Local Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin surveys the shape of Iraq today and worries about the future when US troops are scheduled to depart. She felt that Iran, which had not expanded its territory since, as far as I'm aware, the early 1600s, would gain tremendous influence. This is hardly a new concern.
In the spring of 2003, the Islamic Republic of Iran not only proposed to negotiate with the Bush administration on its nuclear program and its support for terrorists but also offered concrete concessions that went very far toward meeting U.S. concerns.
Bush, swelling with pride and hubris, refused to consider opening negotiations and the opportunity to defuse tensions between the US and Iran was quickly frittered away. Allegations of Iranian involvement in Iraq go back to late 2006. A great deal was made of (allegedly) Iranian EFPS (Explosive Formed Penetrators, sort of like IEDs, but more useful against armored vehicles), but there wasn't actually much evidence that the EFPs came from Iran.
These same weapons were first used by the IRA and spread to Columbia's FARC and Spain's ETA as well as Hizboullah and other terror groups worldwide years before the US-led invasion of Iraq. They are easy to make in any minimally equipped machine shop and at least three manufactories for EFP's have been found inside Iraq itself.
One of the real problems Rubin identifies with Iraq trying to remain out of Iran's orbit is that
Iraq already depends on Iran for about 10 percent of desperately needed electric power (U.S. inability to help Iraq produce enough electricity, despite many aid projects, has bewildered Iraqis).
There's no mystery about the US failure to reconstruct Iraq. I've long identified the need for, and advocated, and have known that there will never be, an American “Colonial Corps” for Iraq. The US could have used such a unit in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, heck, such a unit could have prevented the sacking of Baghdad's government buildings in the aftermath of the US takeover, which would have in turn facilitated reconstruction. The US could have used such a corps in 2005, 2007, 2009 and could still use it today. I'm not speaking of some touchy-feely “Let's get Iraqis and Americans to get to know each other” kind of stuff.
The US needs about 10,000 to 15,000 people (A buddy of mine suggested that the US Army Corps of Engineers would be extremely well-suited for this job. True, so would the US Navy Seabees. I just don't think it's a job that only military people can handle as the ability to march in formation or handle weapons would be irrelevant to doing this job) to survey each city, town and village for reconstruction projects that need to be accomplished, would order the necessary materials from the US or from geographically closer sources, and would see to it that funds were obtained from the US to pay Iraqis to carry out the projects.
This would absolutely need to be a hands-on project. There would need to be American people on the ground, speaking the language and seeing to it that projects were carried out with minimal corruption. In 2008, Iraq received very low scores by Global Integrity, which was reporting on government and corruption. Also, as of mid-2008, the US had lost $23 billion to corruption in Iraq. A separate corps is needed to provide accountability. It simply cannot be outsourced to local persons. Also, Americans have to run the projects as America need to get the credit for doing so. Americans can and should utilize local expertise and should try to work through existing authorities, but outsourcing the management of the reconstruction projects to Iraqis means not only will projects never be completed, but no one will attribute the projects to the right source.
President George W. Bush never made a full-throated appeal for people to go to Iraq as soldiers. In late 2003, as country after country dropped out of the “Coalition of the Willing,” the call went out for volunteers to serve on draft boards. But as Bush realized that a draft would open up all sorts of problems, nothing followed that. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, as Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone" showed, the Green Zone was run by hopelessly young, completely unqualified people. America's experienced professionals preferred to stay home and blog against the “Enemy at Home” (i.e., liberals). As Naomi Klein showed in her book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," L. Paul Bremer was far more concerned with imposing neo-liberal economic policies in Iraq than he was with actually rebuilding the place and getting services to function again.
As a buddy of mine, Ben Burrows, puts it in an LTE:
Boo hoo, Trudy Rubin (Worldview, 7/8). The nice little war you cheered from the Petraeus bunker, the nation-building you and Tom Friedman so desperately wanted to succeed, is winding to an end. The trillions we spent in Iraq that might have been applied to medical care or industrial investments at home lie wasted on desert sands, often used against us by the very people you thought were our friends and allies. The lives that have been maimed or lost heroically in the pursuit of some Kipling-esque White Man's Burden "nobility" can never be repaid, and the productive capacity and intelligence they might have provided will be permanently lost. Yet Rubin longs still for a better outcome, that shining sunny Teheran on a Hill that might have been.
The idea that the US can construct or even enable a workable government from half a world away is, as Burrows says, a fantasy. Back during the “Great Game” between Britain and Russia for Afghanistan (Russia's ultimate goal was India, Britain successfully stopped Russia several hundred miles short of that), Rudyard Kipling wrote “Kim,” a book that popularized the Great Game and made Britons identify very strongly with the struggle over there. There is nothing even remotely comparable in America's culture today towards any country in that part of the world. As Rubin points out:
Of course, Americans are even more weary of this war than of the Afghan conflict. And any extension of U.S. troops would require a request from Maliki, a Shiite, which he looks unlikely to make.
So, I just don't see any sort of American victory on the horizon. A Colonial Corps would need to be protected by an able military force and would need to spend lots and lots of money at a time when Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and even President Obama are shrieking and pulling out their hair about deficits. Why are they all concerned about deficits at a time of 9% unemployment, at a time when Global Warming and Peak Oil are screaming for attention and at at time when President Obama explicitly declares that US infrastructure needs $2 trillion in upgrades and maintenance? Damned if I know, but I think such concerns are weighing far more heavily in Washington DC than concerns about Iraq ever will and Iraq is simply never going to be fixed up short of a serious national effort coming from this side of the world.