The last few posts have not been written to provide an 'optimistic' view of Iraq nor to debunk the theories of anyone. They were written as an attempt to discover whether the charge that Iraq has become a disaster was true; and if so in what aspect and to what degree. It is a complex question which I have not answered to my own satisfaction. The possible extent of the problem can be bounded, or reduced to a certain order of magnitude, using casualty statistics, troop levels and even levels of civilian casualties. That way you can tell what it is not or at least, not yet.
But crucially, there is little information on the Delta: the rate of change in certain indicators. One can say that US Forces are killing a lot of bad guys without being able to answer, at least with the data on hand, whether the enemy are regenerating faster than they are being destroyed. I cast about in vain for some way to estimate whether the level of corruption in the Iraqi government, which is a proxy for efficiency and just governance, was increasing or decreasing. It is the one area for which I truly fear, not in the least because few Americans have any idea what a distorting gravitational force normal levels of American prosperity and largesse have in a Third World country. The sheer capability of America can create a dependency even in richer societies. One wonders whether the new Iraqi Army will have any concept of operations constrained by their true resources, without implicitly assuming American support. Sixty years of America in NATO have arguably weakened indigenous military capability in a continent which once dominated the world. Sometimes a quagmire is when you are too damned good.
Yet if the road forward is dim, the line of retreat has long ago been cut off by Islamic fundamentalist terror itself. What can be the point of a return to America when they came to Manhattan? For good or ill, this thing will end with a defeat for one side and victory for the other. I did not say joy.