Victory in Iraq
American arms created a republic, if Iraqis can keep it.
When the men and women of Fourth Brigade, Second Infantry Division deployed to Iraq in April 2007 as part of President Bush's surge, American soldiers were being killed or wounded at a rate of about 750 a month, the country was falling to sectarian mayhem, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had declared that the war was "lost."
On Wednesday, the "Raiders" became the last combat brigade to leave Iraq, having helped to defeat an insurgency, secure a democracy and uphold the honor of American arms.
The classic lament about the war in Iraq is that it achieved little at a huge cost in American lives, treasure and reputation. That view rests on a kind of amnesia about the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime, his 12-year defiance of binding U.N. resolutions, the threat he posed to its neighbors, the belief—shared by the Clinton and Bush Administrations and intelligence services world-wide—that he was armed with weapons of mass destruction, the complete corruption of the U.N. sanctions regime designed to contain him, and the fact that he intended to restart his WMD programs once the sanctions had collapsed.
Those were the realities when the coalition marched into Iraq. In supporting the war on the eve of that invasion, we noted that "the law of unintended consequences hasn't been repealed" and that "toppling Saddam is a long-term undertaking," while warning that "liberal pundits and politicians are fickle interventionists" who were "apt to run for moral cover" when the going got tough. As they did.
Their opposition might well have led to defeat had not Mr. Bush defied Congress and the recommendations of his own Iraq Study Group in favor of the 2007 surge, which history will likely recall as Mr. Bush's finest hour. To his credit, President Obama has also delivered on the "responsible withdrawal" he promised in his campaign.
This admirable American effort has now given Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves democratically. We supported the Iraq invasion primarily for reasons of U.S. national security. But a successful war also held the promise that it could create, in a major Arab state, a model for governance that would result in something better than the secular or religious dictatorships that have so often bred brutality and radicalism—which has increasingly reached our own shores. The fact that Iraq has a functioning judiciary, and that Iraqi voters have rejected their most sectarian parties at the polls, is cause for hope that the country is moving in that direction.
This is true despite the five months of political stalemate that have gripped the country since March's parliamentary elections resulted in an effective tie between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his principal challenger Ayad Allawi. Political gridlock is frustrating, but it is sometimes a function of democratic politics. We will soon learn if Iraqi politicians can meet the responsibilities of the democratic moment that American and British blood and treasure have given them.
They will have to do so despite the continuing spoiler role played by Iraq's neighbors—Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran—who fear a democratic, or Shiite-led, state in their midst. The withdrawal of U.S. combat forces will only increase their ambition to create more trouble.
That makes the mission of the 50,000 U.S. troops that will remain as trainers, advisers and special-ops forces until the end of 2011 all the more crucial. It should also provide incentive for Washington and Baghdad to negotiate a more permanent U.S. military presence, both as a balancing force within the country and especially as a hedge against Iran. Having sacrificed so much for Iraq's freedom, the U.S. should attempt to reap the shared strategic benefits of a longer-term alliance, as we did after World War II with Japan and Germany.
On the eve of war in 2003, we wrote: "About one thing we have no doubt: the courage of the Americans who will fight in our defense." Along with all of their comrades in arms, the men and women of Fourth Brigade, Second Infantry have fully vindicated that conviction. Somewhere down the road, we trust that August 18, 2010 will be remembered as Victory in Iraq day.
21 August 2010
Last US Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq, Part 2
From yesterday's Wall Street Journal Opinion page.
Posted by MaryAnn