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O’Hanlon’s Courage

Everyone in Washington praises courage in the abstract, but real courage in practice is rare and seldom rewarded. John McCain has repeatedly exhibited admirable bravery not only physically but politically, and the result is that he was all but written off (prematurely, it now appears) as a serious contender by pundits who declared that his willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues would deny him the nomination.

For a lesser but still significant exhibition of political courage I call attention to this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon. In it, O’Hanlon blasts Barack Obama for casting aspersions on the motives of those who backed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and for failing to acknowledge that the surge has been successful.

Neither viewpoint would be particularly novel or noteworthy if coming from a confirmed conservative like me. But Mike is a Democrat who works at a liberal think tank—the Brookings Institution. He and his Brookings colleague, Ken Pollack, went out on a limb back on July 20, 2007, when, after returning from Iraq, they published an article in the New York Times proclaiming Iraq “A War We Just Might Win.” That message, coming at a time when Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic establishment had already proclaimed the surge a failure, earned them opprobrium on the left.

As the ending of his new Wall Street Journal article reveals, it even lead to a severing of relations between O’Hanlon and the Clinton campaign: Hillary, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates, had come out against the surge. But O’Hanlon evidently remains undaunted, and now he is shooting a few well-aimed darts at the new Democratic front-runner.

Most people in Mike’s position, no doubt hoping for a job in the next administration, would keep quiet. But he is putting principle over party, and for that he deserves kudos. I realize it’s not the same kind of courage that so many of our troops exhibit every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is more courage than the average denizen of the Beltway shows.



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