Opinion (Thomas P.M. Barnett): What our 'lost year' in Iraq cost America
Army Gen. David Petraeus' report on Iraq, having been leaked to the press for days before his appearance on Capitol Hill, contained no surprises. The surge's several tactical successes in the Sunni regions are disconnected from any strategic progress in either strengthening the central government or stemming the opportunistic meddling by neighbors. Iraq is slowly separating into its three constituent parts (Kurdish, Shia and Sunni), with Baghdad becoming increasingly irrelevant.
America's military surge plays effective midwife to this Balkans-done-backwards, in which we removed the dictator first and then presided uncomfortably over the ethnic cleansing that killed Iraq as a unitary state. Iraq's soft partition was preordained by the first Gulf War's inconclusive outcome: Saddam Hussein survived to mercilessly crush a Shia revolt but was subsequently prevented by American air power from strangling the emergent Kurdish nation.
Now, as a result of our strategic choices, neither Kurds nor Shia accept anything less than a future free of Sunni domination. President Bush and the neocons entered office in 2001 bragging that real superpowers don't do nation-building, and yet they have unwittingly created the modern era's first Kurdish nation and first Arab Shia state -- two lasting "big bangs" that future presidents will manage for decades.
What wasn't inevitable in this story line was the amount of casualties we've suffered along the way.
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