George Will: By Bush’s Own Standards Surge Has Failed
One of the most focused and blunt arguments that the “surge” in Iraq has failed comes from conservative columnist George Will. Here are some key excerpts:
Before Gen. David Petraeus’ report, and to give it a context of optimism, the president visited Iraq’s Anbar province to underscore the success of the surge in making some hitherto anarchic areas less so. More significant, however, was the fact that the president did not visit Baghdad. This underscored the fact that the surge has failed, as measured by the president’s and Petraeus’ standards of success.
Those who today stridently insist that the surge has succeeded also say they are especially supportive of the president, Petraeus and the military generally. But at the beginning of the surge, both Petraeus and the president defined success in a way that took the achievement of success out of America’s hands.
Will is hitting on a reason why the administration has lost (and will likely lose) support. Its style — as indicated in its changing justifications for the Iraq war — is to offer a justification and then, if it doesn’t work out, act as if the original justification wasn’t made and offer a new one.
Its most lockstep followers then, on a dime, jettison their previous arguments as if there is some massive epidemic of political Alzheimer’s and adopt the new administration line. But many Americans of both parties and independents remember the original assertions — and there is Google and there is video tape. And there are newspaper columnists. MORE:
Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.
The progress that Petraeus reports in improving security in portions of Iraq is real. It might, however, have two sinister aspects.
The two aspects, he writes, are the problematical nature of measuring sectarian violence and the fact that Al Qaeda brutalities have forced some Sunni leaders to collaborate with the U.S. According to will, the Democrats could declare a partial victory because Petraeus indicates some withdrawals could start to be made. But, he writes, that ain’t gonna happen:
But Democrats cannot advertise a small withdrawal as a victory without further infuriating their party’s base, the source of energy and money. The base is incandescent because there are more troops in Iraq today than there were on Election Day 2006, when Democratic activists and donors thought, not without reason, that congressional Democrats acquired the power to end U.S. involvement in Iraq.
At the end of his piece, Will delivers a devastating blow to the administration (since this is coming from a prominent Republican columnist):
A democracy, wrote the diplomat and scholar George Kennan, “fights for the very reason that it was forced to go to war. It fights to punish the power that was rash enough and hostile enough to provoke it — to teach that power a lesson it will not forget, to prevent the thing from happening again. Such a war must be carried to the bitter end.” Which is why “unconditional surrender” was a natural U.S. goal in World War II, and why Americans were so uncomfortable with three “wars of choice” since then — in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
What “forced” America to go to war in 2003 — the “gathering danger” of weapons of mass destruction — was fictitious. That is one reason why this war will not be fought, at least not by Americans, to the bitter end. The end of the war will, however, be bitter for Americans, partly because the president’s decision to visit Iraq without visiting its capital confirmed the flimsiness of the fallback rationale for the war — the creation of a unified, pluralist Iraq.
After more than four years of war, two questions persist: Is there an Iraq? Are there Iraqis?
Read it in its entirety.