What is clear is that over half of the money spent on such activities actually went to "security and overhead costs" -- a reflection of the constraints imposed by a nightmarish security situation that the occupiers and the Iraqi authorities were never quite able to tame. Elsewhere, similarly, the report bemoans the lack of "meaningful metrics" that might have helped us to understand how effective the programs actually were. As the authors put it:
Perhaps the problem lies in the nature of the program itself: how do you empirically capture the effects of civics training on the ability of a person to be a better citizen?
A good question. On the macro level, however, matters are somewhat clearer. In the most recent Freedom House survey of democracy around the world, Iraq falls unambiguously into the "Not Free" category. (Indeed, Iraq's rating on "civil liberties" is the same as the one Freedom House gives Iran.) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now runs a staunchly authoritarian state that, while not quite as vicious as Saddam's old dictatorship, certainly doesn't hesitate to crack down on its opponents. The media are largely under government control, and the government is happy to swoop down and make its opponents disappear on the pretext of a vaguely defined "war on terror."
And yes, the local al Qaeda franchise is still active, blowing up people at random -- mostly, it would seem, for sectarian reasons: Maliki's ham-fisted rule is based on his roots in the country's Shiite majority, while al Qaeda still draws upon radical elements within the disenfranchised Sunni minority.
But enmity to al Qaeda is a poor predictor of loyalty to the United States, it turns out. All that American blood and treasure expended on his country has not exactly made Maliki a proxy of Washington -- far from it, indeed. Of late, Maliki has even made headlines by warning against a victory by the rebels in Syria; indeed, he's the only Arab leader who hasn't called upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign. (Iraq, it turns out, has even been offering sanctuary to Assad's soldiers, 48 of whom were killed inside Iraq yesterday when they were attacked by Iraqi guerrillas, perhaps from Al-Qaeda.)
Such positions should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the development of Maliki's pro-Iranian sympathies. Maliki's party enjoyed Iranian support long before the Americans helped bring him to power in Baghdad, and in the years since he has made a name for himself as a friend of Tehran.