Right. I’m due a long, smart post, but this will have to suffice for the time being. I was in Baghdad for a week with the Proper Exit gang, left with them, flew to Amman, and flew back into Baghdad today. Just in case anyone cares. And after a two and half year absence, I have very little insight and lots of questions. But, here’s what I got:
1) The Baghdad International Airport feels like a real airport now, at least aesthetically. The $250 million or so renovation has added monitors over baggage terminals, nice shiny hallways, screens with arrival and departure information, and new buses that shuttle you from plane to terminal. Caveat: though modern looking, it’s still heavy on the bureaucratic irritants, with very obscure and inconsistent visa rules. For instance, I watched today as a customs official asked an Indian businessman for $80 to stamp his visa; the Indian businessman took this to mean a bribe, muttered under his breath, and paid up. But he did get a receipt. (Note to those attending the big Iraq investment meeting in DC this week: easy entry and exit of a country makes doing business easier. Think Dubai! )
2) Attention is really not on Iraq right now, clearly, though there are worries about the uptick in violence. Reminds me a little of when I got here for the first time in the summer of 2005–the world was kind of sick of Iraq, the Iraqis were arguing over their draft constitution, then six months later, boom, civil war. I don’t think that’s going to happen–it seems unlikely it will get that bad again. But it’s worth noticing there are very, very important elections coming up in January, and the election law hasn’t yet passed. And, if we’ve learned anything from Afghanistan lately, it’s that we should be paying closer attention to the elections of the places we still occupy.
3) Speaking of which. I might be contradicting myself from yesterday, but I want to throw this out there. The reason the White House is giving for not sending troops is that we need a “credible partner” in Afghanistan. But finding a credible partner in Afghanistan is like looking for a virgin in a cathouse. They don’t exist. All you can do is close your eyes and pretend, if that’s your thing. They’re all corrupt and sketchy. Remember in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki wasn’t considered a credible partner until George W. Bush and General Petraeus willed it so. (At the very high cost of over 800 American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and billions of dollars.) What I’m saying is: the unconditional backing of the once lame Iraqi government made the Iraqi government a credible government. We were fighting in Iraq to consolidate the power of Maliki, basically. That’s more or less the same reason, at least how understand it, of why we’ve been fighting lately in Afghanistan–so we can get Karzai’s government in Kabul into a stronger position to eventually negotiate with the Taliban. All of this handwringing over election fraud seems sort of naive, and perhaps counterproductive.*
(*For the record, I’m a fan of democracy and free and fair elections. But this kind of absurdity just shows why our efforts to nation-build by violently overthrowing regimes we don’t like are morally dubious to begin with. Once you start sharing power with the locals, you have to play by local rules. It’s a little too late in the game for idealism.)