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My bottom line: The world will not end, but this election result certainly puts a lot of hard work, blood, and sacrifice — ours, our allies, and the Iraqis — at risk.

Longer version: Military, diplomatic, and economic force is supposed to be used to attain strategic, political objectives. What have been ours? Depose Saddam’s regime, establish a free and democratic Iraq that is a partner against terrorism and not a threat to its neighbors.

  • Saddam’s gone.
  • How free is Iraq? A debatable question given the extend of Iranian influence and the inequality and suppression of minorities in Iraq.
  • How democratic is Iraq? Also a debatable question. Certainly, becoming a democracy is a process, and an uneven one at that. Look at our own history. Iraq had an election; I guess that’s a good thing. But what no one knows is whether Iraq is on a general spiral toward democracy or on a different trajectory. And given out spotty engagement history, we’re not much of an influence one way or the other.
  • Partner against terrorism? Against some brands of Sunni-terrorism, like AQ and ISIS, sometimes. But for sure not against some brands of Shia-terrorism. Certainly, Sadr has not been a partner with the U.S. on much of anything up to now. And the last time his party had control of ministries, sectarianism, violence, and corruption was their norm.
  • Threat to neighbors? Ask them. I think they’d say that the jury is still out and they’re not feeling good.

One way to look at the result of this election is to ask how the inconsistency of American policy and engagement has contributed to the result. For sure, our policies didn’t cause the result in any direct way. Equally sure, our hot and cold fluctuations over the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations must be viewed as unnecessarily prolonging the instability in Iraq and contributing to the continuing consequences of that instability.

General Dubik is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and the author of  Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory. He served in Iraq, as well as Haiti and Bosnia.