Politicians are not prophets. They make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are errors of optimism -- the Bush administration, for example, failed to gauge the level of resistance that would follow the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Such mistakes often have dire consequences. No one can deny that the situation in Iraq would be better today if pessimistic realism had dominated the White House and Pentagon in March 2003.
But errors of optimism are far less dangerous and costly than failures of imagination. It was failure of imagination that led Neville Chamberlain to appease Hitler -- Chamberlain and his cronies simply could not conceive that a world leader could be so shockingly barbaric. It was failure of imagination that led American intelligence agencies to dramatically underestimate the capabilities of an Islamic terrorist group called al Qaeda during the 1990s. And it is failure of imagination that leads today's left to call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and immediate mollification of Iran.
The left simply cannot understand the nature of our enemies in Iraq and Iran. They see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a misunderstood rhetorician, a blustering but good-natured man of peace. They see Iraq as a sordid civil war, a tribalistic swamp bound to remain mired in ethnic warfare for the foreseeable future. Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama sums up the feelings of the mainstream anti-war left when he states, "We need to immediately begin the responsible removal of our troops from Iraq's civil war."
Ninety years ago, Western civilization removed its troops from another messy situation: the Russian Civil War. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin tore down the constitutional government of Russia. In early 1918, after he replaced it with a communist dictatorship and signed a peace treaty with the Germans, civil war broke out. Britain and America placed troops on the ground in Russia in an attempt to restore order and compel the Russians to reactivate the Eastern Front against Germany.
The Western effort quickly collapsed due to lack of motivation. British Prime Minister Lloyd George halfheartedly supported intervention in Russia, but quickly backed down after Germany surrendered. President Woodrow Wilson offered weak assistance to the Russian anti-communists, but withdrew that assistance when the anti-communists faced defeat.