This begs an important question. What are the criteria for "success" in our efforts in the middle east? By what methods can we establish measurement of progress? What sorts of goals are reasonable to expect to attain in the next, say, three to five years? What remains only a distant prospect for change decades or more downstream from us?
I found some helpful thoughts in a recent article of First Things, a journal of theology and public policy:
"In these pages, we have adumbrated in a thousand different ways why politics is in largest part dependent upon culture, and why culture is the product of a morality and meaning most deeply grounded in religion. On all these scores, the Islamic world is grievously impoverished. That does not mean Islamic nations are not capable of democracy. It does mean democracy will require deep and difficult transformations not just in politics but, much more importantly, in culture, morality, and religion. That almost certainly will not happen in the foreseeable future, and nobody should suggest that the success of American policy depends upon its happening. "
That was a most welcome breath of clarity. The article goes on to list a variety of possibilities for which to hope:
Success in Iraq is, in no small part, having removed the regime of Saddam Hussein, thus ending the monstrous rule of a systematic perpetrator of crimes against humanity. Success is in demonstrating that America has the capacity and will to respond when attacked. In that connection, the final report of Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Study Group leaves little doubt in my mind that Saddam had the intention and, if America had dallied or left it to the UN, would have had the weaponry to dominate the Middle East and, in collusion with terrorist networks, inflict massive damage on America and the West. Finally, success will be if, three or thirty years from now, Afghanistan and Iraq have reasonably decent and stable governments, operating under something believably like the rule of law and generally respecting the civil rights of their citizens.
The segment of article in which all of this occurs is titled "Internationalisms" and goes on to lay out a number of the currently competing political options for our nation and its future interactions with the remainder of the world. All in all, I am indebted to Richard John Neuhaus for his thoughtful reflections on a decidedly confused and complex issue.