Tuesday, June 30, 2009
New York Post Ralph Peters June 30, 2009 -- OUR effort in Iraq passed a major milestone today: Our troops are leaving the cities. Advisers remain in place. Joint patrols will still occur. And our forces will wait nearby to respond to Iraqi calls for support. But the last of the bases and US-only outposts within Iraq's urban centers will be vacated. Terrorists have already begun testing the new security arrangements. Iraqi forces won't always pass with flying colors. Yet this situation seemed a pipe dream not so long ago: Iraq's security forces, serving an elected government, assume primary responsibility for the good order of their own country. We all recall the delighted leftist claims that Iraq had entered a hopeless civil war. Wrong. That Iraqis preferred al Qaeda to us. Wrong. That Shia militias represented the people. Wrong. And that Iran would seize control. Wrong again. Looking back over six years of good intentions, tragic errors, generosity, arrogance, partisan vituperation, painful deaths and ultimate vindication, two things strike me: the ever-resisted lesson that human affairs are more complex than academic theories claim, and the simple truth that most human beings prefer a measure of freedom to immeasurable repression. Now the symbolism of our troops withdrawing from Iraq's cities is richer than Washington grasps. Mesopotamia created urban culture: Ur, Babylon, Nineveh and countless lesser-known sites are where humans first worked out ways to live together in close quarters in large numbers. The coming wave of terror will strike cities that make Baghdad seem a youngster. The "cradle of civilization" is rising from the grave again. Yes, sectarianism, old grievances and the greed for power may deliver future crises -- even an eventual civil war. An unnatural state with grossly flawed borders, Iraq has more obstacles to overcome than any of its neighbors except Lebanon. But our achievement remains profound: We gave one key Arab state a chance at freedom and democracy. We deposed a monstrous dictator who butchered his own people and invaded two foreign countries. And we didn't quit, despite the scorn of the global intelligentsia. Human events aren't linear, nor do they conform to political programs. In Iraq, the unintended consequences ultimately gave us an unexpected victory. We botched the occupation early on, which seemed to create an opportunity for our enemies. As a result, al Qaeda declared Iraq the central front in its war on civilization. Thus, it set itself up for a massive strategic failure, alienating the people of Iraq and exposing itself as a fraud. Al Qaeda may limp along for decades, lashing out now and then -- but its high watermark occurred in 2006 in Anbar Province. That single development made Iraq worthwhile. But other gains, too, emerged from the vilified Bush administration's actions: As we just saw in Lebanon and Iran, democracy now seems possible to populations that had almost given up. Iran will be free one day, the only question is when. And it won't be because of President Obama's grotesque Cairo apologia. The problem for presidents is that great changes don't conform to our political calendars. Derided for his "axis of evil" remarks, Bush now looks far wiser than Obama in the wake of North Korean threats of nuclear devastation and Iran's savage crackdown following a wildly fraudulent election (and Tehran's attack on Obama's "interference," even though our president initially defended the election results). There is evil in the world. No matter how resistant Obama may be to learning that basic lesson, our enemies will hammer it into him. As our troops leave Iraq's cities today, their commanders know that still more bloody trials lie ahead. Now and then, the Iraqis will "shoot the red star cluster," calling for our help. But today isn't just a day for Iraqis to celebrate -- it's a good day for us, too. And it's a day of vindication for a former president who saw clearly, but spoke poorly (to the delighted mortification of the media). Now we have a president who expresses himself beautifully, but seems blind to international reality. And it's up to him to determine whether Iraq was a new beginning or a dead end.