Iraq War Naysayers: Looking Bad in Historical Perspective
The prevailing wisdom 18 months or so ago was that invading Iraq had been, in retrospect, a disastrous blunder. It had led to appalling sectarian fratricide and an ever-climbing body count. Iraqi democracy was deemed a naïve pipe dream. Worst of all, it was said, the fighting in Iraq wasn’t advancing the global struggle against Islamist terrorism; by rallying a new generation of jihadists, it was actually impeding it. Opponents of the war clamored loudly for pulling the plug -- even if that meant, as The New York Times acknowledged in a bring-the-troops-home-now editorial last July, “that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave.”All this raises an interesting question.
But what if we had known then what we know now?
We know now that the overhauled counterinsurgency strategy devised by General David Petraeus -- the “surge” -- would prove spectacularly successful, driving al-Qaeda in Iraq from its strongholds, and killing thousands of its fighters, supporters, and leaders.
We know now that US losses in Iraq would plummet to the lowest levels of the war, with just five Americans killed in combat in July 2008, compared with 66 fatalities in the same month a year ago -- and with 137 in November 2004, the deadliest month of the war.
We know now that the sectarian bloodletting would be dramatically reduced, with numerous Sunni tribal leaders abandoning their former al-Qaeda allies, and Shi’ite radical Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army being thoroughly routed by the Iraqi military.
We know now that by the summer of 2008, the Iraqi government would meet all but three of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress to demonstrate security, economic progress, and political reconciliation.
And we know now that, far from being undermined by the campaign in Iraq, the wider war against Islamist violence would show significant progress, with terrorism outside Iraq’s borders having “in fact gone way down over the past five years,” as Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria noted in May -- and with popular support for jihadist organizations plummeting across the Muslim world.
So what does hindsight counsel today? That Iraq is a pointless quagmire, from which we can’t get out quickly enough -- or that it is a costly but winnable war, in which patience, tenacity, and smarts have a good chance of succeeding?
Are the anti-war liberals to be condemned for bad judgment, or did they draw a reasonable conclusion from the data available, even if time proved them wrong?
Conservatives should at least give some serious consideration to the latter possibility, since it’s the same argument conservatives make about Bush and weapons of mass destruction. Sometimes the world plays tricks. Sometimes the weight of the available evidence is on one side of an issue, and the truth is on the other side.
In this case, however, we think the anti-war liberals have been largely victimized by their own biases.
In the first place, they didn’t want the war to be won, since they detest George Bush, and would love nothing better than massive fiasco on his watch.
In the second place, many of the liberals cut their political teeth in the anti-Vietnam War movement. The cliches they learned then came with the warm glow of self-righteousness, so they were way to happy at the prospect of a rerun of the whole affair.
At any rate, they were wrong about Iraq, and need to be reminded, with some frequency, that they were wrong.