Saturday, December 09, 2006

Iraq: Winning; Losing; or, We Don’t Know?

Almost all Democrats and Liberals believe it. Many Republicans and conservatives believe it. The Iraq Study Group (ISG) believes it: The strategy in Iraq is not working; we are losing the war. Specifically, the Iraq Study Group report says any hope for a strong and peaceful Iraq will require securing peace in the larger Middle East and entails dialogue and political engagement between Israel and Iraq's moderate Arab neighbors. While it is certainly true that the situation in Iraq is far, far from what we would like to see, and while the ISG’s conclusion that we need peace in the Middle East to achieve any satisfactory result in Iraq may be true, perhaps another conclusion is better.

We call the current activity in Iraq a “war,” but the war was over a while back and now the focus is stabilizing the country following the sacking of the Hussein regime and the brutal leader plucked from his underground hideout near Tikrit. After a couple of years of difficulty achieving stability Monday morning quarterbacks the world over blame the evil trio of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld with “failure” and wonder how they could have so badly misjudged what is so obvious to the quarterbacks: the way the Iraqis were bound to react. And to be fair to the quarterbacks, it seems that the Bush administration badly underestimated some things: the determination of the Sunnis to try to maintain power; the degree of enmity between the two major Islamic factions, and the degree to which practitioners of the religion of peace would indulge in killing each other; and the abject fear of democracy of so many Muslims who are mired in a 700 year-old religion-dictated culture.

But the quarterbacks forget to mention some very positive things that have occurred in Iraq, not the least of which is that most Iraqis are not involved in the Sunni/Shiite conflict, and also that millions of Iraqis are glad that the U.S. sacked Saddam Hussein and gave them a chance to develop a democratic nation. Twelve million Iraqis risked their safety to vote in the last election. There were two elections before that one, and in each successive election, there were more voters than the previous one. Schools are open; businesses are operating, most of the 15 provinces are peaceful. For the first time in more than a generation, the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent. More than 600 Iraqi judges preside over more than 500 courts that operate independently from the Iraqi Governing Council and from the Coalition Provisional Authority. More than 170 independent newspapers are in print. Al Iraqia (formerly the Iraqi Media Network) is broadcasting 20 hours per day.

Maybe the quarterbacks don’t mention these things because they don’t know about them, and we can thank the media for being able to keep at least some secrets off of Page One. With the American people so skillfully misled by the media, the bandwagoneering is moving forward apace, and thousands jump aboard with every new negative piece of news. Therefore, the commonly accepted opinion is that Iraq is a disaster and we should just get out while we can.

But make no mistake: George Bush is correct when he says that to pull out of Iraq now would be a catastrophe. Yes, the Iraqi government, the military and the police need to step up to the plate and take charge. However, to have invested the lives and safety of our military and the money and then take some action that will leave Iraq to the radical Muslims to fight over would be a travesty.

On talk radio yesterday an interviewee, who was unidentified while I listened, suggested that the ISG is all wet, and that its recommendations are 180 degrees out of phase with what we need to do. He further suggested that what the U.S. needs to do in Iraq is to pour many thousands more troops in there and wipe out the 20-odd militias that have been allowed to wreak havoc with impunity.

I agree that the ISG is all wet, and its report is a prescription for surrender wrapped in a respectable-looking cover. Proof of this is the reaction of the Arab press, one member of which called it "the end of America."

Good job, Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton. Everyone would do well to ignore this report, most especially the Bush administration.

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