The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the "lessons" the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq's current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture.
With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound in Iraq, its terrorism growing in scale. In a single day last week, more than a dozen suicide attacks and car bombs killed nearly 60 people in Baghdad's Shiite areas. Yet there is little the United States can do. As Iraq spirals downward with little sign of a political resolution to its sectarian and ethnic conflict, America's voice has "been reduced to a whimper." In the words of Saleh al-Mutlak, an Iraqi deputy prime minister, "No one thinks America has influence now in Iraq."
This matters because Iraq itself matters. But it also offers a window into the future. If everything goes exactly right, Afghanistan tomorrow may look much like Iraq today. This is a depressing thought. It certainly wasn't what Americans expected as they poured blood, money and effort into the two conflicts. No so long ago, the belief was that Iraq and Afghanistan would become stable, pro-American nations playing a major role in combating violent Islamic extremism. But unsurprisingly, things went badly wrong.