What Matters in Iraq?
Peter Wehner has an interesting perspective on events in Iraq. He writes:
With the passage of time, President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime. And those who fiercely opposed the so-called surge were not only wrong in their judgment; in some instances their actions were shameful.
To reframe Wehner's argument: President Bush was unhappy with his house. He had some legitimate questions about how secure the structure was and whether it was in need of some improvements. So he decided to set it on fire. He watched it burn almost to the ground (killing tens of thousands of innocent people in the process) and then decided to grab a hose and douse the flames. Despite the hosing, there are still embers everywhere that could potentially reignite. And in the process of burning down his home, his more aggressive and more powerful neighbor now has a better chance of taking over the entire block.
Wehner would have us believe not only that there are no embers (because if they reignite it's Obama's fault now) but that we should pay no mind to the fact that the "most impressive and important political acts of our lifetime" was occasioned by a much larger strategic failure that made such an act of courage necessary in the first place. Don't worry that he burned the place down, just celebrate the fact that President Bush had the wisdom to eventually decide to grab a hose.
This is an extraordinary act of revisionism. But Wehner goes further:
What America has done for Iraq, which had been brutalized for so long, may not be the noblest act in our history. But it ranks quite high. The Iraq war was, in fact, a war of liberation. And the liberation appears to be working. Nothing is guaranteed; “Everything in Iraq is hard,” Ambassador Crocker once said. But regardless of where one stood on the war and the surge, what we see unfolding in Iraq today is something to be grateful for, and to take pride in.
The emergence of a democratic government in Iraq is a good thing and indeed, we should be grateful that the Iraqis are out from under Saddam's yoke. But it's important to distinguish between things that are good, and things that are worth spending 3 trillion dollars and thousands of American lives on. The invasion and occupation of Iraq cannot be justified solely on the basis of our love for democracy. The costs must be justified by gains to the security of Americans.
I would be interested in hearing Wehner defend the proposition that elections in Iraq are moderating the Pakistani Taliban's desire to attack American troops or provide aid and comfort to al Qaeda. Or that Iraq's democracy is undermining the radicalization of Islamist militants worldwide. I would also be interested in hearing why Wehner believes that the regional empowerment of Iran and the placement of a government in Iraq that it is sympathetic (to put it mildly) to Tehran is a strategic boon to the United States. I would like to know why having tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq as a hostage to the country's potential instability positions America well against the emergence of potential great power rivals.
Again, it's not that the surge wasn't successful in tamping down violence and giving America the chance to leave Iraq in a more stable condition. It's not that the democratic process unfolding in Iraq isn't a good thing for the Iraqis (although they had to endure tremendous suffering to get there thanks in large measure to extraordinarily poor post-war planning on the part of Wehner's administration). It's that these things in and of themselves are not the determinants of success or failure in Iraq. The metric is American security and whether the gains there (if any) are commensurate with the costs.