What Iraq Should Have Taught Us

Marc Lynch notes that Iraq War retrospectives “have almost exclusively been written by Americans, talking about Americans, for Americans.” The problem with this American-centric commentary:

The real story of the American departure is how little it mattered. That’s in part because the United States was never as necessary or wanted as Americans liked to believe. There’s no question that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, for one, made himself indispensible to Iraqi politics through his tireless and effective diplomatic efforts. But as Charles De Gaulle famously (if apocryphally) said, the graveyards are full of indispensible men. Outside players can marginally affect faraway countries for a short time and through tremendous exertion, but their efforts are always refracted through local politics and rarely last. …

Here’s what we should have taken away from the Iraq withdrawal: The U.S. departure just didn’t change very much, and the United States keeping its troops there longer wouldn’t have made much difference. But such a lesson is incompatible with our deeply ingrained strategic narcissism, and thus will not likely be learned.