When I read this story about conditions falling apart in Basra after British troops handed practical control over to the locals, I thought it was yet-more ammunition for my quest to persuade whoever will listen that the US ought to end its tragic military engagement in Iraq. Somehow, though, I never got around to writing the post and it occurs to me that, of course, the article could be used to prove the precise reverse — that we can’t afford to leave lest we wind up with a country-sized Basra.
This sort of thing, ultimately, is why no conceivable September report will make any real difference to the Iraq debate. It’s not that ideological blinders prevent people from seeing the facts, it’s that the facts don’t really determine anything. Signs of improving conditions can be a reason to stay or a reason to leave. Signs of deteriorating conditions can be a reason to leave or a reason to stay. Ultimately, the issue doesn’t hinge on fine-grained appreciation of the facts, nearly so much as it hinges on broader questions of how you look at American interests in the region and whether or not the prospect of spending tens of billions of dollars a day for an indefinite period of time on maintaining a military presence in a foreign country against the will of the population is the kind of thing that makes you queasy.