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Victor Davis Hanson: The Great Stampede. Conservatives are losing their nerve on Iraq ^ | March 10, 2006 | Victor Davis Hanson

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.


America is hardly pushing it down anyone’s throat. Only in Afghanistan and Iraq have we used force to dethrone authoritarians and birth constitutional government. That’s pretty much what Ronald Reagan tried in Grenada. George Bush Sr. did the same in Panama, and so did Bill Clinton in the Balkans.

What then is the real difference with this administration’s 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.


There has been a naiveté about the nature of war in the last three years, perhaps explicable by our past abnormal experiences in Grenada, Libya, Panama, Gulf War I, the Balkans, and Afghanistan. Apparently GPS-guided munitions, helicopter gunships, and fast-moving armor had convinced some that the carnage of past conflicts was now thankfully past.

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.


There are never good and bad choices in war, but only bad and worse — and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq certainly is a prime example of that dilemma, whether we look at the regime’s internal barbarism or its attacks on four neighbors in a mere decade. We had already fought two prior wars with him — in 1991, and in the 12 years of no-fly zones between 1991 and 2003. Despite conventional wisdom, the verdict is still out on the extent of his connection with terrorists in general and al Qaeda in particular. The painfully slow translation and release of captured tapes and documents, together with a growing anecdotal body of testimony from ex-Baathists, may well suggest things in Iraq were far worse than we thought.

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 haven’t 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 won’t 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 war’s coverage. They cannot ascertain whether the daily drumbeat of explosions is just the media’s 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 Qaeda’s 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.

The World Beyond

Things abroad simply are not worse after March 2003. Europe is again growing closer to the United States, in part due to its fright after the French rioting, the Danish cartoons, and murders in the Netherlands. Its multilateral alternative to the United States is in retreat, as we see from the humiliating negotiations with Iran, Hamas, and the Russians.

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.

The Military

Yet another misconception concerns the U.S. military. Almost all the latest grievances against it have proven to be mostly hype. It is meeting its recruiting goals. In the heart of the ancient caliphate, with great sensitivity and tact, it has trained ten Iraqi divisions, after removing a 30-year old fascistic dictatorship with dispatch. If America’s was already the best equipped and disciplined military in the world, it is now also the most savvy and experienced in precisely the sort of asymmetrical war our pundits worry threaten our future. In all the post facto, self-serving, tell-all books by our ex-intelligence agents and diplomats, it is high-ranking military officers who usually escape censure.


From the very outset, rightist critics such as those in The American Conservative have told us that it was a hopeless waste of America resources to offer pre-modern people of the Middle East democratic government. Those of The Nation assured us that Iraq was yet another amoral attempt at postmodern imperialism. Fine, you get what you hear and read with both sides — and both, through good and bad news, have remained consistent and principled in their vehement opposition to all that we have done.

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.

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: hansen; iraq; kayak; vdh; victordavishanson; waronterror; wot
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To: Valin
Nice to know that some Iraqi's appreciate the sacrifice American soldiers are making for them.
41 posted on 03/10/2006 7:27:12 AM PST by monday
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To: chris1
The bottom line is that as bad as the Germans and Japs were, they were far more suited for civilized society than appears those in the ME.

Thus speaks the rabid Know Nothings who probably have never even been out of their own country. Amazing how rabidly arrogant the people who KNOW NOTHING about the topic are in dictating how the rest of the world should order their lives. I suppose next you will be telling us about the "White Mans burden". You people are on the WRONG side of history. At least have the decency to recognize your utter ignorance on the topic instead of just mindlessly regurgitating Mike Savage's utter stupidity.

42 posted on 03/10/2006 7:27:39 AM PST by MNJohnnie (Professional Journalism- the Buggy Whip makers of the 21st century)
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To: kabar

I get my data from daily briefings, from reports from the field (friends and former students there), and other sources. I'm confident in them. This equates very well with the rates that we were killing "insurgents" in the Filipino Insurrection.

43 posted on 03/10/2006 7:31:20 AM PST by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of news)
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To: LS

So what are the rates, i.e., the body count?

44 posted on 03/10/2006 7:32:33 AM PST by kabar
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To: kabar

I'm figuring we are in the neighborhood of 20,000 killed since 2003, and that doesn't count wounded and discouraged. We bagged about 2,000 in the Fallujah operation alone. The question is, how many jihadists are coming in? I seriously doubt it's anywhere near 1000 a month that would be needed to sustain major operations. Further, places like Iran and Syria can't "suggest" too many of these people go off to be killed, because they need them in their own armies.

45 posted on 03/10/2006 7:39:14 AM PST by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of news)
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To: MNJohnnie

That's really funny considering 1300 years of history with the religion of "peace" being anything but that.

Not all societies are equal. Not all civilizations are equal. Have I traveled to the ME? No. Do I want to? No.

All I know is that anywhere muslims are, there is conflict and war. Everywhere in the world these people go, there is a problem.

It is not a huge problem in our country because they are so outnumbered. Look at Europe. Are they bigots because they are sick of these animals behaving as such? Look at Africa - genocide at the hands of the followers of the religion of peace. Look at the Philippines - do the words Tamal Tigers mean anything to you??? Look at anywhere there is strife in the world today, you are likely to find a muslim involved.

You sit there and claim to be the enlighted one, the tolerant one, the informed one, but in reality, you are not and simply parrot everything told to you by your king.

46 posted on 03/10/2006 7:41:05 AM PST by chris1
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To: MNJohnnie

"Trying to tell people how they must live is IMPERIALISM. It doesn't work."

No kidding, in fact it tends to make people hate you. That doesn't change the fact that until Iraqi's give up their tribal Islamic culture, democracy stands little chance.

47 posted on 03/10/2006 7:45:16 AM PST by monday
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To: LS
No one ever seems to consider what our present situation would be if we hadn't engaged Iraq and Hussein was still in power. It's hard for those who didn't live through Carter's 444 days of infamy to imagine the level of deep frustration and embarassment.

No-fly-zones, oil-for-food, Saddam blustering and taunting, and the rest of the whole sordid mess in a post-9/11 environment would simply be intolerable.

48 posted on 03/10/2006 7:47:33 AM PST by lemura
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To: chris1
Right. Just ignore all the Freepers who post from Iraq. Ignore the experts. Mike Savage, a failed Social Worker from New York screams his hate and bile in a microphone and THAT is "fact". All the facts, data and information by people who ACTUALLY know something about the rest of the world is "Drinking the koolaid". What a nice comfortable bubble world the Know Nothings have created for themselves
49 posted on 03/10/2006 7:49:50 AM PST by MNJohnnie (Professional Journalism- the Buggy Whip makers of the 21st century)
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To: LS
I'm figuring we are in the neighborhood of 20,000 killed since 2003, and that doesn't count wounded and discouraged. We bagged about 2,000 in the Fallujah operation alone.

20,000 since March 2003 works out to 555 a month. How many of the those are foreign fighters?

The question is, how many jihadists are coming in? I seriously doubt it's anywhere near 1000 a month that would be needed to sustain major operations.

It is my understanding that foreign fighters make up 4 to 10% of the 30,000 strong insurgency. The 'myth' of Iraq's foreign fighters

Further, places like Iran and Syria can't "suggest" too many of these people go off to be killed, because they need them in their own armies.

The numbers are relatively small compared to the size of the military, especially in Iran.

50 posted on 03/10/2006 7:54:43 AM PST by kabar
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To: LS

I'm not quite sure what you're saying. Maybe I need more coffee.

We can't wait for 2 yrs for it to be "Iran's turn". The American people won't support the war in Iraq, or Afghanistan or anywhere else for that long. And in the meantime, our soldiers and innocent Iraqis are being killed by bombs and support coming from Iran. (not to mention hostility from the likes of alSadr who works for the regime and various other disruptive elements.) Iraq is infested with regime agents. If we don't destroy the nest, we don't stand a chance stopping the infestation.

The sooner we get rid of the Iranian regime, the sooner we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The longer we wait, the longer we have to fight and the more fed up the American people will become. (we'll be forced out of Iraq by public consensus and the Iranian regime will take over)

Also, getting rid of the regime erases the nuclear weapons threat.
It also helps the democratic movement in Lebanon, because Syria is dependent on Iran. The regime in Syria will collapse without Iran, and the Lebanese can delouse their country of Syrian agents and disrupters.

In order for President's Bush's plans and dreams of seeing peace and democracy in the Middle East to materialize, he MUST get rid of the Iranian regime. The sooner the better.
With all the threats coming from Iran, I think it's a good time for the President to stand up and say enough is enough. I'd like him to announce to the Iranian regime (and the American people) "You've been threatening us for a long time and we're not going to take it any more. You've got 48 hrs to resign and turn yourselves in, or we're taking you out. You've been brutalizing your own people for 27 yrs and you've been supporting the terrorists in Iraq which has cost American lives.
We're not going to stand by and watch you inprison and torture and kill your people any more. The Iranian people have spoken and they don't want you. They want to be free.
Come out or we're coming in to get you."
[Of course we'd have to be watching the borders, and have air traffic controllers over neighboring countries refuse entry into their air space, because they'll be a lot of sudden departing flights with very important people on board]

(I think if he went on American TV and listed the regime's involvement in terrorist acts over the past 27 yrs and their threats against us, especially those in the past 2 yrs or so, and told Americans that getting rid of the regime would also take care of the nuclear weapons threat, he'd have the support of the American people to take them out.)

51 posted on 03/10/2006 8:02:12 AM PST by nuconvert ([there's a lot of bad people in the pistachio business])
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To: Tolik


52 posted on 03/10/2006 8:15:59 AM PST by Christian4Bush (I'd much rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride with Ted Kennedy.)
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To: MNJohnnie

I don't listen to the talking heads. It was just my humble opinion.

53 posted on 03/10/2006 8:20:14 AM PST by MattinNJ (Allen/Pawlenty in 08-play the map.)
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To: Publius6961; Valin; ninenot; sittnick; kellynla
1. In the 1960's, 1,000 Americans died in automobile collisions each week. We did not flee the American highways and roadways. When this war is three and one half years old, we will probably have about as many deaths of American soldiers in Iraq as we used to suffer from auto collisions in THREE WEEKS.

2. Each American death in combat or at the hands of "insurgent" murderers/cowards is precious. Nonetheless, let us not get carried away over what has been a VERY low casualty war.

3. Greater love no man hath than that he should lay down his life for a friend.

4. If you doubt there are friends among the Iraqis, re-read Valin's #21, the letter from the Iraqi mayor in which he thanks American soldiers from his town (Ninewa?? Ninevah???) that was the heart of darkness under Al Qaeda's Al-Zarqawi.

54 posted on 03/10/2006 8:27:29 AM PST by BlackElk (Dean of Discipline of the Tomas de Torquemada Gentlemen's Club)
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To: LS

AND, Iraq's new government hanged 13 of the SOB's this morning. May it hang many more.

55 posted on 03/10/2006 8:29:33 AM PST by BlackElk (Dean of Discipline of the Tomas de Torquemada Gentlemen's Club)
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To: monday
Pollyanna, is that you?????

See #35.

56 posted on 03/10/2006 8:31:34 AM PST by BlackElk (Dean of Discipline of the Tomas de Torquemada Gentlemen's Club)
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To: BlackElk

While I was in Nam in 69 we were losing four to five hundred a week!

And like you said, every life is precious but to liberate fifty million people in three years with less than three thousand casualties borders on miraculous! FDR & LBJ couldn't have dreamed of numbers like that!

57 posted on 03/10/2006 8:48:44 AM PST by kellynla (Freedom of speech makes it easier to spot the idiots. Semper Fi!)
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To: Tolik; Liz; Southack; Ernest_at_the_Beach; devolve; PhilDragoo

Thanks for posting this.

Most of us who voted for GW in the last election, over 62,000,000 of us, could care less what these conservative hot house orchids fed and groomed by the left wing media have to say. William F. Buckley, Niall Ferguson, Francis Fukuyama, George Will, to a name only a very few are the equivalent of the Black Over Seers on the Plantations before the civil war. They have a paycheck and perceived power only if the MSM elite owners continue to want them.

They are Dinosaurs created and established by the old MSM. They exist because the elite left wing created them, fed them and cared for them the past few decades. Their job was to appear on the Sunday TV talk shows to get battered by the liberals and to whine like tethered goats. They were paid to do this and got to set up magazines and sites for the real conservative newsletters for a nice steady income. They have as much power over America as Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw do.

These token conservative darlings of the media suffer everyday as the major fishwraps who carry their columns of whining, dispair and hatred of GW, lose more and more paid readers and subscribers. As the voters for GW abandon the Sunday talk roasts, their self perceived power and importance diminishes.

They hate the successes of GW even more than their liberal elite benefactors.

58 posted on 03/10/2006 8:59:03 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Visit Free Republic to enjoy shameless Schadenfreude as the lies of liberals are exposed!)
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To: kabar

Still, whatever number you use, the fact that everyone seems to forget is that there is a FINITE NUMBER, and it is rapidly decreasing. Further, all previous wars/insurgencies show that with each additional terroist death, it becomes even more difficult to win.

59 posted on 03/10/2006 9:03:01 AM PST by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of news)
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To: nuconvert
1) No matter what you think the "necessity" of taking out Iran is, the political reality is that we must, indeed, wait. The American public, even if Bush gave the speech of his life, is not going to support another war or an expanded war with Iran at this moment.

2) Given the failure to produce overwhelming evidence of WMDs in Iraq (I think the evidence is conclusive, but the "Average Joe" probably doesn't), we are NOT going to war with Iran short of a clear-cut, deliberate Iranian attack on the U.S. homeland, and that isn't going to happen. They would fire a missile at the Jews first, but no Mullah is that stupid as to attack us.

3) Militarily, unless we pull all our people out of Germany and Korea, we wouldn't have the military power to invade (much less hold) Iran and Iraq at this point.

This is exactly why Bush has not pushed this yet. You are NOT going to make a sufficient case to the American public (no matter how reasonable strategically) to invade Iran without a direct attack.

60 posted on 03/10/2006 9:07:59 AM PST by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of news)
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