investigation of the topic in the open sources comes from a milblogger: FbL of the Castle, who interviewed Ambassador Ries at length on investment and Iraq.
There is no doubt that the potential economic boon to the world economy will, over time, repay the cost of the war, by creating new wealth that does not now exist. I have every reason to believe that the potential boon will more than offset the cost of the war: in every other case where we have brought a nation out of poverty and into the global economy, it always has. This war has been expensive, certainly, but compared to WWII? Again, consider Japan.
In all of this, I'm joining Totten's concession-for-the-sake-of-argument that Iraq doesn't become "a city on a hill." Yet I believe that it will. In addition to the justifications above, there is the work the US military is doing to develop schools and education for Iraq's boys and girls. There is every reason to believe that, as we open the world of the internet to them, over time they will develop a society far different from, and better than, any their parents knew.
That hope lives in the Iraqis I met over there, and many others besides. I believe it also justifies the costs, both what we have spent and what remains to be spent to finish what we have begun.