Skip to comments.Victor Davis Hanson: The Great Stampede. Conservatives are losing their nerve on Iraq
Posted on 03/10/2006 5:26:23 AM PST by Tolik
In recent weeks prominent conservatives William F. Buckley, Niall Ferguson, Francis Fukuyama, George Will, to a name only a very few have, in various ways, suggested that the war in Iraq was either a mistake or unwinnable, or both. The blowing up of the shrine at Samarra, together with subsequent sectarian killings in Baghdad and the failure so far to form an executive branch, were the most recent catalysts that apparently pushed a great number of wearied observers over the edge.
Sometimes such remorse is coupled with louder lamentations about the failed foreign policy of the Bush administration especially the malevolent influence of neoconservatives and their mania for democracy.
There are many reasons why such pessimism, and indeed depression, is unwarranted although I concede that very few Americans and still fewer pundits would agree with my own explanations.
What then is the real difference with this administrations effort? Taking out the Taliban and Saddam in the Middle East proved to be far more difficult and costly operations than bombing Milosevic from on high, or decapitating the Noriega regime.
So I fear that it is not the principle of occasionally spreading democracy by arms as much as the messiness of the Iraqi war that bothers most. Take away 2,300 American fatalities and envision a stable government in two or three months in Baghdad, and we would hear very few meas magnas culpas.
There is also the larger question of advocacy of democracy in the Middle East itself. We have no plans to invade Syria or Iran, dethrone their autocrats, and birth constitutional governments. The pressures on others to reform are steady and insidious, but still relatively weak given the fact that Musharraf has the bomb, the Gulf States have the oil, and the Mubarak dynasty has an aggregate $50 billion in American aid.
Moreover, the pathology of the Middle East whether defined by the increased stature of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the involvement of authoritarian regimes with terrorists, or vehement anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism predated American pressure for democratic reform. One could just as easily make the argument that it was the absence of such principled American advocacy and instead the prevailing realpolitik of the last 50 years that helped bring us to the crisis of 9/11.
Certainly the scab of the Middle East that was ripped away on September 11 revealed an old and putrid wound of authoritarians paying blackmail to Islamists in an anti-American unholy alliance. Abruptly leaving Lebanon in 1983, not going to Baghdad in 1991, lobbing cruise missiles at Saddam and the Taliban, trading arms for hostages with Iran, Oil-for-Food, no-fly-zones, giving a pass to Saudi Wahhabism, subsidizing Mubarak and Arafat none of this made for a more stable Middle East or a safe America.
But that optimism was only true if certain premises were to be enshrined as the new American way of war:
One, that war is always to be waged against small countries without many assets such as Panama or Grenada;
Or two, that war is to be conducted largely by air, whether defined by bomber attacks against Khadafy and Milosevic, or cruise missiles sent into Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s.
Or three, that war is to be solely punitive. We are to go in, defeat the enemy, and leave the ensuing mess to others, on the premise that we either cannot or should not worry about whether the populace deserved the odious regime we were obliged to end.
In other words, we should renounce the type of more holistic and ideological wars of the past, such as those waged against Italians, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese, where we not only sought to defeat entire belief systems, but to stay on and craft a stable government in the hopes of stamping out fascism, Nazism, militarism, or Communism.
There is an easy logic to the first three methods of warcraft, but we cannot rule out the occasional need for the tougher fourth option one that will always involve greater costs and casualties.
For all the tragedy of our fallen in Iraq, if a constitutional government stabilizes in Baghdad, and liberalization follows in the surrounding region, then our losses will not be measured against the far lighter casualties suffered in Panama, Gulf War I, or Grenada, but against the far worse losses of Korea and World War II.
We have not yet experienced a sizable antiwar movement coalescing around Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. Donald Rumsfeld has not done a Robert McNamara sweaty-brow resignation. And why havent at least a few senior generals confessed that this is a hopeless task? Cannot the Congress update something like the old Cooper-Church Amendment or wont we at least see a Eugene McCarthy-like candidacy in the next Republican primary, or a bloodbath in 2006 that wipes out a war-stained Republican Congress?
There are various answers, but the chief one, besides our leaders belief in the righteousness of the cause and our proximity to success, is that Americans themselves are still unsure about the Iraqi outcome for a variety of reasons.
They are confused about the wars coverage. They cannot ascertain whether the daily drumbeat of explosions is just the medias story, and should be set against the silent counter-narrative of three successful elections and a growing Iraqi security force. For all the unease, even the most dubious citizen still thinks the United States may, in fact, win. And had we reported Okinawa minute-by-minute as we do Iraq, we might we have lost that close-run encounter.
The enemy is not idealistic or egalitarian, but clearly pre-modern and fascist. The more we are told that Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror, the more al Qaedas methods surface in Iraq and its leadership boasts that it is the new front, after Manhattan and Afghanistan. At least some in this country still believe that victory in Iraq, and the emergence of a viable government there, would have implications far beyond Iraq, inflicting a terrible defeat and humiliation on the Islamists in their own backyard.
Americans are sensitive to charges of imperialism and ruthlessness, but less so to those of misplaced idealism or naiveté. Whatever one believes about Iraq, the facts counter realpolitik and oil diplomacy. Petroleum skyrocketed after the invasion. Oil-for-Food was exposed, along with French and Russian petroleum shenanigans. The loss of life over the last three years must be weighed against the yearly butchery of Saddam Hussein deaths that were not part of the struggle for a democratic future, but the annual carnage that consolidated a fascistic regime and had no end in sight.
India and Pakistan are closer to us now than before Iraq. China is China; Japan is a military ally as never before. England and Australia are strategic partners; Canada and New Zealand are similarly beginning to follow a wiser course. The world is catching on to Iran, and the theocracy must subvert the new Iraqi democracy or itself be undermined by the nearby democratic experiment.
There is, of course, heightened anti-Americanism in places, but it is largely confined to specific areas. The Middle East Street resents deeply the humiliation of seeing Muslim leaders so easily dethroned. The European cafés abhor the spread of American popular culture and muscle, and are starting to recoil in shock that the world did not turn out to follow the rules of the Hague or the EU charter. And then there is the trans-Atlantic elite, who, after calling for three decades for a more principled American policy, finally got it in spades but splattered with all the gore and mess that such radical changes always entail.
But the latest criticism is more troubling, since it often comes from the my perfect war, your lousy peace school that, for some reason, never critiques the three-week removal of Saddam Hussein. Instead, it defends its evolving opposition to the war by advancing particular pet theories of reconstruction that were never followed. Rarely do we hear that most postbellum efforts are long, messy, and necessary, much less that the essence of war is lapse and tragedy, with victory going only to those who in the end err the least and endure. Anyone back in the United States can post facto write up a list of what ought to have been done in Iraq amid the heat and fire; but they at least need to factor in the conditions at the time that led the supposedly less bright on the ground not to anticipate their own inspired wisdom from afar.
Especially troubling are those who even before 9/11 demanded that President Clinton or Bush remove Saddam Hussein, but now consider such a move an abject blunder of the first order. Their advocacy helped us get in when there were dubious reasons to go, and their vehement criticism may well get us out when there are now better reasons to stay until Iraq is secure.
So here we are close to victory abroad, closer to concession at home.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
Here, it seems like this thing will go on forever, with only a bunch of ungrateful and inept muslims left to run the place.
As I'm sure you know, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment has been serving in Iraq (its second deployment there) for the past year.
As the regiment prepares to come home, it has received the letter pasted below. I believe many of you will find it an interesting
counterpoise to much of what we read in the press.
From: Mayor of Tall âAfar, Ninewa, Iraq
In the Name of God the Compassionate and Merciful
To the Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tallâ Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing
To the lion-hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists
who were beheading men, women and children in the streets for many
To those who spread smiles on the faces of our children, and gave us
restored hope, through their personal sacrifice and brave fighting, and
gavenew life to the city after hopelessness darkened our days, and
stole our confidence in our ability to reestablish our city.
Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Mousab Al Zarqawi. The city was completely held hostage in the hands of his henchmen. Our
schools, governmental services, businesses and offices were closed. Our streets were silent, and no one dared to walk them. Our people were
barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every
corner. Terrorists occupied and controlled the only hospital in the
city. Their savagery reached such a level that they stuffed the corpses
of children with explosives and tossed them into the streets in order
to kill grieving parents attempting to retrieve the bodies of their
young. This was the situation of our city until God prepared and
delivered unto them the courageous soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry
Regiment, who liberated this city, ridding it of Zarqawiâs followers
after harsh fighting, kiling many terrorists, and forcing the
remaining butchers to flee the city like rats to the surrounding areas,
where the bravery of other 3d ACR soldiers in Sinjar, Rabiah, Zumar and
Avgani finally destroyed them.
I have met many soldiers of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment; they are
not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism.
The leaders of this Regiment; COL McMaster, COL Armstrong, LTC Hickey, LTC Gibson, and LTC Reilly embody courage, strength, vision and wisdom.
Officers and soldiers alike bristle with the confidence and character
of knights in a bygone era. The mission they have accomplished, by
means of a unique military operation, stands among the finest military
feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and truly deserves to be
studied in military science. This military operation was clean, with
little collateral damage, despite the ferocity of the enemy. With the
skill and precision f surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers
in the city without causing unnecessary damage.
God bless this brave Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated
these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the
families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all
bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their
sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their
souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never
be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that
which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in
every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the
world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.
Finally, no matter how much I write or speak about this brave Regiment,
I havenât the words to describe the courageof its officers and
soldiers. I pray to God to grant happiness and health to these
legendary heroes and their brave families.
NAJIM ABDULLAH ABID
Mayor of Tall âAfar,
I don't know where Hanson is going with this but this, to me, has always been the solution of choice when dealing with muslims.
I have believed it completely and absolutely, due to one simple fact: a complete undestanding of islam, and the culture it has nurtured world wide.
The reasoning is simple: I am not willing to sacrifice the lives of sons, friends or neighbors to save a mad, primitive, savage, people from themselves.
If these savages, with or without their oil wealth, had to deal with rebuilding a country with no help from the US whatsoever, to feed themselves, to obtain even the most basic necessities of life, they would have neither the energy, the time or the wealth to travel internationally exporting their mass murder.
Destroy their larger cities; the basic infrastructures: communications, travel, transportation, energy production, pipelines, government buildings, bridges, major road features, dams, and keep doing it if they persist, eventually they will lose the will or the means to export their culture.
An uncompromising promise to do exactly that should solve our problem; with the minimum of cost in wealth or lives.
Bush, or any other administration will, if nothing changes dramatically, have to fight violently either muslims or Americans on American soil sooner or later.
Continued political myopia or tone deafness guarantees it.
No muslim immigration whatsoever, in the foreseeable future is an essential part of the plan to survive.
Yep, I saw Ralph Peters on Brit Hume's show yesterday.
And ya know Peters is no big fan of how the war has been fought; so it was very encouraging to hear that he was pleased by what he saw there.
"...the average American did have the stomach for this war, and was glad we fought it, but that the msm simply talked them out of it..."
As much as I admire VDH, I find this sentence obscene. It assumes something I reject totally: that the lives within a pathological, killer society are worth exactly the equivalent number of American lives.
If those people cannot save themselves, and simultaneously contribute to the continuing export of murder and mayhem, then their lives are worth no more than cockroaches, even the images of wide-eyed children suffering the consequences affects me less and less, as the endless Politically Correct games play out.
In short, I am not willing to continue losing sons, neighbors and friends for the sole purpose of "feeling good" about being right, without changing a thing.
It is interesting how many historical events are practically pre-programmed with the prior actions (or inactions).
Giving up on Vietnam emboldened Soviets with the Afghanistan gamble. American response was to support mujahideen; and Osama got the taste of action there.
Not finishing off Saddam in 1991 guaranteed that we would have to face the challenge in the future, again.
While many of these events took years or decades to unravel, our cultivated 24/7 attention span eliminates an important virtue of patience. We (as a nation, not FR-people) are loosing forest view behind the trees. Nobody can act without mistakes, but in general, the course in the Middle East is the correct one (according to me). I agree with Ladeen's call "faster, please", but I want to add mine here "patience, please".
To well-informed, clear thinking people outside the Beltway, the war in Iraq has been a success. Difficult and costly, but a success...thanks to our wonderful military.
I find it amazing that people have forgotten what it was like wondering what Saddam was up to every day.
I fear you are right. The Republicans have now given up (willingly) the moral high ground, and that will not be lost on the electorate this fall.
Agreed. For now, however, the mushy Republicans are somewhat better than the irresponsible Dems. It's probably going to take the next president, with a new burst and fire, to put us over the top and to weed out the incompetents.
But if you liken this to the Cold War, your position would be essentially that we can't win until we get rid of Soviet communism, which was true, but it needn't have stopped us from pushing out the communists from Cuba, Vietnam, and so on. Indeed, the Soviets are gone, but those communists are still there. Iran will get its turn.
The number you DON'T see---and it's almost impossible to find---is the number of terrorist/"insurgents" being killed. These people are being destroyed at UNSUPPORTABLE rates. There is no military operation---guerilla or otherwise---in history, no matter how well supported from the outside, that has sustained the levels of losses that the terrorists in Iraq have and not collapsed. The math is unrelenting. Even the Japanese ran out of voluntary kamikazes.
This is exactly what happened in Vietnam. Our guys won on the battlefield, but the politicians and journalists lost the war by demoralizing the home front. Let's not let that happen again.
I cannot believe it. Vic made it through an entire article without comparing the action in Iraq to Greece or Athens. Doesn't make his point any more plausible but it's still suprising.
Nope. Maybe you should listen to the people on the ground and not the Know Nothing Talking Heads. This is pure nonsense. Just more talking point garbage by fools who know nothing about Iraq. One way to make the situation ungovernable would be to come in an play Imperialist games with the Iraqis. There is a deep and wide reservoir of resentment for the way the Brits micromanaged their early years.
As we are seeing right now as the terrorist try to spark an Iraqi Civil War, the Iraqis are strongly nationalistic. There is a pretty sever backlash going on against the Terrorists BECAUSE they are outsiders trying to dictate the Iraqi's future. Going in and dictating a break up of the country would of been extremely stupid on the USA's part.
Our congresscritters never had any "nerve" to lose. They are a group of spineless cowards interested only in remaining in power. We WILL withdraw a lot of troops before November, it WILL be too soon in terms of longterm success in Iraq, and it WILL be totally political.
Remember this on election day: EVERY election day henceforward. The people we are paying to represent our interests think we are stupid. I'll never vote for another incumbent, and I don't give a damn about party, any longer. Given the choice of a RAT against a Republican incumbent, I'll sit it out. To Hell with the lot.
I don't know where you are getting your information from re the number of enemy casualties, but I don't buy the body count metric. We tried that in Vietnam. If Iran and Syria keep on sending people in, there will still be a level of conflict and insurgency. If we can dry up the water the guerrillas swim in, the insurgency will die. It took the British 12 years in Malaysia. We need patience and perseverance.
Always find it amazing how Americans, who can hardly find the Middle East on the Map, are self proclaimed "experts" on how the Iraqis must live. Trying to tell people how they must live is IMPERIALISM. It doesn't work.