As I mentioned in a previous post, blogger Zombie has decided that, since no one "official" seems to want to acknowledge that we’ve won in Iraq, we should do it ourselves, marking today as Victory in Iraq Day. Therefore…
We have defeated al Qaeda in Iraq, toppled a murderous and barbaric government, and given 27 million people a chance to build for themselves a real future.
Below are some thought on the war and winning (and almost losing) it. Read it if you wish, ignore it if you will. For the Reader’s Digest version, let me say this:
Congratulations and eternal thanks to President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, General David Petraeus, General Tommy Franks, and all the men and women of the United States, British, (new) Iraqi, and Coalition militaries, diplomatic services, civilian workers, and independent contractors. Through good and bad (and even worse), you were determined that the side of civilization would not lose. Our nations and, indeed, the world, owe you a debt of thanks that cannot fully be repaid.
The rest is the extended entry.
The decision to invade:
I believed it was the right thing to do in 2003, I believed it was the right thing to do when things turned very bad in 2006 and 2007, and I still believe it was the right thing to do. I cannot imagine being convinced otherwise by any rational argument.
Consider the situation in 2001-2003, up to the date of the invasion. The United States had been hit hard by an enemy who had shown himself willing to kill thousands for his maniac vision of religious duty. While we had traveled to the other side of the planet to a landlocked country in pursuit of those jihadis and their allies (and, in an amazing feat, conquered the country), it wasn’t enough. The jihadist movement was widespread, and there were nations hostile to us that were willing to give them aid and succor to advance their own goals — Saddam Hussein’s Iraq chief among them. Ken Pollock made the case for invading Iraq in his book, The Threatening Storm, and it’s still worth reading today. Three justifications stand out for me:
- Weapons of mass destruction. Yes, I know this is a subject of derision among the anti-war crowd, and, yes, I know no WMDs were found in Iraq. But, at the time in question, all the world’s major intelligence services believed Iraq had an active WMD program. Saddam’s hostility to the US was legendary, and we simply could not afford to let him develop these weapons either to use himself or to supply to our jihadi enemies. And, while we now know he had no active WMD program, the Final Report of the Iraq Survey Group establishes conclusively that Saddam was ready to restart that program the moment UN sanctions were ended. Given his personality, there is no doubt he would have done just that and sought to use these weapons against us. This alone, I am convinced, left us no reasonable choice but to invade.
- Geostrategy. We are abjectly dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf region. Already facing the threat of catastrophic attacks from al Qaeda, we could not afford to let Saddam rise again as a threat to the oil we needed from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Faced with other dangers, we had to eliminate Saddam. Yes, it’s "blood for oil," but this is the real world. Deal with it.
- Humanitarianism: Unleashing armies may seem an odd way to "do the Lord’s work," but that was just the case in Iraq. Hussein’s savage massacres against almost every group in Iraq outside his own tribe, the near-genocides, the rapes, tortures, murders, gassings, the millions dead from his war with Iran … I firmly believe that invading Iraq was an act of mercy and salvation for the poor people of that country and that, if we never again do anything else right as a nation, we deserve praise for that. Yes, there are other humanitarian nightmares in the world, and we can’t intervene in them all, but Iraq was a case where our strategic interest was consonant with the moral thing to do.
There were other reasons, of course, but that sums it up for me.
The occupation and reconstruction:
There’s no doubt: we screwed this up. Lots of books have been written about the mess made in Iraq from 2004-2007, including some good ones. Perhaps Bremer erred in disbanding the Iraqi Army after the conquest of Baghdad, though I have some doubts. Certainly it took too long to get an Iraqi government in place, though I have to wonder where we would have found good candidates before the emergence of a viable Shiite coalition. And there was little we could have done to prevent the Sunnis from boycotting the 2005 round of elections, by which they denied themselves a voice equal to their weight in the new government. In short, I think too many people look at Coalition errors and say "you should have done otherwise" without remembering the Iraqis had to reach a state in which they were willing to help themselves, too, and to see that cooperating with us was in their best interest. Here are things I think went wrong and right:
- The initial occupation strategy – internal. Devised by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Generals Casey, Sanchez, and Abizaid, it was too passive. We would stay on big bases and go out to fight al Qaeda and other insurgents, we helped set up the new government, but Iraqi society was otherwise left to settle things on its own. We sat on this for too long, a mistake. Brutalized by 30 years of Saddam’s rule, invaded by Muslim religious fanatics seeking to wage jihad and create a caliphate, and with various groups ready to take revenge on each other, Iraqi society was, as an Iraqi identity, almost nonexistent. It needed the time and breathing space that military security would provide to work out new arrangements, to learn to trust each other again. The groundwork to do just this had been laid in places by our soldiers on the ground in places like Tal Afar in 2005, but it wasn’t until General Petraeus took command and implemented his counterinsurgency strategy nationwide at the beginning of 2007 that it really began to work. The progress in Iraq since then has been amazing.
- The initial occupation strategy – external. In 2003 and 2004, we held the initiative in the Middle East. Iraq’s hostile neighbors, Syria and Iran, couldn’t be sure what we would do next, and so were circumspect in their efforts against us. But, as time passed and it became clear we wouldn’t punish them for aiding the rebels, they became bolder — and Americans and Iraqis died for that passivity. We should have acted aggressively against both nations through covert operations and over raids, since what dictators understand is force and the credible threat to use more. I’m glad to see that, finally, we’re starting to do so. At least as f
ar as Syria is concerned.
- Getting it right. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that President Bush, in appointing General Petraeus to command operations in Iraq, found his version of Lincoln’s Grant or Truman’s Ridgway — the general who saved a war. The turnaround in Iraq in the last 18 months since the implementation of the "surge" strategy, which provided the physical security Iraq needed to restore civil society, has been nothing short of remarkable. Now it is a fully sovereign partner with whom we negotiate, not dictate to. It’s economy is growing and, if Baghdad resists statist impulses, should become the most vibrant of any Arab state. Consensual government, though still fragile, is solidifying as Iraqis learn how to work within it and as authority devolves to the provinces. And the military and police are becoming more and more competent, now taking the lead in most security operations. All this, it is fair to say, is due to the change in strategy under General Petraeus, and President Bush’s and Senator McCain’s determination to push for it.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to oppose government policy in a war, as I’ve written before. In brief, one can oppose going to war, but, once the vote has been taken and the decision made, to work against your own country’s victory, indeed, to try to break our morale and get us to surrender when winning is still possible, is churlish and craven. It is possible to oppose war policy while staying within the context of winning the fight, as Senators McCain and Lieberman showed, but the Democratic Party, the major media, and their anti-war allies overall have disgraced themselves over the last several years. It will be a long time before I trust them again.
Americans and Iraqis:
On the other hand, I’ve been impressed to no end by the average American and the Iraqis who chose to side with us.
The American fighting man (and woman) entered an alien land in March, 2003, and, unlike the Democratic leadership, conducted themselves mostly with honor, courage, and ingenuity. They were not only warriors, but diplomats, mentors, politicians, and whatever else was needed to bring about victory. Many went back for multiple tours of duty, not willing to give up on Iraq or Iraqis, or to concede that their comrades’ lives had been wasted in a futile effort. Because of them, those sacrificed lives have meaning and Iraq has a chance at a future.
The American civilian did his part, too, by refusing to give up on Iraq in 2004. Unhappy with how things were going, they were yet unwilling to listen to the siren call of self-defeat coming from the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, John Kerry. Instead, we told the administration, "We don’t like what’s going on, but we hate losing worse. Win this thing." And, after sending them an even harsher message in the 2006 elections, the government figured out a way to do just that. But, without the oft-derided patience of the American people, we might not ever have found the right general and the right strategy.
The Iraqis, too, deserve a lot of credit. Tormented physically and psychologically for decades by Saddam, his family, and their henchmen, more and more of them took the chance the Coalition invasion gave them. I remember the awe I felt as I saw footage of Iraqi men and women lined up by the thousands to vote, exposed to suicide bombers and insurgent attack, all for the chance to choose their own rulers — most for the first time in their lives. The image of Iraqis giving tyranny the purple finger will stay with me forever:
Of course, Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis who had formerly dominated the country, had their own demons to exorcise before this day could arrive. The various groups had to learn to trust each other, and the Sunnis had to learn they were no longer masters of the land, but just one group among many. And all had to learn that the totalitarian temptations of Sunni and Shia radicalism were not in their interests, but that cooperating with us was, even if it meant nothing more than we would go home sooner.
The new Iraqi Army and National Police deserve special praise. Starting from miserable beginnings, they’ve become largely reliable partners in the fight against al Qaeda and, perhaps more importantly, they’ve earned the respect and trust of their own people. Once a pathetic force riddled with corruption and infiltrated by militias and prone to breaking under fire, they’re increasingly competent and professional and now can take the lead in defending their own country. Notwithstanding the insults hurled at them by the Democrats who say the Iraqis "need to take more responsibility for their own security," they have done just that, dying in the hundreds and thousands in the fight to rid their land of our mutual enemy — the Sunni jihadists and the Shiite creatures of Iran.
This is their victory day, too.
And so, even though neither our own government, the media, nor the moonbat Left will say it, let’s ourselves do it. Let’s admit it. Let’s say it openly and proudly.
We’ve won. And a damned good thing it is for the United States and Iraq.
Happy Victory in Iraq Day!