A Time For Truth

Give Peter Beinart credit: he admits the surge worked and he’s urging Democrats to admit it too:

It’s no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

He isn’t willing to acknowledge the connection between the surge and the Anbar Awakening nor recognize the overall benefit of the Iraq victory in the war on terror (and, like most liberals, insists that physical WMD stockpiles were the war’s sole justification). But he is fulsome in his praise of Bush’s decision to implement the surge and honest in his evaluation:

Moreover, even if the calm endures, that still doesn’t justify the Bush administration’s initial decision to go to war, which remains one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history. But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush’s record, his decision to increase America’s troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

It’s time for Democrats to say so. During the campaign they rarely did for fear of jeopardizing Barack Obama’s chances of winning the presidency. But today, the hesitation is less tactical than emotional. Most Democrats think Bush has been an atrocious president, and they want to usher him out of office with the jeers he so richly deserves. Even if they suspect, in their heart of hearts, that he was right about the surge, they don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

Yet they should — not for his sake but for their own. Because Bush has been such an unusually bad president, an entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported — and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn’t happen.

His recognition that refusal to acknowledge the surge’s (and in turn Bush’s) achievements was largely dishonest — a campaign tactic to deprive Bush and the surge’s most vigilant senatorial spokesman their due — is long in coming but nevertheless appreciated by those who knew this was the case. He concludes:

That’s why it’s important to admit that Bush was right about the surge. Doing so would remind Democrats that no one political party, or ideological perspective, has a monopoly on wisdom. That recognition can be the difference between ambition — which the Obama presidency must exhibit — and hubris, which it can ill afford.

Being proven right too many times is dangerous. It breeds intellectual arrogance and complacency. As the Democrats prepare to take over Washington, they should publicly acknowledge that on the surge, they were wrong. That acknowledgment may not do much for Bush’s legacy, but it could do wonders for their own.

But really, the only way for this to come about is for the new President to make the very acknowledgment Beinart recommends. Isn’t that the ultimate healing act, the true sign he is not an ideologue but an intellectually honest man of reason? Yes, it would concede that he was wrong, but that’s the point of Beinart’s suggestion: lift intellectual honesty over pride. Let’s see if he does it. It would be a good sign indeed if he does.