First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
Here are my answers.
Answer to Q1
Yes it was a good idea. Why? Three basic reasons
It showed other dictatorial regimes that continued stonewalling and noncompliance with UN resolutions and the like is a bad thing. Libya is a good example of a regime who has dramatically changed its tone thereafter, but there are others such as Syria who seem to be slowly coming around. Despite the chaos in Iraq there is one group of people who have clearly and unmistakably lost - the leaders of the Hussein regime. They have been killed, humiliated and if still alive look set to face trials by their former subjects which will sentence them to execution. Leaders in other similar regimes (such as Libya and Syria) now realise that blatent scofflaws will be taken down eventually. Since these regimes don't have a retirement policy this means that the current leadership can now understand that misbehaviour now implies their own death in some other way than peacefully in bed. Although Iran and N Korea may believe they have sufficient cards to threaten and bluster, I have no doubt that even these two regimes are extremely nervous about what might happen after a Bush reelection. Likewise, despite the general lack of investigative journalism, sanctions busting now looks like it has a downside as well. All those people with slippery morals who benefited from UNSCAM are going to be nervous. There is a LOT of documentation and enough people investigating. Over time the names will come out and even if there are no trials reputations will be ruined. Until the deposing of Hussein violating UN sanctions and resolutions looked like a risk free activity, now it isn't.
It shows the subjects of neighbouring regimes that there is an alternative. Despite the attempts of Al Sadr and his friends, millions of Shia pilgrims can visit Najaf and be exposed to a free world with a vibrant set of newspapers and no censorship. This will be literally revolutionary in my opinion assuming that Najaf remains out of control of Sadr and his thugs. In the late 1980s I hosted a group of Russians who came to visit the UK. These were generally speaking the children of the prvileged elite but even they were utterly blown away by such simple things as all night shopping or a dozen brands of toothpaste, the example of free-wheeling Najaf will be just as mind blowing to the repressed Iranian pilgims. I don't know whether it will be the choice of 200 newspapers or what, and it will probably be different for each pilgrm, but I am sure that it will impress them positively. Although I suspect the effect will take longer I also expect that similar reports will filter back to Sunni countries as well, aided and abetted by satellite TV. The UAE, Kuwait and so on are going to be nervous. Saudi Arabia is likely to be petrified about the Iraqi visitors to the next Hajj as even in much of the "Sunni triangle" the results of the invasion are turning out to be positive. As with Afghanistan it may teach another contrary lesson: don't try and fight Americans, by the number of foreign fighters who fail to return. We do not know precisely how many foreigner jihadis are in Iraq and how many of them are being killed but from the statistics it looks like an absurdly skewed loss ratio of something like 50 to 1. This means that since approximately 1000 Americans have died, about 50,000 insurgents had died. Even if just 10% of the insurgents are foreigners that means about 5000 have died (and I suspect a similar number in Afghanistan). Eventually, if the insurgency continues, would be jihadis are going to realise that very few of their bretheren are returning from trying to fight the Americans. In other words just as President Bush has declared Iraq becomes a beacon of progress even with the fighting and that message has (which Bush doesn't mention) a subtext (which Bush doesn't mention) that you really have to be sure that you are eager to embrace paradise if you try to fight the US. The fact that this subtext is just an unconfirmed rumour makes it worse for morale.
Removing Hussein was good for the majority of Iraqis (see also answer to Q2 below) as well as the rest of the world. Despite the, in many cases deliberate, ambiguity in the reports by the media, the various investigative boards have concluded that Hussein was in violation of UN resolutions about WMD and had links with Al Qaeda and other terrorists. He also very clearly was not going to reform on his own. It may sound trite or naive but I do believe that Hussein was indeed an example of Evil, just as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were. I am not a Christian but I do believe that leaving evil in place is what a Christian would call a sin of omission and that is generally considered to be just as bad as directly performing Evil - a sin of comission.
Answer to Q2
I also read the Iraqi blogs and otherarticles that are more positve, incliding Chrenkoff's roundups. Large chunks of Iraq (perhaps 90% by area and 80% by population) are generally peaceful and improving. Infrastructure is being rebuilt after decades on under-investment and skewed prioritization. Also if I were an insurgent I would be attacking with everything I had right now because it is effectively use it or lose it time. As I stated lower down, on November 5th or thereabouts the major rebel base - Fallujah - is going to be attacked. The insurgents may believe that this will not happen if Bush is defeated, but they can certainly read opinion polls that show Bush currently in the lead and they can certainly do the same political calculation I have done and see that if Bush wins he has no reason not to launch a major attack and plenty of incentive to do so, as this Belmont Club article describes.
Although it may be dangerous to assume that the insurgents think rationally, the evidence in this case is sufficiently strong that I see no reason not to assume that they wish to do everything possible to convince the American public to vote for Kerry. Even if Kerry has more fortitude than the Spanish socialists and in fact attempts to copy the Bush policy, there are bound to be handover SNAFUs that will give the insurgents an opportunity, and it is entirely possible that he will attempt to remove the US forces in Iraq far faster than Bush would. Hence for the insurgents there are both positive and negative incentives to attack as ferociously as possible now and I have no doubt they realise it.
Answer to Q3
The primary metric has to be the welfare of the average Iraqi. And when I say the average Iraqi I mean to include the entire country from Shia south to Kurdish north. One good metric that Arthur Chrenkoff reports in the link above is the number of marriages. Marriages are not things that occur when people are pessimistic or repressed. Other metrics are basic thngs such as the provision of power or sewerage systems or the reflooding of the estuary marshes. Despite the individual pain, the impact of terrorist outrages need not be a primary metric, however the negative version may well be. A colour coded map that indicates the number of months since a terrorist attack has occured at a particular location would be an excellent metric as would a statistics on deaths from "normal" causes such as malaria or dysentry and indeed a measure of overall healthcare. Another excellent marker will be the rate of emigration and the counterveiling return of previous emigrants.
The election in January will be a good marker, but it cannot be a repeatable metric except as an indication of the coalistion keeping its promises - so far that has been generally good but with occasional irritating lapses.