What does it take to win in Iraq? How do we know when we have won?
The Brookings Institute has the latest Iraq Progress Report, which All Things Conservative has summarized nicely. Let's look at the data a bit more closely to see where key inflection points may emerge, and where Iraq will be in the next few years.
The first and most important projection is that Iraq's GDP will grow 16.8% in 2006 and 13.6% in 2007, making it the fastest growing economy in the world, and many times faster than the world average of around 4%. This huge surge will snap Iraq out of its long misery (the US snapped out of the Great Depression in the same way with massive WW2-driven economic growth in 1942-45). Many Iraqis are set to see their financial situations improve dramatically, and as stated by PR master Bill Clinton, "It's the Economy, Stupid". Appeal to people's prosperity, and much else works itself out.
By 2010, Iraq will settle into a growth trend of about 7% a year, which is comparable to other developing countries in Asia - a trajectory that exudes the same optimism people have for, say, India or Malaysia due to such a growth rate. Plus, on the Index of Political Freedom, Iraq has the fourth highest score of the 20 countries in the region, and scores much higher than any of its neighboring countries, with Iran (16th), Saudi Arabia (18th), and Syria (19th) scoring much worse. How long will the citizens of those nations be quiet about not having the same freedoms as Iraqis?
As individual Iraqis attain more prosperity, they have more of a vested interest in the stability and health of the socioeconomic system they live in, and simply have more things to enjoy in life. More non-extremists will contribute towards reporting and fighting the destabilizing extremists in their midst. There is a strong case to be made that as the prosperity of a society rises, its tolerance for chaotic violence drops greatly, and once nations cross certain thresholds of freedom and prosperity, they almost never engage in wars with other nations of similar caliber.
On the metric of violence in Iraq, it appears that about 80% of Iraq has a murder rate no higher than in the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago, Los Angeles, or Miami. This is worthy of being classified as 'violent criminal activity' rather than 'civil war'. The remaining 20% of Iraq has a higher rate of violence, but no higher than it was two years ago. Note that life expectancy in Iraq has actually risen.
Lastly, it appears that 64% of Iraqis believe that Iraq is going in the right direction, and 77% are still glad that Saddam was removed. If one excludes Sunnis from the polls, the figures above rise to 83% and 96% respectively. Given that Shiites and Kurds are the ones Saddam had killed millions of, these high approval numbers are a surprise only to anti-American fanatics, who the Iraqis are obviously not listening to. This shows that Iraqis have learned that a section of the Western public is rooting for them to fail, and that group is to be ignored. It is only a matter of time until some articulate Iraqi blogger rises up and attacks the anti-American crowd's secret desire for the failure of Iraq, and receives massive visibility for doing so. Now that will be fun.
So why will victory take all the way until 2008 if things are going so well? Because victory cannot be declared until their is a perception of victory. Part of this is President Bush's fault. If he did a better job of advertising exactly the successes highlighted by the Brookings Inst. and repeated them often, this would uplift American morale, British morale, Iraqi morale, etc., and we would already have created the perception of victory in the world. Instead, the thresholds of violence prevention, economic prosperity, and functioning government now have been set higher, and these will only be reached in 2008.
In other words, Iraq can't just be as safe as Germany was by 1949, it has to become safe enough for American tourists to go for vacation in decent numbers (just as they currently go to Israel, Tanzania, or Thailand). That is a very high bar to attain, but unfortunately one we have to meet in this political climate. Only then will the fifth column no longer be able to deceive the fashion sheep that the war is a failure, and a broad perception of victory can emerge. In total, it will have taken 5 years (2003-08) and 3000 US troops lost to hostile fire, but the majority of Americans (and Iraqis) will agree that we have won.
Be patient, we are two-thirds of the way there. Continue on to Part II.
Update : In the comments section, some have taken extreme offense to the suggestion that 75% of the data from Iraq is trending well, and just 25% is trending badly. Then again, these same people are opposed to the War in Afghanistan after 9/11, so it is safe to say they are strongly anti-American (even though they are ashamed to admit it). We will see these fifth-columnists become increasingly shrill and fanatical as Iraq progresses further.