About the Author: John Matel serves as Team Leader of the Al Asad Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.
You cannot achieve success if you do not stick around long enough to achieve it. Difficult and unexpected circumstances in Iraq provided many excuses to give up. Leading experts and pundits told it straight-out that the United States was defeated. They were wrong, but they could have been right if we had acted on their advice. In other words, a lack of resolve on our part would have made their prophecies self-fulfilling. In the event, the United States stayed for the turn around.
Risk can be controlled but never eliminated and pure uncertainty lurks beyond all the risks we can calculate. Even the most exquisite plans must run the gauntlet of random chance that can devastate a perfect plan or vindicate a dreadful one, which is why we have to analyze the process and not judge strictly by results.
Early in the conflict, many things turned out worse than we reasonably anticipated. Now things have changed. Our enemies turned out to be poorly organized. Often incompetently led and ideologically myopic, they made stupid mistakes that turned local populations against them. Fighting an insurgent enemy can be like playing whack-a-mole. It is a frustrating game, but it is easier if the moles are not very clever. I don't want to take this too far. Many of our opponents are committed, deadly and dangerous and even in small numbers a ruthless adversary can inflict severe suffering, especially if their goal is to attack civilian populations. But these very tactics erode their support.
The big piece of good luck is the flip side of some very bad luck for the rest of the world - soaring oil prices. Iraq recovered its previous ability to produce oil almost at exactly the time world oil prices spiked. During Saddam's time, Iraq earned oil revenues of around $20 billion a year. Experts anticipated revenues at this time of around $35 billion. Last time I heard, they were looking at $80 billion and the number keeps on growing. Oil money lubricates, and more and more often Iraqi funds can pay for the needed infrastructure upgrades and improvements in Iraq.