Military history

EPILOGUE

THE LONG WAR

In 2007, on my way home from my first reporting trip in Iraq for this book, I stopped in Rome and spent a day in its Forum. For all the faults of its governments, Italy feels to me like the most civilized land in the world, and that spirit was something I craved after being in Baghdad. I was looking to get away from thinking about wars in Iraq and the Middle East, which have dominated my life since September 11, 2001. But I found instead that the Forum took me back to those wars. There, at one of the two or three most important sites in the history of Western governance, I was struck that the two triumphal arches that bracket and dominate the Forum commemorate Roman wars not in Transalpine Gaul or Germany but in the Middle East. On the south end, the Arch of Titus, completed in A.D. 81, honors victories in Egypt and Jerusalem. On the north, the Arch of Septimius Severus, built 122 years later, celebrates a triumphant campaign in Mesopotamia. As I walked the foot-polished stones of the Via Sacra, I was reminded of the argument that getting the U.S. military out of the Middle East is simply unrealistic. In this analysis, it has been the fate of the West’s great powers for thousands of years to become involved in the power politics of the region, and since the Suez Crisis of 1956, when British and French influence in the region suffered a major reduction, it has been the turn of America to take the lead in the Middle East—though until 2003, the United States managed to avoid becoming enmeshed in sustained ground combat there.

In October 2008, as I was finishing this book, I again was in Rome. I sat on a stone wall on the south side of Rome’s Capitoline Hill, after which our own Capitol Hill is named, and again studied the two arches of the Forum. It was a week when U.S. forces had engaged in combat in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—that is, with the exception of Iran, we were fighting in a string of countries stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, the Romans, and the British. The more we talk about getting out of the Middle East, the deeper we seem to be engaged.

I don’t come to this conclusion about being stuck with any satisfaction. Even as security improved in Iraq in 2008, I found myself consistently saddened by the war, not just by its obvious costs to Iraqis and Americans, but also by the incompetence and profligacy with which the Bush administration conducted much of it. Yet I also came to believe that we can’t leave.

By the end of 2008, Iraq stood a good chance of becoming America’s longest war, passing the American Revolution and even the Vietnam War. As long as U.S. troops are in Iraq, it is likely that some will be dying violently—the all-important difference between Iraq and the many decades of postwar U.S. military presence in Germany, Japan, and Korea. A continuing U.S. mission in Iraq also would continue to drain the U.S. Treasury, strain the military, polarize American politics, and provoke tension with other nations, especially in the Middle East.

Many Americans seem to think that the Iraq war is close to wrapped up, or at least our part in it. When I hear that, I worry. A phrase associated with this war that particularly haunts me is one that Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of Defense, used often in the winter before the invasion. “Hard to imagine,” he would say. It was hard to imagine, he would tell members of Congress, the media, and other skeptics, that the war would last as long as they feared, or that it could cost as much as all that, or might require so many troops. Wolfowitz’s failure of imagination—his flaw of thinking that if he couldn’t conceive of something happening, then it didn’t merit discussion—did great damage to this country, and even more to Iraq. I worry that now again we are failing to imagine sufficiently what we have gotten ourselves into and how much more we have to pay in blood, treasure, prestige, and credibility. The research of cognitive psychologist Gary Klein has shown that one of the causes of catastrophic failures such as aircraft disasters sometimes is a lack of imagination in assessing a situation. I don’t think the Iraq war is over, and I worry that there is more to come than any of us suspect. This is a concern I heard expressed much more often by American officials in Baghdad than in Washington, D.C.

To imagine where Iraq is going, we need to pay attention to where it is and also to what history can tell us. As I was walking in the Forum, Anthony Cordesman, the CSIS defense analyst, was also thinking about those lessons of the past. “History provides countless warnings that states as divided and weak as Iraq is today rarely become stable—much less stable, liberal democracies—without a long series of power struggles,” he warned.

What outsiders don’t see but many insiders do in examining post-surge Iraq is that a smaller but long-term U.S. military presence is probably the best case scenario. The thought of having small numbers of U.S. troops dying for years more in the deserts and palm groves of Iraq isn’t appealing, but it appears to be better than the most likely alternatives, of either being ejected or pulling out—and in either case letting the genocidal chips fall where they may. There also is the alarming possibility that, years after such a pullout, the U.S. military eventually would have to return to fight another war or impose peace on chaos.

Almost every American official I interviewed in Iraq over the last three years agreed that the key ingredient was time. “This is not a campaign that can be won in one or two years,” said Col. Pete Mansoor, who was Petraeus’s executive officer during much of the general’s tour in Iraq. “The United States has got to be willing to underwrite this effort for many, many years to come. I can’t put it in any brighter colors than that.”

Likewise, at the strategic level, said Maj. James Powell, Odierno’s most articulate planner, “the American military is trying to persuade the American people that this is going to take a long time, and we have to be very clear and deliberate in our goals.”

The foreign advisers to the American military effort were adamant in their sense that the United States would need to stay in Iraq for a good number of years. “We have to buy time in the U.S. to complete the mission,” said Emma Sky. “We have to re-frame the issue for the American people.”

One of the lessons of the twentieth century, noted David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency expert, was that “there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.” (But, he emphasized, he wasn’t thinking about U.S. forces being in combat for 10 years.)

When I asked, few were willing to venture a guess as to just how long the American military might need to stay. One who would was Stephen Biddle, an occasional adviser to Petraeus, who argued that the way forward in Iraq was through hundreds of local cease-fires that eventually might become national, but then would require monitoring and enforcement by U.S. peacekeeping troops. “This mission will be long—perhaps 20 years long,” he wrote. But, he continued, it was the best chance the United States had—as long as it didn’t try to creep away, and instead resigned itself to keeping more than 50,000 troops there for many years to come.

Sgt. Alexander Lemons, the Marine reservist who fought in Basra, thought an even longer time line would be required. “The surge has done incredible things in Iraq but it is not enough,” he wrote after returning home in the summer of 2008. “Change of the sort envisioned by most Americans . . . requires a long-term commitment, for as long as five decades, with enough American forces to assist the unprepared and sometimes lawless security forces while protecting the country’s open borders.”

AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW?

Nor, at the end of many more years of struggle, is the outcome likely to be something Americans recognize as victory. Instead these additional years of sacrifice promise to be made for markedly limited objectives. A senior intelligence officer in Iraq described the long-term American goal as “a stable Iraq that is unified, at peace with its neighbors, and is able to police its internal affairs, so it isn’t a sanctuary for al Qaeda. Preferably a friend to us, but it doesn’t have to be.” He paused, then pointedly noted that his list doesn’t include democracy or the observation of human rights.

That is a surprisingly common view among officials in Iraq, even if it hasn’t yet sunk in with many Americans. Few foreigners are as steeped in Iraqi issues as Emma Sky, who is now on her third tour in the country. “The idea that you bring democracy to Iraq and they all become secular, liberal supporters of Israel—well, there are a lot of scenarios I can imagine before that one,” she said. “It’s not going to end that way.”

Another British official in the midst of the American effort was Lt. Gen. Cooper, the top British adviser to Petraeus. In the future, he said, “Iraq is not going to look like the United States. It is not going to look like Western Europe. The country is violent. It would not surprise me if there were significant bits of violence around the country.”

Yet even another 10 or 15 years of struggle might not produce that minimal result. “There’s a fifty percent chance of it succeeding in a middling way, and a fifty percent chance of the flaws in Iraqis preventing what needs to be done from getting done,” estimated Marin Strmecki, a conservative national security thinker who sometimes advises the Pentagon.

Col. Gian Gentile, who commanded a battalion in Iraq in 2006 and later became a critic of the surge, came to a similar conclusion, arguing that “only a decades-long American occupation can prevent the country from coming apart at the seams.”

Even more, many insiders worried that as American influence waned, the Iraqi tendency toward violent solutions would increase. This inclination would be made worse by the American efforts during the surge phase to arm and train the Iraqi army and police while also creating a cohesive, better-trained cadre of Sunni militias. “It’s a risk—there is no doubt it’s a risk,” conceded Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who ran the training and equipping effort in 2007.

John McCreary, a veteran analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, predicted in September 2008 that the arrangement imposed by the U.S. government on Iraqi factions would unravel, likely with a Shiite attack on the U.S. presence. The Americans have imposed power sharing on Iraq’s factions, he said, and that should worry us for several reasons. First, it produces what looks like peace but isn’t. Second, in such situations eventually one of the factions seeks to break out of the arrangement. “Thus,” McCreary wrote, “power sharing is always a prelude to violence,” usually after the force imposing it withdraws.

That analysis points toward an outcome akin to the battered state of Lebanon. In fact, many of those closest to the situation in Iraq expect a full-blown civil war in the coming years. One colonel who served in Iraq saw that renewed bloodshed as inevitable. “I don’t think the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet,” he said. “I suspect Sadr is recruiting and amassing weapons and resources for that day we pull down our troop levels to the point where he can make a grab for the seat of power in Baghdad. I’m sure his boys are infiltrating all levels of the Iraqi army and police, and he is smart enough to wait until he realizes we are drawn down to a point where we can’t effectively stop him without a massive rebuild of troops, . . . a point where the American public will not stomach another buildup.”

Sky, for all her relative optimism in mid-2008, shared that concern. “This country has much more fighting that’s potentially there,” she calculated one day in Baghdad. “If you look at countries that have been in civil wars, I think it is more than fifty percent fall back into civil war. And that’s especially true of countries with great resources—like Iraq.”

There also were doubts about the sustainability of changes the Americans had made. Soldiers on the ground tended to be pessimists. “If the Americans leave, the sectarian violence will flare up,” Staff Sgt. Jose Benavides told a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor after a year of serving in one Baghdad neighborhood.

Skeptics noted especially that the Americans had altered the surface of the country but not its fundamentals. “The emerging U.S. reconstruction project in Iraq increasingly comes across as a colossus with feet of clay,” concluded Reidar Visser, an Oxford-educated expert on Iraqi Shiites. “Only Kurdistan is being represented in government by politicians who enjoy widespread popular backing; substantial segments of the Arab population are either being bombed into submission (the Sadrists) or bribed and armed (the Sunnis) instead of becoming genuinely integrated in national politics.” So, he argued in an essay that was passed around Petraeus’s headquarters, even if the American goal of a democratic Iraq were momentarily realized, it would be unlikely to last. The Iraq that is being built, he said, “is based on an appetite for power and extreme opportunism alone, [so] it cannot survive except through the application of brute force and the use of material power.” He predicted a long-term trend toward “increased authoritarianism.”

Some insiders agreed, worrying that Iraq was drifting toward a military seizure of power. Kilcullen, who had moved on to advise Eliot Cohen at the State Department, worried that the classic conditions for a military coup were developing—a venal political elite divorced from the population, isolated inside the Green Zone, while the Iraqi military outside the zone’s walls grew more capable and also became closer to the people, working with them, finding their local leaders, and trying to address their concerns.

The less the Iraqi generals need American support, the more they might be inclined to take control of the government, so one reason to keep a substantial number of troops there, said Biddle, was to deter them from launching a coup. One nightmare scenario, he noted, leads eventually to a Shiite general who takes over explicitly as a Shiite out to suppress the Sunnis—and who has at his disposal a military and an economy more effective and efficient than Saddam Hussein’s ever were. “Imagine an Iraq-Iran axis with their oil wealth, a modern equipped army, in cahoots with each other,” he said.

WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

The embrace of former insurgents had created many new local power centers in Iraq, and the faces of those so empowered remained obscure in many places. “We’ve made a lot of deals with shady guys,” said Col. Mike Galloucis, the MP commander in Baghdad in 2007, at the end of his tour. “It’s working. But the key is, is it sustainable?”

One of the least understood of those “shady guys” was also one of the most prominent—Moqtada al-Sadr. The U.S. government consistently has underestimated him, first in going into Iraq and then in 2004, when he violently confronted the American superpower. He not only survived those encounters, but also emerged more powerful and was brought into the American-created Iraqi government. If he can stay alive, more power is likely to flow to him, as his two main rivals for Shiite allegiance, Hakim and Ayatollah Sistani, are both old and ill.

Some American officials believe that the United States can live with Sadr, despite his support for Hezbollah, arguing that he is the least pro-Iranian of the likely leaders of Iraq. “Sadr and his group put me in the hospital for sixteen months, so I have a bias,” said one American officer who was wounded in an attack by Sadr’s militia. “But after talking to his people, I think Sadr is as close as we come to a Shiite nationalist.” He said he can live with that outcome.

For reasons of nationalism, if Sadr can be drawn into the political arena, he may effectively become an ally of convenience to the Americans, albeit one who remains closer to Hezbollah. “It should not be forgotten that the Sadrists are Tehran’s historical main enemy among the Shiites of Iraq,” noted Visser, the specialist in Iraqi Shiism.

Indeed, given that Sadr is more of an Iraqi nationalist than many of the people the U.S. government has supported in Iraq, it isn’t clear why the U.S. government holds that diminishing him will restrain Iranian influence in Iraq. “That’s the million-dollar question,” said Capt. Jeanne Hull, a military intelligence veteran who during 2008 was on her third tour in Iraq, all of them working for Petraeus. She also was almost certainly the only soldier serving in Iraq who was simultaneously doing research for a doctoral dissertation for Princeton University. She had been assigned to work on Sadrist issues on this most recent tour. “I don’t think we’ve looked at it deeply enough to know if backing the GOI [government of Iraq] is the same as backing Iranian interests.”

Others contend that Sadr, working on a longer time scale than the Americans, is just lying low until the United States draws down its troops and declares its combat role concluded in Iraq. Then, this analysis continues, Sadr can launch the civil war he wants. “The reason I am distrustful of Sadr is that we know that in private conversations, he has said, ‘There are two million who must die,”’ said an Army officer who served in a key position in Iraq. This wasn’t hearsay, he said, indicating that it came from an intercept of communications. Another official who also declined to be named said he too had heard of this.

TEHRAN ON TOP?

Americans still don’t fathom how the Iraq war is likely to end, Emma Sky said after addressing the CIA conference on Iraq early in 2008. “I expect Iraq is going to ask us to leave,” she said. That is, Iraqi leaders no longer would see any utility in keeping U.S. forces on hand, which would permit Iraq’s deep-seated xenophobia to roar back in full strength. Once they felt they had amassed sufficient power to survive without American protection, they would kick them out. That expulsion would probably only come when and if the government of Iraq felt secure, both internally and with its neighbors. But it also could develop if the Baghdad government came sufficiently under the sway of Tehran to become a subsidiary of Iranian power—-a situation that would promise long-term instability, both internally and regionally.

The role of Iran remains problematic. At this point it appears to be the biggest winner in the Iraq war, and perhaps in the region—both in the short term and long term. As former Iranian president Muhammed Khatami boasted to the scholar Vali Nasr, “regardless of where the United States changes regimes, it is our friends who will come to power.” In other words, all Iran really has to do is stand back and collect its winnings as Iraqi Shiites take power and realize they have few allies in the region aside from Iran.

“Iran’s influence will remain and probably grow stronger,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency specialist in Middle Eastern security affairs. “As Sunnis become politically and militarily more powerful, Shia political elements will look for allies. The Iranians have many contacts and agents of influence in Iraq, their border with Iraq is a strategic factor of permanent consequence, and their role in the Iraqi economy is growing. Iran does not have an unconstrained opportunity in Iraq, but the situation is strategically strongly in its favor.”

What’s more, noted Toby Dodge, a British defense expert who was an occasional adviser to Petraeus, “the current Iraqi government is full of Iranian clients. You’ll almost certainly end up with a rough and ready dictatorship of three groups that will be in hock to Iran.” But, he added philosophically, “that’s better than where we were in 2006.” To this, Capt. Hull, a more frequent adviser to Petraeus, replied that Gen. de Gaulle took refuge in London during World War II but hardly became a toady to the British and Americans after that war. Indeed, both de Gaulle and Maliki were said to nurse deep resentment over the way their hosts treated them in exile.

A senior U.S. military intelligence officer also was thinking about that sour postwar Parisian point of view. “The best you can hope for is an Iraq strong enough to defend itself but not attack others or be repressive,” he said. “And they’ll vote against us eighty percent of the time in the UN. They’ll make the French look grateful.”

One view that attributes a particularly cynical strategy to Iran holds that it wants the U.S. military to stay in Iraq for as long as possible, in part because of the steady drain on American resources, but mainly because as long as American troops are in Iraq, it has a quick and easy way to retaliate against any U.S. action against Iran. That is, the Iranian government may believe that as long as the Americans are in Iraq, they are constrained from striking Iran. Thus the American presence grants near impunity to the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons. “I think there’s probably a real belief that they have weathered the storm,” the same U.S. intelligence officer in Baghdad said one day in 2008. Every indication was that Tehran would wind up with a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that it sees as a friend, he noted. “They are very comfortable with the way it’s going. They want us out, but gradually.”

Cooper, the British general who had watched the Iranians in the south as commander of a multinational division there, agreed with that analysis. “First, they wish to see a Finlandized Iraq in their orbit,” he said. “Second, they want us out, but not too quickly, because that could collapse the first aim.”

But Rayburn, the regional strategist for Petraeus, warned against simply blaming the Iranians for future setbacks in Iraq. Rather, he said, the Shias of Iraq, after decades of dispossession, were still bloodily sorting out who among them would wield power and how. The Iranians, he said, “made it worse, more violent—but they didn’t cause it.”

The wild card in all this is Israel. U.S. commanders worried that if it chose to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, the U.S. effort in Iraq would be knocked badly off course, with the possibility again of the nightmare of 2004—twin Sunni and Shiite uprisings against the U.S. presence.

WAITING FOR SADDAM?

For all the worry about Iran, the view of many American soldiers who have served in Iraq is that the biggest threat to American aspirations won’t be the Iranians but the Iraqis themselves.

The Iraqi military is getting better, especially in 2008, after its surprising victory in Basra. “Each operation after Basra, we saw incremental improvements,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Allyn, chief of staff for Gen. Austin.

Yet it still is a deeply flawed institution, even with tens of thousands of American soldiers keeping an eye on it. “The Iraqi army is a predominantly Shia institution,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Clemens. “They tend to react to things as Shia first and as soldiers second. . . . We had to remind them that they’re an apolitical organization and they couldn’t drive around in their Humvees with pictures of Moqtada al-Sadr plastered on the back and their green Shia flags. They couldn’t march in support of the Shia tribes during holidays.” (Indeed, in mid-2008, as Iraq’s political parties began to gear up for possible elections, there were reports of troops tearing down posters publicizing the registration effort in Sunni areas.) Clemens also mentioned, without offering specifics, the case of a commander’s bodyguard who also was “in a Shia death squad that runs around at night hacking the heads off Sunnis.”

The Americans who should be heeded most on the attitudes of Iraqi commanders are those who saw them up close during tours of duty as advisers to Iraqi units. Some of their accounts should give pause to anyone who sees Iraqi forces as the key to an American exit. Those doubts should extend even to the Iraqi army, which has a far better reputation than the Iraqi national police. Maj. David Voorhies said that he was given “unsubstantiated” statements that Lt. Col. Sabah, the Iraqi commander he advised, had subordinate officers who disagreed with him killed. Voorhies didn’t seem to think it unlikely. “You’d probably get a good idea of what it’s like to work with him by watching The Sopranos or watching The Godfather trilogy. He’s very persuasive and he leads through fear.”

Some American advisers reported that their Iraqi counterparts would candidly say they were just waiting for the Americans to depart so they could revert to their old methods of population suppression. Older officers “would sit and tell us they wanted to go back to the old way underneath Saddam and were just waiting for the U.S. to leave,” reported Maj. William Arnold, who in 2007 advised a battalion of the Iraqi 9th Division (Mechanized), a particularly significant unit because it was part of the only armored brigade in the Iraqi army and so would be key to launching a military coup d’état. “We felt that those guys would listen to us just because they were using us as a checkbook.”

Maj. Matt Whitney, who spent 2006 advising Iraqi generals, predicted that once U.S. forces were out of the way, Iraqi commanders would relapse to the brutal ways of earlier days:

Saddam Hussein taught them how to do that [suppress urban populations] and we’ve just reinforced that lesson for four years. Sad, huh? . . . . These guys think they’re the shit and they can do it. They’re ready to kill people—a lot of people—in order to get stability in Iraq. They just don’t have enough weapons as far as they’re concerned. . . . If you think you can leave them in charge and not wind up with a real kinetic solution that would kill a lot of people, you’re wrong.

Another adviser, Maj. Stephen Burr, who worked with a major Iraqi military intelligence headquarters in 2006, was even more emphatic. “They’re going to be ruthless about it,” he warned. “They’re not going to be concerned about body counts, they’re not going to be concerned about media, and they’re not going to be concerned about collateral damage. If it requires leveling the city of Najaf, they will do that. That’s what they did after the Gulf War. They have no problem with that. They feel that these things are acceptable losses.”

Gen. Odierno said in my last interview with him in November 2008 that he thinks Iraqi commanders have improved and that they no longer will automatically revert to Saddam-era viciousness. “I think two years ago that was true. I think maybe even a year and a half ago it was true. I think a year ago it was a little less true. I think today it’s less true.” He added that there clearly are still problems and cited that as one reason why the American military presence will be required for some time.

But that hopeful assessment conflicts with the frequent statements of Iraqi commanders themselves. As one Iraqi police chief boasted to an American officer, “one week in his [police] custody was worse than twenty years in prison.”

Maj. Chad Quayle, who advised an Iraqi battalion in south Baghdad during the surge, said that he “got consistent answers” from Iraqi officers about the political future of their country. “When you got to know them and they’d be honest with you, every single one of them thought that the whole notion of democracy and representative government in Iraq was absolutely ludicrous.”

Or as the police chief in Fallujah had phrased his bottom line after leaving the insurgency to come over to the American side: “No democracy in Iraq. Ever.”

If these forebodings are borne out, then unlike in the Saddam era, the United States will bear some of the blame for creating a brutal Iraq run by younger, tougher versions of that dictator, who by the time of the invasion was an aging, almost toothless tiger. What’s more, American forces probably would still be in the country, advising and supporting this new Iraqi military and police, but with fewer troops and so less ability to know what is happening on the ground. Capt. Justin Gorkowski, who advised an Iraqi brigade in 2006-7, told the story of a Turkmen Shia police chief who used his pull with an Iraqi general to call an air strike on a Sunni village, as part of his ethnic cleansing work. As it happened, Gorkoswki said, the American gunships, seeing no hostile actions or threats in the village, declined to fire into it. In future such situations, American forces, thinner on the ground and so lacking awareness, might not be able to be so discerning.

HOW DOES THIS END?

So to address the perceptive question David Petraeus posed many years ago during the invasion: How does this end?

Petraeus himself wasn’t keen to take on the question. Asked if the gloomy formula once proposed for Vietnam of “eight divisions for eight years” applies in Iraq, he said that it clearly wasn’t going to take that many troops. As for duration, he said, “I don’t know how long, you can only see so far.” But such operations, he said, seeking refuge in vagueness, take “a long time.”

I posed the question to several other American commanders and officers in Iraq. Probably the best answer came from Charlie Miller, the member of the Petraeus think tank who did the first draft of policy development and presidential reporting for the general. “I don’t think it does end,” he replied one day in 2008. “We are going to be in this centrally located Arab state for a long time. There will be some U.S. presence, and some relationship with the Iraqis, for decades.” In many ways, this was the best case scenario for Petraeus and those around him, because they saw the alternative as a chaos that could eventually drag the United States into another Middle Eastern war sooner or later. “We’re thinking in terms of Reconstruction after the Civil War,” Miller added. That may be a historically insightful way to think about the duration of the American presence in Iraq, but it probably is not a good sign politically, given that Reconstruction was a failure, giving rise to the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization that for the next century violently intimidated American blacks and any whites who might seek to help them exercise their civil rights. Nor have Americans signed up for a century-long mission in Iraq.

The American public is unlikely to put up with such a long-term effort, which in turn raises the danger that, as Dodge, the British analyst put it, “America will have bequeathed a highly unstable state to the Middle East and a great deal of suffering to the Iraqi people, for nothing.”

No matter how the U.S. war in Iraq ends, it appears that today we may be only halfway through it. That is, the quiet consensus emerging among many people who have served in Iraq is that we likely will have American soldiers engaged in combat in Iraq until at least 2015—which would put us now at about the midpoint of the conflict. “The story of the new Iraq is going to be a very, very long time in unfolding,” Ambassador Crocker said one day in 2008.

The heart of the Iraq matter still lies before us, Crocker maintained in both my interviews with him in Baghdad in 2008, and he likely is correct. “What the world ultimately thinks about us and what we think about ourselves,” he said, “I think is going to be determined much more by what happens from now on than what’s happened up to now.”

In other words, the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened.

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