One of the three most widely-read articles ever written on The Futurist has been my prediction, dated May 10, 2006. It was an article titled "We Will Decisively Win in Iraq....in 2008, Part I" and "Part II".
At the moment, we are 16 months from the prediction, yet another 15 months before the end of 2008. Given that this is about the halfway point between the date of the prediction and end date, and that the report from General Petraeus was released earlier this month, it is the right time to see how well the original prediction is tracking.
So let us start with the three components of defining what 'victory' would look like : a growing Iraqi economy, contained levels of violence, and sustained Iraqi governmental control over the entire country. This is the loose definition of what victory would be.
To be clear, victory does NOT mean that US troops will vacate Iraq. The US has had troops in Germany and Japan for 62 years, in South Korea for 54 years, in Bosnia for 10 years, and Afghanistan for 6 years. None of those countries want us to leave, on account of all the free security and money they receive from our presence. Iraq will be no exception. Nor does victory mean US troop casualties have to be zero. That, too, is not the case in many other foreign locations we are in. Lastly, victory does not mean that there will magically be no violence between Shias and Sunnis for the first time in 1350 years. It just means they will compromise enough for the government to function.
Back to the three metrics of victory, let us begin with the first. The centerpiece of my initial prediction was Iraq's economic growth. How is Iraq's economy faring?
GDP statistics for Iraq are notoriously hard to come by. The Brookings Report has revised GDP numbers several times, and it appears that the year-ago projections for double-digit GDP growth have been knocked down to lower rates. But this is still growth in the Iraqi economy. Furthermore, the Iraqi Stock Exchange has continued to do well in 2007. Another piece of my prediction relies on the proliferation of information and communications access, as measured by telephone and Internet penetration. This is important because when the majority of people in a society have access to a wide variety of information, it is much harder to oppress them and suppress the urges of freedom. As per the Brookings Report, both have grown nicely in the past 12 months. It is true that electricity in Iraq is spotty, but this is only because the demand is skyrocketing. Stable democracies like India also have electricity rationing and frequent blackouts because of rapidly rising demand. The final piece of Iraqi prosperity is measured by the Human Development Index. The UN does not calculate this index for Iraq, but their GDP per capita and other factors lead to an estimated HDI of about 0.660, which compares nicedly to many other Arab nations and Asian nations. Overall, I will rate the Iraqi economy as trending positively.
Violence is the next metric to measure. First, we will start with the Petraeus report, and the success of the Surge in general. Remarkably, prominent Democrats like Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin have openly praised the progress being made, and the dramatic transformation of Al-Anbar province from an Al-Qaeda haven to an eager participant in Iraq's new democracy is nothing short of astonishing. The public has caught on as well. Support for both the war and the surge, while still low, has edged up 7-10 points just over the last few months. More now say the war is winnable than at any time in the last 3 years. Even the center-left British magazine The Economist makes the case for continued US presence. While the death rate for US and Iraqi troops has fluctuated greatly from one month to the next, the trendline has not solidly dropped in the last 12 months. The number of terrorist attacks throughout Iraq has certainly abated, however, as have general casualties. The 'Surge' under General Petraeus has led to many first and second tier terrorists meeting their demise. However, my initial condition of all of Iraq become safe enough for tourism will clearly not be met in the near future, although the Kurdish areas are already safe and stable enough for a Vegas-style casino to open. Overall, I will rate this metric as trending slightly positive.
The third metric to measure is the level of control the Iraqi government and military are able to exert over the rest of the country. Most Americans' dissatisfaction with prolonging US presence stems from the inability of the Iraqi government to make progress towards less dependence on US support. A sustained Shia-Sunni cooperation remains elusive. At the same time, the number of provinces that have been handed over to full Iraqi control continues to rise at a steady rate, and the problematic areas, particularly after the turn-around of Anbar province, are steadily shrinking in proportion to the stable areas. I will rate this metric as trending neutral to slightly positive.
Thus, by combining these three metrics, the verdict is that Iraq is trending in a moderately positive direction. This is due to two key factors - the success of the 'Surge' under General Petraeus, and the rapid diffusion of technology enabling the Iraqi economy to still grow despite the challenging environment.
Now, the anti-American fifth-column (8-10% of the US population) will try as hard as it can to downplay positive events and manufacture negative fiction. It is revealing to note that Osama bin Laden's latest tape, authentic or not, babbles about 'global warming' and 'subprime mortgages', indicating the near-complete ideological convergence between anti-US fifth-columnists and Al-Qaeda. Thus, both Al-Qaeda and fifth-columnists know that victory in Iraq would be an unacceptable setback to their joint cause.
Given that some prominent Democrats now openly praising the progress under General Petraeus, the fifth-column pressure groups have turned the cross-hairs onto these Democrats. The 'Betray Us' ad from an anti-US group that was printed in the New York Times was condemned by 23 Democrats, while also approved by 25. The same ad was condemned by the public by a 58%/23% margin. This even split is symbolic of the upcoming civil war within the Democratic Party, where on one side reside those Democrats who are pro-US enough to stand up to anti-US pressure groups, while on the other side reside those who are too dependent on such groups to risk displeasing them. This civil war will play out over the next several years, with Iraq used as the core topic in determining allegiances between the two factions.
Thus, at this half-way point, I am re-affirming my prediction that we will, despite many uncertainties, see victory in Iraq by 2008. The biggest challenge will be convincing enough people that it is indeed a victory as per the measures above, rather than actually achieving them.
Be patient - we are almost there.