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Not Nothing

Michael Gerson writes of the success of the surge in Iraq:

The achievement is historic. In 2006, Iraq had descended into a sectarian killing spree that seemed likely to stop only when the supply of victims was exhausted. Showing Truman-like stubbornness, Bush pushed to escalate a war that most Americans — and some at the Pentagon — had already mentally abandoned.

The result? A Sunni tribal revolt against their al-Qaeda oppressors, an effective campaign against Shiite militias in Baghdad and Basra, and the flight of jihadists from Iraq to less deadly battlefields. In a more stable atmosphere, Iraq’s politicians have made dramatic political progress. Iraqi military and police forces have grown in size and effectiveness and now fully control 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. And in the month before Election Day, American combat deaths matched the lowest monthly total of the entire war.

For years, critics of the Iraq war asked the mocking question: “What would victory look like?” If progress continues, it might look something like what we’ve seen.

During a week in which conservatives have bemoaned the sorry state of the Republican Party (and largely blamed the loss on the unpopular incumbent President), Gerson’s reminder is a timely one. It is no small thing to win a war, especially one which was as controversial as this one. There is no election at stake now and it does no one harm to recognize the lonely persistence which was required to reverse course and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

And while we are in the perspective business, there are two more remarkable and unalloyed successes: the appointments of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. It is again no small thing to defend the rule of law. By nominating both of them President Bush made a significant contribution on that score.

No, I haven’t forgotten the years of the war’s mismanagement, or the ill-advised Harriet Miers nomination which preceded the Alito selection. And there are plenty of demerits on the other side of the ledger (e.g. Katrina, Walter Reed, runaway spending, Alberto Gonzales). But winning a war and appointing two stellar Supreme Court Justices isn’t nothing. With the election in the rear view mirror, maybe the world can acknowledge at least that.


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