In the run-up to the war in Iraq, neoconservative hawks in and out of the Bush administration promised that the U.S. invasion would quickly transform that country into a strong ally, a model Arab democracy and a major oil producer that would lower world prices, even while paying for its own reconstruction.
"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," President George W. Bush told a crowd at the American Enterprise Institute in 2003, a few weeks before he launched the attack.
Ten bloody and grueling years later, Iraq is finally emerging from its ruins and establishing itself as a geopolitical player in the Middle East -- but not the way the neocons envisioned.
Though technically a democracy, Iraq's floundering government has degenerated into a tottering quasi-dictatorship. The costs of the war (more than $800 billion) and reconstruction (more than $50 billion) have been staggeringly high. And while Iraq is finally producing oil at pre-war levels, it is trying its best to drive oil prices as high as possible.
Most disturbing to many American foreign policy experts, however, is Iraq's extremely close relationship with Iran. Today, the country that was formerly Iran's deadliest rival is its strongest ally.