Even if the March 7 elections in Iraq come off without a voter boycott or major violence, forming a new government is likely to take months of hard work. Making it function will be even more difficult. Once the most powerful country in the Arab world, Iraq is now anything but.
True, even an ardent opponent of the war would have to acknowledge that Iraq has evolved dramatically from the authoritarian state it was under Saddam and the failed state it became after he was ousted. Violence is down. The economy is growing. Politics in the run-up to the elections has been intense. But clearly the country is still fragile. Deep fault lines persist, most notably between Kurds and Arabs, but also between minority Sunnis—not all of whom accept their diminished position—and majority Shia, who have yet to fully embrace Winston Churchill's dictum, "In victory: magnanimity." There is no national consensus on how to share oil revenues. Neighbors like Iran meddle at will.
It is impossible to escape the irony. A principal rationale for the Iraq War was to create a model democracy that other Arab countries would be forced to emulate. Iraq has become a model, certainly, but of a different sort: it is the epitome of a weak state, one that cannot defend itself, maintain internal peace, or address many of its most pressing challenges without outside help. As such, it is a harbinger of the kind of national-security challenge the United States will confront this century.