Iraq’s Mud Is Getting Wetter

As U.S. troops pull out, it's starting to look an awful lot like 2003.

It was the fall of 2003 in Iraq, autumn but still scorching. I had been there much of the year, growing more familiar with the place with each passing week and perhaps less insightful about what might be ahead. That sentiment probably made me a little more receptive to a proverb I often heard in those days, as I and legions of colleagues tried to make sense of a place where everything seemed to be in play. "The mud is getting wetter," people told me over and over, as the occupation lurched forward, violence of all kinds escalated, and more Iraqis were killed. Things are getting worse, it meant.  I would shake my head, as confused as anyone else.

The war that began that year -- Iraq's struggle for survival -- is over. The forces the U.S. invasion unleashed have run their course -- a Shiite revival, disenfranchisement of Sunnis, the import of a radical strain of Islam, and a hardening of identity. They culminated in a paroxysm of carnage that left virtually everyone in Baghdad with a friend or relative killed. Scores of journalists were there to cover it, and I suspect very few would say that anything authoritative over that period was written. Whatever courage or insight there was, it was almost impossible to tell that story.

Another struggle is under way these days. It is perhaps less dramatic, if we measure spectacle solely by the number of bodies that piled up in the Tigris River in 2006. But this struggle for power is no less important and potentially far more momentous for Iraq's identity a generation from now. And it is no less perilous. Like 2003, everything is in play, as the country's forces -- the men around Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sectarian Shiite parties, remnants of the Sunni Awakening, the Kurds, the street movement of Moqtada Sadr, and so on -- try to figure out the grand coalition that can make power stick as the Americans ostensibly leave.

For the first time in years, we can cover that struggle, fought on a landscape as confusing, complicated and nuanced as it was after the invasion. Sadly, there are far fewer journalists to do it, a fraction of the hundreds who arrived in 2003 with the Americans. As an administration, as journalists, as a public, we are disengaged from Iraq, and nothing short of another foreign invasion will probably change that. We are withdrawing, in more ways than one, even as the mud gets wetter.


This One's for You

First, exciting news: Foreign Policy is the proud winner of its third National Magazine Award for General Excellence, the magazine industry's highest honor. The "Ellie" from the American Society of Magazine Editors caps a remarkable run for Foreign Policy: Not only has the magazine now won the prestigious award three times in the last seven years, it's been a finalist for five straight years. Everyone here at Foreign Policy would like to salute you, the readers, who've made this possible. We thank you for giving your time and your loyalty to a magazine that works hard to bring you the freshest thinking and the most original ideas about the world. It is a privilege and an honor to work on such a magazine, especially at a time when there are fewer and fewer publications that are willing or able to commit resources to such an internationalist venture.

In their citation, the judges called Foreign Policy "serious without being pompous, deep without being self-indulgent," as it offers "an essential guide to global politics, economics and ideas for people who want to know what's really happening in an increasingly complicated world." And in many ways, this issue's cover story gets at the heart of that mission. In his sharp, authoritative Think Again on Asia's rise, scholar Minxin Pei skewers the hype surrounding the phenomenal recent growth of China, India, and other Asian countries. It's so easy to be misled by the growing pile of books and magazine covers hyperventilating about the coming age of Asia (not to mention the equally robust cottage industry proclaiming the decline of America). But Pei carefully caveats the whole turbocharged discussion, puncturing the hoopla about the "irresistible shift of global power to the East." Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, you'll never be bamboozled, snookered, or otherwise taken in by the inflated claims of those Asian century pamphleteers again.

Throughout this issue are more examples of this kind of critical thinking that we hope will keep Foreign Policy an indispensable guide for you to navigate the world. Much of our coverage, of course, concerns the unfolding Great Recession and the unanticipated ways in which it is already rewriting the rules of global politics and economics. In "The Baltic Bust," Edward Lucas tells the inside story of how the small countries caught between Russia and the West have gone from shining post-Soviet success stories to Europe's newest "basket cases." In "The Death of Macho," Reihan Salam offers an entirely different take on the recession that many are now calling the "he-cession" because of its incredibly lopsided impact on male sectors of the world economy. In "Good Riddance," social scientist Valerie Hudson walks through some damning evidence about the toll those macho men have taken on the world. And then there's this year's Failed States Index, a powerful tour through the world's 60 most fragile states. Our fifth annual collaboration with The Fund for Peace, the index takes you deep inside all the pathologies that make state failure—from reckless arms sales to finger-pointing neighbors—and asks some tough questions about what such failure means for the rest of us.

All of these articles, and many more every day, are available at ForeignPolicy.com—and starting with this issue, we're inviting you, the readers, to become an even more integral part of our daily online conversation. We've redesigned the site so that all our articles include you front and center. We hope you'll not only read them, but Facebook them, tweet them, Digg them, and just generally share them however you like. Most importantly, we hope you'll comment on these pieces, sharing your thoughts and insights—and yes, even your outrage.

With great thanks,
The Editors