The Iraq War turns seven this month, and some folks seem really eager to blow out the candles on the birthday cake. “Victory At Last,” an early March issue of Newsweek triumphantly declares, its cover story carrying a photo of George W. Bush walking away from his fabled “Mission Accomplished” stunt. Subtitled “The Emergence of a Democratic Iraq,” the upbeat tale stresses what did not happen in the run-up to this month’s elections. Rather than a widespread disbarment of Sunni candidates—as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki at one point advocated—only 150 (of 6,100) were shut out. And so we can rest assured that as “shouting replaces shooting,” the Iraqi people “have surprised even themselves with their passion for democratic processes.”
Such an assessment is so rosy that even John McCain (appearing on Meet the Press) found it to be a bit much. Then again, the Arizona war horse can’t stand the thought of the U.S. leaving Iraq, or of the current occupant of the Oval Office claiming any victory of any kind. Still, what McCain’s favorite general is now calling “Iraqcracy” seems as jumbled and non-existent as that word itself. “Financial and administrative corruption as well as political sectarianism are destroying the state,” Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the country’s leading Sunni politician, said at the end of February. Perhaps he’s just another politician trolling for votes in an election year. But according to Iraqi government officials, this February saw nearly twice as many Iraqis killed in sectarian violence as the month before, and the death toll is 40 percent higher than the same month last year.
Seven years in, U.S. efforts to create a friendly and stable new regime in Iraq remain as problematic as they were on day one. Defense Secretary Gates may envision the current phase of the mission as a “New Dawn,” but it’s still hard to see the light of day. We never should have gone into Iraq, nor should we have stayed. And now, “victory” or otherwise, the U.S. should just leave, because it’s only when the Iraqi people fully control their own country that the place will truly fit the definition of democracy.