The Panic Over Iraq
Like, I am sure, many other believers in what this country has been trying to do in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, I have found my thoughts returning in the past year to something that Tom Paine, writing at an especially dark moment of the American Revolution, said about such times. They are, he memorably wrote, “the times that try men’s souls,” the times in which “the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot” become so disheartened that they “shrink from the service of [their] country.”
But Paine did not limit his anguished derision to former supporters of the American War of Independence whose courage was failing because things had not been going as well on the battlefield as they had expected or hoped. In a less famous passage, he also let loose on another group:
’Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. . . . Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses. . . [T]heir peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain for ever undiscovered.
Thus, he explained, “Many a disguised Tory has lately shown his head,” emboldened by the circumstances of the moment to reveal an opposition to the break with Britain that it had previously seemed prudent to conceal.
The similarities to our situation today are uncanny. We, too, are in the midst of a rapidly spreading panic. We, too, have our sunshine patriots and summer soldiers, in the form of people who initially supported the invasion of Iraq—and the Bush Doctrine from which it followed—but who are now abandoning what they have decided is a sinking ship. And we, too, are seeing formerly disguised opponents of the war coming more and more out into the open, and in ever greater numbers.
Yet in spite of these similarities, there is also a very curious difference between the American panic of 1776-7 and the American panic of 2005-6. To put it in the simplest and starkest terms: in that early stage of the Revolutionary War, there was sound reason to fear that the British would succeed in routing Washington’s forces. In Iraq today, however, and in the Middle East as a whole, a successful outcome is staring us in the face. Clearly, then, the panic over Iraq—which expresses itself in increasingly frenzied calls for the withdrawal of our forces—cannot have been caused by the prospect of defeat. On the contrary, my twofold guess is that the real fear behind it is not that we are losing but that we are winning, and that what has catalyzed this fear into a genuine panic is the realization that the chances of pulling off the proverbial feat of snatching an American defeat from the jaws of victory are rapidly running out.
Of course, to anyone who relies entirely or largely on the mainstream media for information, it will come as a great surprise to hear that we are winning in Iraq. Winning? Militarily? How can we be winning militarily when, day after day, the only thing of any importance going on in that country is suicide bombings and car bombings? When neither our own troops nor the Iraqi forces we have been training are able to stop the “insurgents” from scoring higher and higher body counts? When every serious military move we make against the strongholds of these dedicated and ruthless adversaries is met with “fierce resistance”? When, for every one of them we manage to kill, two more seem to pop up?
Winning? Politically? How can we be winning politically when the very purpose for which we allegedly invaded Iraq has been unmasked as a chimera? When every step we force the Iraqis to take toward democratization is accompanied by angry sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis and between each of them and the Kurds? When our clumsy efforts to bring the Sunnis into the political process have hardly made a dent in their support for the insurgency? When the end result is less likely to be the stable democratic regime we supposedly went there to establish than a civil war followed by the breakup of Iraq into three separate countries?
There has been one great exception to this relentless drumbeat of bad news: it occurred in January 2005, in the coverage of the first election in liberated Iraq. To the astonishment of practically everyone in the world, more than 8 million Iraqis came out to vote on election day even though the Islamofascist terrorists had threatened to slaughter them if they did. This very astonishment was a measure of how false an impression had been created of the state of affairs in Iraq. No one fed by the mainstream media could have had the slightest inkling that these 8 million people were actually there, so invisible had they been to reporters who spent all their time interviewing the discontented Iraqi Man in the Street and to cameras seemingly incapable of focusing on anything but carnage and rubble.
But the mainstream media soon recovered from the shock. By October, on the morning after a second ballot in which the new Iraqi constitution was ratified by fully 79 percent of the electorate, the Washington Post ran its announcement of these inspiring results on page 13. As for the paper’s front page, the columnist Jeff Jacoby would note that it
was dominated by a photograph, stretched across four columns, of three daughters at the funeral of their father, . . . who had died from injuries suffered during a September 26 bombing in Baghdad. Two accompanying stories, both above the fold, were headlined “Military Has Lost 2,000 in Iraq” and “Bigger, Stronger, Homemade Bombs Now to Blame for Half of U.S. Deaths.” A nearby graphic—“The Toll”—divided the 2,000 deaths by type of military service.
In sum, in the words of the Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff:
Death, violence, terrorism, precarious political situation, problems with reconstruction, and public frustration (both in Iraq and America) dominate, if not overwhelm, the mainstream media coverage and commentary on Iraq.
About a year ago, concerned that he might have been exaggerating when he made this assertion on the basis of his “gut feeling,” Chrenkoff decided to check it out more scientifically. So he did “a little tally” of the stories published or broadcast all over the world on a single average day (which happened to be January 21, 2005). Here are some of the numbers that, with the help of the Google News Index, he was able to report from that one day:
•2,642 stories about Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearings, in the context of grilling she has received over the administration’s Iraq policy.
•1,992 stories about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.
•887 stories about prisoner abuse by British soldiers.
•216 stories about hostages currently being held in Iraq.
•761 stories reporting on activities and public statements of insurgents.
•357 stories about the antiwar movement and the dropping public support for involvement in Iraq.
•182 stories about American servicemen killed and wounded in operations.
•217 stories about concerns for fairness and validity of Iraqi election (low security, low turnout, etc.).
•107 stories about civilian deaths in Iraq.
•123 stories noting Vice President Cheney’s admission that he had underestimated the task of reconstruction.
•118 stories about complicated and strained relations between the U.S. and Europe.
•121 stories discussing the possibility of an American pullout.
•27 stories about sabotage of Iraqi oil infrastructure.
• 16 stories about security successes in the fight against insurgents.
• 7 stories about positive developments relating to elections.
•73 stories about the return to Iraq of stolen antiquities.1
Obviously, then, the reporters and their editors in the mainstream media have been working overtime to show how badly things have been going for us in Iraq. Meanwhile, the op-ed pundits, the academic theorists, and the armchair generals have chimed in with analyses blaming it all on the incompetence of the President and his appointees. By now, the proposition that the aftermath of the invasion has been marked by one disastrous blunder after another is accepted without question or qualification by just about everyone: open opponents of the Bush Doctrine eager to prove that they were right to denounce the invasion; Democrats whose main objective is to discredit the Bush administration; and erstwhile supporters who have lost heart and are looking for a way to justify their desertion.
But the charge of incompetence has also been hurled by strong supporters of the Bush Doctrine in general and of the invasion of Iraq in particular, whose purpose is to prod the people running the operation into doing a better job. The most authoritative such supporter, Eliot A. Cohen of Johns Hopkins, has expressed a
desire—barely controlled—to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high, and that I really shouldn’t get exercised about them.
Now, this person may well have deserved a slap for being presumptuous toward a distinguished military historian, or for insensitivity in downplaying casualties when speaking to the father of an infantry officer on his way to Iraq. But at the risk of exposing myself as another highly educated fool, I must confess that I too think we need to be reminded that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties in this one are very low by any historical standard.
Before measuring Iraq in these two respects, I want to look more closely at some of the actions taken by the Bush administration that are universally accepted as mistakes, and to begin by pointing out that the main one is based on an outright falsification of the facts. This is the accusation that no thought was given to what would happen once we got to Baghdad and no plans were therefore made for dealing with the aftermath of the combat phase. Yet the plain truth is that much thought was given to, and many plans were made for dealing with, horrors that everyone expected to happen and then, mercifully, did not. Among these were: house-to-house fighting to take Baghdad; the flight of a million or more refugees; the setting of the oil fields afire; and the outbreak of a major civil war.
As for the insurgency, even if its dimensions had accurately been foreseen, it would still have been impossible to eliminate it in short order. To cite Eliot Cohen himself:
If the insurgencies in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir continue, what reason do we have to expect this one to end so soon?
A related group of alleged “mistakes” turn out on closer inspection to be judgment calls, concerning which it is possible for reasonable men to differ. The most widely circulated of these—especially among supporters of the war on the Right—is that there were too few American “boots on the ground” to mount an effective campaign against the insurgency. Perhaps. And yet the key factor in fighting a terrorist insurgency is not the number of troops deployed against it but rather the amount and quality of the intelligence that can be obtained from infiltrating its ranks and from questioning prisoners (a task made all the more difficult for us by the campaign here at home to define torture down to the point where it would become illegal to subject even a captured terrorist to generally accepted methods of interrogation).
Finally, there are “mistakes” that were actually choices between two evils—choices that had to be made when it was by no means obvious which was the lesser of the two. The best example here is the policy of “de-Baathification.” This led to a disbanding of the Iraqi army, whose embittered Sunni members were then putatively left with nothing to do but volunteer their services to the insurgency. Yet allowing Saddam Hussein’s thugs to continue controlling the army would have embittered the Shiites and the Kurds instead, both of whom had suffered greatly at the hands of the Sunni minority. Is it self-evident that this would have been better for us or for Iraq?
However, even if I were to concede for the sake of argument that every one of these accusations was justified, I would still contend that they amounted to chump change when stacked up against the mistakes that were made in World War II—a war conducted by acknowledged giants like Roosevelt and Churchill.2 And I would still say, as I have said before, that the number of American casualties in Iraq is minimal as compared with the losses suffered in past wars.3 Similarly, the mistakes—again assuming they were mistakes rather than debatable judgment calls—committed in the first year after the fall of Saddam were relatively inconsequential when measured against those made in the aftermath of the Allied victories over Germany and Japan.
Several Iraqi bloggers, and many letters written by American soldiers in the field that have found their way onto the Internet, paint a very different picture. Like Arthur Chrenkoff, these close-range observers do not overlook the persistence of major problems, and they do not deny that we still have a long way to go before Iraq becomes secure, stable, and democratic. But they document with great detail the amazing progress that has been made, even under the gun of Islamofascist terrorism, in building—from scratch—the political morale of a country ravaged by “post-totalitarian stress disorder,” in setting up the institutional foundations of a federal republic, in getting the economy moving, and in reconstructing the physical infrastructure.
The columnist Max Boot, who has himself been free with charges of incompetence, and who takes the position that we should have put more troops into Iraq, can (like Eliot Cohen) see clearly through his own reservations to provide a good summary of the situation as it now stands:
For starters, one can point to two successful elections . . . , on January 30 and October 15 , in which the majority of Iraqis braved insurgent threats to vote. The constitutional referendum in October was particularly significant because it marked the first wholesale engagement of Sunnis in the political process. . . . This is big news. The most disaffected group in Iraq is starting to realize that it must achieve its objectives through ballots, not bullets.4
Moving on to the economy, Boot (relying on a Brookings Institution report) tells us that “for all the insurgents’ attempts to sabotage the Iraqi economy,” per-capita income has doubled since 2003 and is now 30-percent higher than it was before the war; that the Iraqi economy is projected to grow at a whopping 16.8 percent in 2006; and that there are five times more cars on the streets than in Saddam Hussein’s day, five times more telephone subscribers, and 32 times more Internet users.
Finally, Boot points out that whereas not a single independent media outlet existed in Iraq before 2003, there are now 44 commercial TV stations, 72 radio stations, and more than 100 newspapers.
To all of this we can add the 3,404 public schools, 304 water and sewage projects, 257 fire and police stations, and 149 public-health facilities that had been built as of September 2005, with another 921 such projects currently under construction.
As for the military front, a November 2005 report by the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) cites an example of what is being accomplished by American troops:
In the recent Operation Steel Curtain on the Syrian border, our troops detained more than 1,000 suspected insurgents. One hundred weapons caches were found and cleared. Since January, 116 of Zarqawi’s lieutenants have been killed or captured.
The CPD report also notes the steady strengthening of the Iraqi armed forces, and the increasing degree of responsibility they are assuming in the fight against the insurgency:
[Since July] Iraq’s armed forces . . . have added 22 new battalions, and 5,500 police-service personnel have been trained and equipped (as have some 2,000 special-police commanders). Coalition senior officers report that 80 Iraqi battalions now are able to fight alongside our troops and 36 are “generally able to conduct independent operations.” More than 20 of the coalition’s forward-operating bases have been turned over to the Iraqi army.
The CPD supports the campaign in Iraq. Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is (to put it mildly) unfriendly to the Bush Doctrine and all its works. But Cordesman concurs with the CPD assessment. Citing slightly different statistics, he notes
continued increase in the number of Iraqi units able to take the lead in combat operations against the insurgency . . . [p]rogress of Iraqi units in assuming responsibility for the battle space . . . [and] continued increase in the number of units and individuals trained, equipped, and formed into operational status.
What this means in concrete terms is laid out by Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, also no great admirer of how the Bush administration has conducted the Iraq campaign:
For two years, when reporters would ask how it was possible that the mightiest military in history could not secure a five-kilometer stretch of road, the military responded with long, jargon-filled lectures. . . . Then one day this summer the military was ordered to secure the road. . . . Presto. Using Iraqi forces, the road was secured. Similar strategies have made cities like Najaf, Mosul, Tal Afar, and even Falluja much safer today than they were a year ago.
Why is there so little public awareness of these things? One young reporter, who proudly proclaims his membership in the mainstream media, has been only too happy to provide an explanation:
As long as American soldiers are getting killed nearly every day, we’re not going to be giving much coverage to the opening of multimillion dollar sewage projects. American lives are worth more than Iraqi shit.
Observe, in this clever and brutal formulation, the professed concern with American casualties. From it, one might imagine that the statement is worlds away from the hostility to American military power—and to America in general—that pervaded the radical Left in the 1960’s and that in a milder liberal mutation came to be known as the “post-Vietnam syndrome.” And it is certainly true that the antiwar movement spawned by Vietnam rarely had a tear to shed for the American lives that were being lost there. But the newfound tenderness toward our troops in Iraq does not in the least reflect a change in attitude toward the use of force by the United States. To the contrary, the relentless harping on American casualties by the mainstream media is part of an increasingly desperate effort to portray Iraq as another Vietnam: a foolish and futile (if not immoral and illegal) resort to military power in pursuit of a worthless (if not unworthy) goal.
Mark Twain once famously said that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. So it was, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with the post-Vietnam syndrome. During those early weeks, a number of commentators were quick to proclaim the birth of an entirely new era in American history. What December 7, 1941 had done to the the isolationism of old, they announced, September 11, 2001 had done to the Vietnam syndrome. Politically speaking, it was dead, and the fallout from the Vietnam war—namely, the hostility to America and especially to American military power—would follow it into the grave.
As is evident from the coverage of Iraq in the mainstream media, such pronouncements were more than a little premature: the Vietnam syndrome is still alive and well. But equally apparent is that the reporters and editors to whom it is a veritable religion understand very clearly that success in Iraq could deal the Vietnam syndrome a mortal blow. Little wonder, then, that they have so resolutely tried to ignore any and all signs of progress—or, when that becomes impossible, to dismiss them as so much “shit.”
This, however, is at least a kind of tribute to our progress, if a perverse one. The same cannot be said of the opponents of the Bush Doctrine in the universities and think tanks, who are unwilling even to acknowledge that more and better things are happening in Iraq and the broader Middle East than are dreamed of in their philosophy.
Take, for example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who left the academy to serve as Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser and is now a professor again. In a recently published piece entitled “American Debacle,” Brzezinski began by accusing George W. Bush of “suicidal statecraft,” went on to pronounce the intervention in Iraq (along with everything else this President has done) a total disaster, and ended by urging that we withdraw from that country “perhaps even as early as next year”—i.e., 2006. Unlike the late Senator Aiken of Vermont, who once proposed that we declare victory in Vietnam and then get out, Brzezinski wants to declare defeat in Iraq and then get out. This, he mysteriously assures us, will help restore “the legitimacy of America’s global role.”
Now I have to admit that I find it a little rich that George W. Bush should be accused of “suicidal statecraft” by, of all people, the man who in the late 1970’s helped shape a foreign policy that emboldened the Iranians to seize and hold American hostages while his boss in the Oval Office stood impotently by for over a year before finally authorizing a rescue operation so inept that it only compounded our national humiliation. And where was Brzezinski—famed at the time for his anti-Communism—when the President he served congratulated us on having overcome our “inordinate fear of Communism”? Where was Brzezinski—known far and wide for his hard-line determination to resist Soviet expansionism—when Cyrus Vance, the then Secretary of State, declared that the Soviet Union and the United States had “similar dreams and aspirations,” and when Carter himself complacently informed us that containment was no longer necessary? And how was it that, despite daily meetings with Brzezinski, Carter remained so blind to the nature of the Soviet regime that the invasion of Afghanistan, as he himself would admit, taught him more in a week about the nature of that regime than he had managed to learn in an entire lifetime? Had the cat gotten Brzezinski’s tongue in the three years leading up to that invasion—the same tongue he now wags with such confidence at George W. Bush?5
But even if Brzezinski’s record over the past 30 years did not disqualify him from dispensing advice on how to conduct American foreign policy, this diatribe against Bush would by itself be enough. For here he looks over the Middle East, and what does he see? He sees the United States being “stamped as the imperialistic successor to Britain and as a partner of Israel in the military repression of the Arabs.” This may not be fair, he covers himself by adding; but not a single word does he say to indicate that the British created the very despotisms the United States is now trying to replace with democratic regimes, or that George W. Bush is the first American President to have come out openly for a Palestinian state.
Again Brzezinski looks over the Middle East, and what does he see? He sees the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and by extension Guantanamo, causing the loss of America’s “moral standing” as a “country that has stood tall” against “political repression, torture, and other violations of human rights.” And that is all he sees—quite as though we never liberated Afghanistan from the theocratic tyranny of the Taliban, or Iraq from the fascist despotism of Saddam Hussein. But how, after all, when it comes to standing tall against “political repression, torture, and other violations of human rights,” can such achievements compare with a sanctimonious lecture by Jimmy Carter followed by the embrace of one third-world dictator after another?
Then for a third time Brzezinski looks over the Middle East, and what does he see? He sees more and more sympathy for terrorism, and more and more hatred of America, being generated throughout the region by our actions in Iraq; and in this context, too, that is all he sees. About the momentous encouragement that our actions have given to the forces of reform that never dared act or even speak up before, he is completely silent—though it is a phenomenon that even so inveterate a hater of America as the Lebanese dissident Walid Jumblatt has found himself compelled to recognize. Thus, only a few months after declaring that “the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq is legitimate and obligatory,” Jumblatt suddenly woke up to what those U.S. soldiers had actually been doing for the world in which he lived:
It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting [in January 2005], 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.
The columnist Michael Barone has listed some of the developments that bear out Jumblatt’s judgment:
[The] progress toward democracy in Iraq is leading Middle Easterners to concentrate on the question of how to build decent governments and decent societies. We can see the results—the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the first seriously contested elections in Egypt, Libya’s giving up WMD’s, the Jordanian protests against Abu Musab Zarqawi’s recent suicide attacks, and even a bit of reform in Saudi Arabia.
Even in Syria, reports the Washington Post’s David Ignatius,
people talk politics . . . with a passion I haven’t heard since the 1980’s in Eastern Europe. They’re writing manifestos, dreaming of new political parties, trying to rehabilitate old ones from the 1950’s.
And not only in Syria. As the democratic activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim who, like Jumblatt, originally opposed the invasion of Iraq, told Ignatius’s colleague Jim Hoagland:
Those [in the Middle East] who believe in democracy and civil society are finally actors . . . [because the invasion of Iraq] has unfrozen the Middle East, just as Napoleon’s 1798 expedition did. Elections in Iraq force the theocrats and autocrats to put democracy on the agenda, even if only to fight against us. Look, neither Napoleon nor President Bush could impregnate the region with political change. But they were able to be midwives.
Nor are such changes confined to the political sphere alone. According to a report in the Economist, a revulsion against terrorism has begun to spread among Muslim clerics, including some who, like the secular Jumblatt, were only recently applauding its use against Americans:
Moderate Muslim clerics have grown increasingly concerned at the abuse of religion to justify killing. In Saudi Arabia, numerous preachers once famed for their fighting words now advise tolerance and restraint. Even so rigid a defender of suicide attacks against Israel . . . as Yusuf Qaradawi, the star preacher of the popular al-Jazeera satellite channel, denounces bombings elsewhere and calls on the perpetrators to repent.
Zbigniew Brzezinski may be wrongheaded, but he is neither blind nor stupid. Why, then, his willful silence in the face of all these signs of progress? I can only interpret it as the product of a rising panic. No less than the denizens of the mainstream media, he is desperately struggling to salvage a worldview that, like theirs, should have been but was not killed off by 9/11 and that, like theirs, may well suffer a truly mortal blow if the Bush Doctrine passes through the great test of fire it is undergoing in Iraq.
Brzezinski’s worldview is a syncretistic mix of foreign-policy realism (with its emphasis on stability and the sanctity of national borders) and liberal internationalism (with its unshakable faith in compromise, consensus, and international institutions). In this he differs somewhat from another former National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, a Republican who occupied the office under George W. Bush’s father and whose own commitment to the realist perspective is pure and unadulterated. In spite of this difference, the two men are at one in regarding the war in Iraq as a disastrous distraction from the really important business to which we should be attending in the Middle East—namely, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In an article published some months before the invasion and entitled “Don’t Attack Saddam,” Scowcroft wrote: Possibly the most dire consequence [of attacking Saddam] would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict, there would be an explosion of outrage against us.
Evidently he still holds to this view. So does Brzezinski, who attacks “the Bush team” for having transformed “a manageable, though serious, challenge of largely regional origin into an international debacle,” and who urges us to get out of Iraq, the sooner the better, so that we can shift our focus back to where it really belongs—“the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” Well, whether the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is truly “the obsession of the region” or, rather, a screen for other things, it certainly is the obsession of Brzezinski and Scowcroft, as it is of almost everyone else who looks at the Middle East from the so-called realist perspective and to whom stability is the great desideratum. Even from that perspective, however, the non-stop preoccupation with Israel would seem to be warranted only if the conflict with the Palestinians were the main cause of instability throughout the region.
This is indeed what Brzezinski, Scowcroft, and most other members of the realist school believe.6 Yet the realities to which they are so deferential in the abstract make utter nonsense of this idea. Since the birth of Israel in 1948, there have been something like two dozen wars in the Middle East (variously involving Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Iraq) that have had nothing whatever to do with the Jewish state, or with the Palestinians. In one of these alone—the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88—more lives were lost than in all the wars involving Israel put together.
The obsessive animus against Israel goes hand in hand with the overall strategy for dealing with the Middle East that prevailed before 9/11, and to which Brzezinski and Scowcroft are still married, heart and soul and mind. The best and most succinct description of that strategy was given by President Bush himself in explaining why 9/11 had driven him to reject it in favor of a radically different approach:
For decades free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy.
In the past, . . . longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.
We learn from Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker that, when Condoleezza Rice quoted these words to Scowcroft (her former mentor), he responded that the policy Bush was rejecting had actually brought us “50 years of peace.”7
In addition to remaining convinced that the old way of doing things was right, Scowcroft is utterly disdainful of the new approach being followed by George W. Bush, which (as I like to describe it) is to make the Middle East safe for America by making it safe for democracy. “I believe,” he told Jeffrey Goldberg, “that you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history.” But the despotisms in the Middle East are not thousands of years old, and they were not created by Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. All of them were established after World War I—that is, less than a century ago—by the British and the French.
This being the case, there is nothing “utopian” about the idea that such regimes—planted with shallow roots by two Western powers—could be uprooted with the help of a third Western power, and that a better political system could be put in their place. And, in fact, this is exactly what has been happening before our very eyes in Iraq. In the span of three short years, Iraq, liberated by the United States from the totalitarian tyranny of Saddam Hussein, has taken one giant step after another toward democratization. Yet Scowcroft can still assure us that “you’re not going to democratize Iraq,” and certainly not “in any reasonable time frame.”
As with Brzezinski, so again it seems that nothing else but panic can explain so astonishing a degree of denial.
Like the mainstream media and the theorists in the academy and the think tanks, the Democratic party—fearing that it might be frozen out of power for a very long time to come—is also in a panic over the signs that George W. Bush’s new approach to the greater Middle East is on the verge of passing the test of Iraq. Hence the veritable hysteria with which the Democrats have recently tried to delegitimize the war: first by claiming (three years after the fact!) that it had begun with a lie, and then by declaring that it was ending in a defeat. Leaning heavily on the turn in public opinion largely brought about by reports in the mainstream media and the lucubrations of the theorists, the Democrats now joined in by clamoring openly for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.8
A goodly number of these Democrats (Howard Dean and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, to name only two) are the “Tories” of today, in the sense of having from the very beginning stood openly and unambiguously against the revolution in foreign policy represented by the Bush Doctrine and now being put to the test in Iraq. But a much larger number of Democrats fit more smoothly into Tom Paine’s category of “disguised” Tories. These are the Congressmen and Senators who in their heart of hearts were against the resolution authorizing the President to use force against Saddam Hussein, but who—given the state of public opinion at the time—feared being punished at the polls unless they voted for it. Now, however, with public opinion moving in the other direction, they have been emboldened to “show their heads.”
Finally, we have a certain number of Democrats who correspond to the “the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots” of the American Revolution.9 One of them is Congressman John Murtha, who backed the invasion of Iraq because (to give him the benefit of the doubt) he really thought it was the right thing to do, but who has now bought entirely into the view that all is lost and that the only sensible course is to turn tail:
The war in Iraq is . . . a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. . . . [O]ur military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people, or the Persian-Gulf region. . . . Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists, and foreign jihadists. . . . Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.
It seems never to have occurred to Murtha that talk of this kind could only confuse and demoralize the troops for whose welfare, and for whose sufferings, he expresses such concern. By all accounts, those troops are very proud of what they are accomplishing in Iraq. How then could they not be confounded when a respected Congressman—a former Marine, no less—declares that they have been fighting for nothing, nothing whatsoever, and when for saying so he gets a standing ovation from his fellow Democrats? How could they not be demoralized to be told that there is no point in going on because their very presence in Iraq is making things worse for everyone concerned?10
And how, by the same token, could talk of this kind fail to give new heart to the Islamofascist terrorists—just when they are on the run? How could they not be delighted to see the elected representatives of the American people carrying on a heated debate in which the only questions at issue are how quickly to bug out of Iraq, and whether to fix a timetable and a deadline? How could they not feel vindicated when, after being surprised by the fierce reaction of the Americans to 9/11, they now behold fresh evidence for believing that Osama bin Laden was right after all when he called us a paper tiger?
On the other hand, if (as the President intended all along, as he reiterated in his great speech of November 30 at Annapolis, and as is prescribed in the recently declassified “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”) American forces are drawn down only at the rate and to the extent that they can be replaced with similar numbers of Iraqi soldiers and policemen fully capable of taking over, the joy now being felt by the Islamofascists will commensurately be replaced by dread. For no one knows better than they that, once up to snuff and on their own, the new Iraqi forces will be less inhibited than the Americans by moral considerations and accordingly much more ruthless in the way they fight.
Tom Paine grew so disgusted with “the mean principles that are held by the Tories,” with the hypocrisy of the disguised Tories, and with the shrinking from hardship of the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots of 1776-7 that he finally gave up trying to persuade them:
I have been tender in raising the cry against these men, and used numberless arguments to show them their danger, but it will not do to sacrifice a world to either their folly or their baseness.
And so, “quitting this class of men . . . who see not the full extent of the evil that threatens them,” Paine turned “to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out,” and rested his hopes on them.
These hopes, we know and thank God for it, were not disappointed. And neither will be the hopes of those today who likewise see “the full extent of the evil that threatens” us; who understand the necessity of the war that our country has been waging against it; who recognize the moral, political, and intellectual boldness of how George W. Bush has chosen to fight this war; and who take pride in the nobility of what the United States, at whose birth Tom Paine assisted, is now, more than 200 years later, battling to achieve in Iraq and, in the fullness of time, in the entire region of which Iraq is so crucial a part.
1 Chrenkoff adds: “[M]any stories are ‘duplicates’ of wire reports from AP, Reuters, and others, but that’s precisely the point: if a negative story from the AP is picked up by hundreds of newspapers around the world, then the story’s penetration of the global news market is much greater than another story published in just one local newspaper. This, by the way, cuts both ways: if a wire service writes a positive story, that [too] gets syndicated worldwide (in fact most of the 73 positive stories above about the return of stolen treasures are such duplicates)—except that it’s quite rare for a news wire service to have a good-news story.”
2 Tim Cavanaugh, in a posting on the website of Reason magazine that I have quoted in the past, has offered a partial list of such blunders and the lives that were lost because of them: “American Marines were slaughtered at Tarawa because the pre-invasion bombardment of the island was woefully deficient. Hundreds of American paratroopers were killed by American anti-aircraft fire during landings in Italy—for that matter the entire campaign up the Italian boot was an obvious waste of time, resources, and lives that prevented the western Allies from getting seriously into the war until the middle of 1944. . . . In late 1944, Allied commanders failed to anticipate that the Germans would attack through Belgium despite their having done so in 1914 and 1940.” In brief, Cavanaugh concludes, “On any given week, World War II offered more [foul-ups] and catastrophes than anything that has been seen in postwar Iraq.”
3 In World War II, 405,399; in Korea, 36,574; in Vietnam, 58,209.
4 As I write, it looks very much as though the same trend will continue into the election scheduled for December 15, when a new parliament empowered to form a four-year government will be chosen.
5 As Thomas Joscelyn reminds us, Brzezinski also wagged it at Ronald Reagan: “If present trends continue,” he wrote in 1981, “American foreign policy is likely to be in a state of general crisis by the spring of 1982 . . . causing the global position of the United States to be placed in jeopardy.”
6 But not Henry Kissinger, the leading realist of them all. Even though he is skeptical about the possibility of democratizing the Middle East, Kissinger favored the invasion of Iraq and thinks that victory there is essential. Nor does he believe that the war between the Palestinians and Israel is the most important problem in the world, or even in the Middle East.
7 What, asked James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, “do you call someone” who can describe the many wars that have been fought in the Middle East in the past five decades as “50 years of peace”? Taranto’s sardonic answer: “A ‘realist.’”
8 An honorable exception is Senator Joseph Lieberman, who writes: “What a colossal mistake it would be for America’s bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.” I should also mention that there are Republicans who, as Lieberman rightly says, “are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November’s elections than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead.”
9 So do liberal intellectuals like David Rieff and Michael Ignatieff, whose support was based on humanitarian grounds. By now, however, they have decided that they were mistaken to think that Bush was either serious enough or sufficiently competent to fulfill the idealistic goals he had enunciated.
10 The Democrats indignantly deny that they are hurting the morale of our troops, but they have not succeeded in persuading the public. Thus, in a poll taken by RT Strategies, a whopping 70 percent say that Democratic criticism of the war “hurts troop morale—with 44 percent saying morale is hurt ‘a lot.’” Even among self-identified Democrats, 55 percent say that criticism hurts morale as against 21 percent who say that it helps. Furthermore, only three out of ten of the people surveyed accept the Democrats’ claim that their criticisms are intended to help the war effort, while a majority believe that the motive is to “gain a partisan political advantage.”