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Defeatism, From One of the Usual Suspects

Andrew Sullivan reviews current data from Iraq, and concludes:

They’re grim. 100,000 families have so far forced to flee their homes; U.S. fatalities were sharply up in April; 8,300 civilian Iraqis were murdered by terrorist insurgents in 2005. In terms of civilian deaths, adjusted for population size, Iraq endured something like twenty-five 9/11s last year. Let’s put it another way: a territory controlled by U.S. forces accounted for 50 percent of deaths caused by terrorists on the planet last year. If that is a successful military occupation, then I’m not sure what failure would be. I guess I should ask Powerline.

In fact, though, the numbers cited by Andrew prove little about whether our effort in Iraq is a success or a failure. The spike in casualties in April was an interruption in a long-term trend of steadily declining American and Iraqi casualties. This is consistent with the terrorists’ historical practice of ramping up violence whenever the Iraqis are about to take a new step toward democracy: electing a constitutional assembly, electing a legislative assembly, choosing a government. Once again, the terrorists’ violence failed. Iraqi politicians have agreed on a new Prime Minister who is in the process of forming the first democratically elected government in the history of the Arab world.

The fact that half of all deaths caused by terrorists last year were in Iraq is consistent with what the terrorists themselves often tell us: Iraq is the central front in the global war against Islamic terrorism. The old Andrew Sullivan would have understood that this means we should fight to win in Iraq, not cut and run.

To the extent that people are being murdered by home-grown terrorists in Iraq, as opposed to Zarqawi, et al, the perpetrators are the very same Baathist thugs who, until we overthrew Saddam, controlled Iraq’s government. For thirty years, they ruled Iraq through a ruthless campaign of violence that killed many thousands of Iraqis (300,000 is a number that is commonly cited) and terrorized the rest. It is obvious to the Iraqis themselves that it is a good thing that these people are now out of power rather than in power. Why isn’t it obvious to Andrew?

Andrew seems to think that he needs to come to us for a definition of success in Iraq. I’m not sure why; the Bush administration has outlined its goals there countless times. If, a few years from now, Iraq has a functioning democracy that 1) does not threaten American interests, 2) does not threaten its neighbors, and 3) serves as an inspiration to pro-reform movements throughout the Muslim world (as has already happened), our effort in Iraq will have succeeded, and will have been well worth the sacrifices it entailed. It is not necessary that Iraq be crime-free or violence-free for our policy to be a success.

It is still possible that we could fail in Iraq, but we certainly haven’t failed yet. The key moments will arrive on the first couple of occasions when that country makes a peaceful transition from one elected government to another. If the Iraqis make those transitions successfully, we will be able, I think, to label our policy in that country a success. Even if they don’t, and an authoritarian regime ultimately controls the country, it could still be a vast improvement on the virulently anti-American and pro-terrorist Saddam Hussein.

So it will be a while before we can render a verdict on the policy President Bush set in motion in 2003. As I’ve said before, I think it is more likely than not that history will judge our effort a success. In the meantime, engaging in defeatist hysteria every time the terrorists pull off a successful bombing is neither helpful nor analytically accurate.

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