With the four year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War approaching, it is a good time to resurrect Ronald Reagan's famous query. "Are you, World, better off than you were four years ago?"
Four Years Ago
In 2003, Iraq was ruled by a corrupt and brutal dictator. The Kurds had independent control of their own region under the protection of the American No-Fly Zone. The majority Shi'ites were oppressed but managed to live peaceful lives as long as they did not desire political power. Sunnis were the ruling elite and mostly benefitted from the regime. Economically, the country was tormented by decade-long sanctions. It was a struggle, but if one worked hard it was still possible to have a decent lifestyle. Men and women were free as to work and attend schools and universities.
Regionally, Iraq served as a block against any expansionist desires by Iranian mullahs. All of the regions more headstrong groups had a healthy fear of American power following the swift defeat of Iraq in 1991 and the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. Terrorist recruitment in Saudi Arabia was a problem in large part due to American presence in the country. Hamas, in Palestine, was a troublesome underground organization. Hezbollah was a problem for Israel but was becoming part of the government of a peaceful Lebanon.
Internationally, the United States was still benefiting from the worldwide compassion that followed the 911 attacks. The US military had defeated the Taliban with less effort than it takes to kill a mosquito. The United States was feared, respected, and even loved as much as an arrogant superpower can be loved.
Four Years Later
Iraqis would consider anarchy an improvement to what they now have. The Kurds continue to have control of their own region and they are attempting to expand their control to oil rich Kirkuk. The Shi'ites are freed of Saddam's repression but live now in fear of the religious militias. While a sectarian civil war of militias rages where Shi'ites and Sunnis mix, the heavily Shi'ite south is only marginally less dangerous. Thugs dressed in all-black set up roadblocks and patrol the neighborhoods seeking to punish anyone who is not sufficiently pure in faith. Sunnis struggle with possible genocide. Outnumbered and facing attack by the government (such as it is), the Shi'ite militias, and the American army, the Sunnis fear they may be wiped out. Economically, there is none. Over half the available workers are unemployed and those few with shops or jobs fear going to work. Women, especially, are fearful. Kidnappings for ransom and rape is rampant. Women who work or attend school risk the attention of the religious militias.
Regionally, removing Iraq as a regional power has greatly increased the influence of Iran. The Arabian Peninsula is terrified of the prospect of a unified Iraq and Iran turning the Persian Gulf into an Iranian lake. Terrorists thrive. Hamas is no longer underground, they run Palestine. Hezbollah remains a force in a now no longer peaceful Lebanon. No terrorist, anywhere, fears the United States any longer.
Internationally, the world sees the United States of Abu Ghraib tortures and the Gitmo prison, of preemptive war and extraordinary renditions, as a force for evil. The Great Might of the United States has been revealed as a paper tiger as our armed forces are humbled daily by ragtag Iraqi militias. The compassion following 911 is long forgotten. Respect is a joke. The only fear of the US any longer is fear of our insanity. Where grudging love once existed is now only pity.
Are we better off than we were four years ago? Are we?