The Iraqi Air Force has convinced the government to spend $1.5 billion to buy a squadron of 18 F-16 jet fighters. The U.S. is inclined to cooperate, and sell Iraq the 96 F-16s Iraqi Air Force wants to eventually purchase over the next decade.As the article points out, the US has a fairly large number of F-16s available for export, a number which is apt to increase as the USAF fields new airframes (unless, of course, the Obama Administration continues to target air superiority as an expendable indulgence...). When you factor in the training and support infrastructure which would accompany these sales, it adds up to a pretty penny. In return, the Iraqis would go a long way toward closing one of the main gaps (another being logistics) in their military's ability to function completely independently of Coalition forces.
This story strikes me as a promising sign of the increasing benefits which stand to follow from the economic and political development of the nation of Iraq as a partner in the critical region of the Middle East. The sale of arms to a government which uses them responsibly (the jury for which, I'll grant, is settling in for long deliberations...) solidifies that partnership, and portends other favorable trade arrangements (and no, I'm not just talking about oil). I am seeing little cause to dampen my decreasingly guarded (but never unexamined) optimism about the favorable trajectories (PDF) of the Iraqi State, society, and economy.
As Iraq becomes increasingly able to mind its own security (including patrolling its own airspace), using its own resources (or duly purchasing those of others), it inches ever further toward the full expression of its national sovereignty. While it will take a lot of very profitable trade to even begin to defray the raw costs of OIF for the US, it is gratifying to see what may be remembered as the beginnings of that long journey. A free and prosperous Iraq stands to offer much to the region and to the world, and many of those benefits are difficult to quantify in these early stages. It is certainly too early to tell whether Iraq will escape the trap so many of its oil-rich neighbors have fallen into, and will use its petro-lucre to diversify its economy and develop its human capital, rather than using it only to buy the expertise it fails to nurture at home.
I know: a long way to go from the proposed purchase of a few fighter jets. What can I say...I'm pretty tired (which is often accompanied by a tendency to free-associate), and still pleasantly burnt from a certain recent thread. Still, it perked me up a little.