The first is from Iraq just weeks after the draw-down reached 50,000 U.S troops remaining:
Nation Building Works
August 30, 2010
The New York Times
The U.S. venture into Iraq was a war, but it was also a nation-building exercise. America has spent $53 billion trying to reconstruct Iraq, the largest development effort since the Marshall Plan. So how’s it working out?
On the economic front, there are signs of progress. It’s hard to know what role the scattershot American development projects have played, but this year Iraq will have the 12th-fastest-growing economy in the world, and it is expected to grow at a 7 percent annual clip for the next several years.
About half the U.S. money has been spent building up Iraqi security forces, and here, too, the trends are positive. Violence is down 90 percent from pre-surge days. There are now more than 400,000 Iraqi police officers and 200,000 Iraqi soldiers, with operational performance improving gradually. According to an ABC News/BBC poll last year, nearly three-quarters of Iraqis had a positive view of the army and the police, including, for the first time, a majority of Sunnis.
The second is about Iraq's political climate, now seven years after the Baath regime was routed:
Iraq's Blessed Affliction
August 4, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
These struggles are often colored by sectarian and ethnic divides, and further complicated by politics of fear driven by Iraq’s political history of oppression, making compromise more difficult. The good thing, however, is that so far the political parties are referring to the Constitution and courts in their disputes, not resorting to violence.
And then from Afghanistan, almost nine years since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom:
Is Afghanistan Worth It?
August 3, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
Consistency, in the sense of supporting a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan similar to the one conservatives urged (and that worked) for Iraq after the abject failure of the "light footprint" approach advocated by Joe Biden. Responsibility, in the sense of keeping faith with those to whom we make commitments.
This is not just a moral argument: The U.S. cannot remain a superpower if the suspicion takes root that we are a feckless nation that can be stampeded into surrender by a domestic caucus of defeatists. Allies or would-be allies will make their own calculations and hedge their bets. Why should we be surprised that this is precisely what Pakistan has done vis-a-vis the Taliban? It's not as if the U.S. hasn't abandoned that corner of the world before to its furies.
How a feckless America is perceived by its friends is equally material to how we are perceived by our enemies. In his 1996 fatwa declaring war on the U.S., Osama bin Laden took note of American withdrawals from Beirut in 1983 and Mogadishu a decade later. "When tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and one American pilot was dragged through the streets . . . you withdrew, the extent of your impotence and weakness became very clear." Is it the new conservative wisdom to prove bin Laden's point (one that the hard men in Tehran undoubtedly share), only on a vastly greater scale?