Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Talking Iraq, You Know, Like Adults

Fareed Zakaria has a good article on the current situation in Iraq. He’s never been a pacifist, shrinking from the idea of using military power when necessary, but he has been a sharp and consistent critic of the administration (and one who has been willing to admit that his judgment might be less than perfect--a rare and refreshing trait in politicians, journalists, and bloggers). This recent article is worth the time to read for its insight and its candor.

Why and how we got into this war are important questions. And the administration’s hands are not clean. But the paramount question right now should not be “What did we do about Iraq three years ago?” It should be “What should we do about Iraq today?” And on this topic, the administration has finally been providing some smart answers. Condoleezza Rice, who is now in control of Iraq policy in a way no one has been, has spearheaded a political-military strategy for Iraq that is sophisticated and workable.

Many Democrats are understandably enraged by an administration that has acted in an unethical, highly partisan and largely incompetent fashion in Iraq. But in responding in equally partisan fashion they could well precipitate a tragedy. Just as our Iraq policy has been getting on a firmer footing, the political dynamic in Washington could move toward a panicked withdrawal.
If Washington’s strategy is more aggressively pursued, it could actually be compatible with some American troop withdrawals. For obvious political reasons, it would be far better if the “hold” part of the policy was done by Iraqi forces. And, in fact, this has been happening. Najaf and Mosul are now patrolled entirely by Iraqi Army forces. Even Kirkuk, which is politically sensitive, has fewer American troops in it than it did six months ago. This trend could accelerate, which would mean that three or four brigades could be withdrawn in the next year.

Thoughtful stuff. Combined with Senator Lieberman’s WSJ article, it seems that there is still a core of people willing to talk about Iraq like adults. That is, without either blindly and uncritically trusting the administration or blindly and hypercritically hoping to tear apart the administration. (And, before I go on, the subheading to Lieberman’s article--"America can’t abandon 27 million Iraqis to 10,000 terrorists"--is a powerful moral statement about the United States’ obligations in Iraq.) His words resonate deeply with me even while stirring up the anti-Bush left.

It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.

See, the first thing we all need to agree on is that supporting American (and, by extension, Iraqi) success in Iraq does not mean giving the administration a pass on its mistakes and misjudgments. It simply recognizes that for our own security, for progress in the Middle East, and for the people of Iraq, it would be far better if we can find a path to helping them establish a representative government that respects individual rights. It means acknowledging that Iraq can be better off without Saddam Hussein.

Anyone who reads Resurrection Song with anything other than partisan blinders will realize two things: I like George Bush and I’m disappointed by his mistakes. I don’t hide either of those facts and I don’t use one to obscure the other--I remain free to criticize when he screws up and praise when he makes choices that I like. In supporting the US in Iraq, I believe that I am supporting that most important of American goals: ensuring that we are safe, secure, and prosperous so that we can continue to debate Social Security reform (for), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against) and the relative merits of hybrid cars (undecided).

So, if I may echo Mr. Zakaria: now is no time time to panic. Now is no time to turn the good that we have done (and the good that we can still do) into ashes and surrender.

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