Last Thursday marked the closing of the 38th Baghdad International Trade Fair, an annual event intended to showcase international corporations to Iraqis and Iraqi corporations to the world. This year’s installment, lasting 10 days and drawing more than 1 million visitors, was made all the more special by the fact that the U.S. participated for the first time in 20 years. Coming on the heels of President Obama’s announcement of a total U.S. troop pullout by the end of the year, U.S. participation at the Trade Fair is sending mixed messages to Iraq and its neighbors. But the U.S. State Department does not see things that way.
In remarks posted on State’s website, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey is quoted as saying U.S. involvement at the Trade Fair exemplifies “our commitment to Iraq’s future”—a commitment made good by the “essential role that U.S. businesses can play.”
Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides expressed this in his welcome video to the USA Pavilion at the Trade Fair, saying, “Iraq is open for business!” followed by upbeat remarks on his optimism about Iraq’s bright future and his confidence in the U.S.–Iraqi relationship.
Did Jeffrey and Nides miss the memo?
A complete U.S. troop withdrawal at this time is not a good thing, and it certainly will not be good for business. The Obama Administration’s assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, withdrawal is not a victory, and it is nothing to celebrate. In fact, the ones celebrating are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. Their public remarks should not be written off as mere rhetorical bluster. A great many in the Middle East believe what they say, and perceptions do help steer the course of events. In this case, that is bad news. An emboldened Iran and Hezbollah will not be good for business in Iraq.
Although American investment in Iraq’s infrastructure is good and necessary, it will be undermined if investors do not perceive that Iraq has the stability necessary for economic flourishing. In particular, the rule of law and respect for individual property rights must be robust; these are an essential part of the basis for investment in the country.
Iraq can and should have a bright future, but mixed messages and declining security cooperation from the U.S. government are keeping that from becoming a reality.
Both America and Iraq deserve far better.
Daniel Kettinger is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm