Commentary Magazine


Worth It?

Tony Blankley has a thoughtful examination of whether the Iraq war was “worth it.” I would add a few thoughts. If Iraq was the battleground on which Al Qaeda lost its toehold in the Middle East, then the answer may be “yes.” As Thomas Friedman observes today, “It helped that Al Qaeda and Iran both went too far. I’ve always believed that there is only one good thing about extremists: They don’t know when to stop. ”

But we won’t know that within the next few months. Nor will we really see what government takes shape and how the establishment of a stable Iraq — if that in fact can be achieved — will affect the region. In other words, the jury is out and the trial hasn’t even concluded.

However, it is clear that, had the surge not succeeded to the extent that it has and had Iraq descended into unrecoverable chaos, the answer to Blankley’s question most certainly would be “no.” Friedman again:

What seems to have happened in Iraq in the last few months is that the Iraqi mainstream has finally done some liberating of itself. With the help of the troop surge ordered by President Bush, the mainstream Sunni tribes have liberated themselves from the grip of Al Qaeda in their provinces. And the Shiite mainstream — represented by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Iraqi Army — liberated Basra, Amara and Sadr City in Baghdad from both Mahdi Army militiamen and pro-Iranian death squads. . . And because Iraqis now have their own narrative of self-liberation, it appears to be giving more legitimacy and self-confidence to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army and the Maliki regime.

It is only because of our efforts to transform the military and political situation that we can even consider whether the effort “was worth it.”

And that perhaps explains much of the opposition to the surge and the denial of reality for so long from Democrats and sympathetic media outlets. It just can’t be that anything positive came from George W. Bush’s war, they are convinced. The potential for success, however limited, upsets that entire, very certain world view. But the surge, as David Brooks has pointed out, shows once again that “life is complicated.” And those that have written off the war and an entire presidency as a result should, just as proponents of the war and supporters of the surge have learned to do, keep that in mind.