Commentary Magazine


Dueling with Andrew Sullivan

A couple of days ago Andrew Sullivan wrote, “This week Peter Wehner read Newsweek‘s Iraq cover story and declared victory.” He added this:

How many times has Pete Wehner declared victory? I’ll be covering the elections this weekend with purple fingers crossed. But I remain a pessimist on Iraq, which is always a safe thing to be.

The answer to Andrew’s question is: none. In virtually every posting I have done on Iraq, I have inserted necessary qualifiers, as I did in the piece Sullivan links to. I wrote, for example, that “the successes there remain fragile and can still be undone. Iraq has proven to be treacherous terrain for foreign powers.” I added, “Nothing is guaranteed; ‘Everything in Iraq is hard,’ Ambassador Crocker once said.”

My points were rather different from what Andrew says, and fairly obvious. They were that: (a) the progress in Iraq has been truly remarkable, especially when one considers where things were at the end of 2006; (b) the “emergence of politics” that we are seeing in Iraq is unprecedented in the Arab world; (c) President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy was right, wise, and politically courageous; (d) the opponents of the surge were wrong and in some instances irresponsible; and (e) the surge is one of the greatest military turnabouts in American military history. None of these assertions is really in dispute. Neither is the claim that Iraq is on the mend.

What eventually happens in Iraq is impossible to know; it increasingly depends on the Iraqis, themselves. We will see what unfolds in the months and years ahead. It will take at least that long before a final judgment can be rendered. But what we do know is that America has given Iraq a chance to succeed, to live in freedom, to be free of a sadistic ruler. And doing that was, in fact, a noble act by our nation. Why is Sullivan reluctant to acknowledge this, even as one can still debate the wisdom of the war itself?

I will leave the last word to Sullivan’s Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who put things this way: “Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East.”