Wednesday, March 03, 2010

More on Newsweek's Cover Story about Iraq

Pete Wehner National Review Following up on my post from yesterday, I wanted to return to the Newsweek cover story on Iraq, which declared that “something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq. And while it may not be a beacon of inspiration to the region, it most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.” Here are some further thoughts on the story and what it tells. 1. The progress in Iraq has been truly remarkable, especially when one considers where things were at the end of 2006. Iraq was caught in a death spiral. The odds were stacked against us. And most people in Iraq and America — including almost all of the political class and virtually the entire foreign policy establishment — had given up on the possibility of success. The main question for them was the terms of our retreat and de facto surrender. 2. In Iraq we have seen the rebirth of a nation. The “emergence of politics” in Iraq — including the willingness of its political leadership to engage in compromise; the Iraqis’ passion for democratic processes and willingness to set aside sectarianism; a free press; and the respect and legitimacy the Iraqi military has gained among its people — is unprecedented in the Arab world. But the successes there remain fragile and can still be undone. Iraq has proven to be treacherous terrain for foreign powers. 3. With the passage of time, President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime. And those who fiercely opposed the so-called surge were not only wrong in their judgment; in some instances their actions were shameful. (I have in mind those who insisted the surge was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding. For a recapitulation of the words and actions of the critics of the surge, including Barack Obama and Joe Biden, go here and here). 4. Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.” Now, if we had followed the counsel of Klein and Ricks and not implemented the surge, their predictions might have been closer to the mark. (Bush’s decision was one of “adolescent petulance” and “the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine,” Klein wrote on April 5, 2007.) As it is, if the positive trajectory of events continue and Iraq does end up reshaping the political culture of the Arab Middle East, the Iraq war will, on balance, have advanced American interests in the region. 5. What has unfolded in Iraq is not an accident or based on luck. It was the result of one of the most astonishing military turnarounds in American history. The story of how that happened, and the men who made it happen, will be studied for generations. And Gen. David Petraeus — whose views pre-2007 were not widely shared and were often resisted within the military chain of command — has already secured his place among the greatest wartime generals in American history. 6. The former American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker — another one of the heroes of this effort — said it as well as anyone has when he stated, “In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came.” The war has taken longer and been harder than any of us ever wished. There were terrible mistakes in judgment along the way. But very late in the day those mistakes were corrected, allowing something good and hopeful to emerge in Iraq. A nation that was broken is on the mend. A warring country is now peaceable, no longer a military threat to its neighbors or the region. A genocidal dictator is dead and gone. The Iraqi people are free. And a nation that was our enemy continues to work closely with us in rebuilding what was a shattered society. In 2006, the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami wrote a powerful and stylistically beautiful book, The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq. That gift, Ajami said, was the idea of consensual government. It is a gift we gave the Iraqis at the cost of many American lives and much treasure. It is a gift they appear to have received. “Iraq seemed the most forbidding place for a campaign of reform, the hardest soil,” Ajami wrote during the darkest days of the war. “Yet every now and then, that country offered glimpses of hope that Iraqis may yet pull off a decent political world that works. There were days its sectarianism seemed like an affliction that would never go away. Then there were hints that the multiplicity of its communities could yet support a politics, and a culture, of pluralism.” The Iraqis were not as enchanted with tyranny or indifferent to democracy as some critics of the war insisted. What America has done for Iraq, which had been brutalized for so long, may not be the noblest act in our history. But it ranks quite high. The Iraq war was, in fact, a war of liberation. And the liberation appears to be working. Nothing is guaranteed; “Everything in Iraq is hard,” Ambassador Crocker once said. But regardless of where one stood on the war and the surge, what we see unfolding in Iraq today is something to be grateful for, and to take pride in.

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