Finally, voices of reason
talk back on Iraq
By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
Finally, after weeks of serious talk about taking the suicidal step of pulling American troops out of Iraq — driven by the steady drip of relentless news coverage of a casualty one day, two the next, and virtually nothing else; by poll numbers that fed on that coverage; and by political opportunism on one side of the partisan aisle, and political cowardice on the other — some people who knew better started talking back.
It started about 10 days ago.
That’s when The Economist sent out its last week’s edition, with these words on the cover: “Why America Must Stay.”
After going on at length, with brutal frankness, about the mistakes the Bush administration has made in Iraq (and I urge you to go to my blog — the address is at the bottom of this column — and follow the links to read this and the other items I will mention), the piece gave both the positive reasons and negative reasons why we have no choice but to maintain our force there until the job is done. The “positive” reasons had to do with political and military progress achieved. Some “negative” reasons: “The cost to America of staying in Iraq may be high, but the cost of retreat would be higher. By fleeing, America would not buy itself peace. Mr. Zarqawi and his fellow fanatics have promised to hound America around the globe. Driving America out of Iraq would grant militant Islam a huge victory. Arabs who want to modernize their region would know that they could not count on America to stand by its friends.”
Then, on Saturday, political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote in The Wall Street Journal of the kind of speech he’d like to hear President Bush deliver. He complained, quite rightly, that the president was wasting time “arguing against critics of the Iraq war who are trying to rewrite history,” when “What most Americans care about is not who is lying but whether we are winning.”
And we are winning — a fact of which most Americans are tragically unaware. Mr. Wilson went on to tell how the president should explain that. A sample: “We grieve deeply over every lost American and coalition soldier, but we also recognize what those deaths have accomplished. A nation the size of California, with 25 million inhabitants, has been freed from tyranny, equipped with a new democratic constitution, and provided with a growing new infrastructure that will help every Iraqi and not just the privileged members of a brutal regime. For every American soldier who died, 12,000 Iraqi voters were made into effective citizens.”
Then on Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman wrote — once again, in the Journal — a piece headlined “Our Troops Must Stay.” Informed by a recent visit to Iraq, his picture of a nation moving toward becoming a vital democracy (as long as we don’t abandon it) was even more compelling than the others. But my own anti-partisan heart was probably warmed most by this passage:
“I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who 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.” Amen.
Why such a flurry of similar statements of good sense all at once? It may be that the voices of grim reason finally piped up in alarmed reaction to the fact that the American people were actually starting to think of doing the unthinkable. They also wrote (very specifically, in Mr. Wilson’s case) in reaction to the appalling leadership vacuum left by the failure of the president of the United States to explain, and keep explaining, to his people the stakes in this war.
Then finally, finally, finally, the president reported for duty on Wednesday. As he should, he counseled “time and patience.” But he did more important things than that. He not only explained why we must think not of timetables for withdrawal, but measures for success. He also spelled out how we will achieve those goals. He showed a way to outcomes that too many Americans have stopped being able to imagine.
And he addressed the mad talk about timetables for withdrawal, promising that “decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders — not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.” In other words, by the brave men and women fighting this fight, rather than by Democratic opportunists and Republican cowards.
“Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw,” he said, “would send a signal to our enemies — that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends.” Not only that, but it would tell them exactly how long they have to wait — and that would be insane.
The president’s speech was accompanied by the release of a 35-page “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” In greater detail than the address, it set out the definition of victory, and the plans for achieving it. It also stated what should be obvious: “(T)he terrorists, Saddamists, and rejectionists do not have the manpower or firepower to achieve a military victory over the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. They can win only if we surrender.”
There remains much left to be said, and even more to be done. But it is gratifying and reassuring that the president and others are now discussing, in de
pth, the actual situation and what should be done about it. Finally.
Finally, voices of reason