Apart from the hypocrisy, there is the bizarre logic: Is the best way to honor the sacrifice of those who have died in Iraq to decree an impotent, completely hypothetical policy of retribution? (Who, after all, is going to bell the cat?) Or is it to create conditions for precisely the kind of Iraq -- self-governing and internally reconciled -- that these courageous soldiers were fighting for?
Our objective in any war is not revenge but success. Confederate soldiers who swore allegiance to the U.S. were pardoned after the Civil War, even those who had killed Union soldiers. We gave amnesty to legions of Japanese and Germans who'd killed thousands of Americans in World War II.
And those amnesties were granted after total victory. In conflicts in which there is no unconditional surrender -- civil strife that ends far more ambiguously as in El Salvador and Chile, for example -- amnesty and reconciliation are the essential elements for the establishment of a stable democratic peace.
In Iraq, amnesty will necessarily be part of any co-optation strategy in which insurgents lay down their arms. And it would not apply to the foreign jihadists, who, unlike the Sunni insurgents who would join the new Iraq, dream of an Islamic state built on the ruins of the current order. There is nothing to discuss with such people. The only way defeat them is to kill them, as we did Zarqawi.
But killing them requires depriving them of their sanctuary. Reconciliation-cum-amnesty gets disaffected Iraqi Sunni tribes to come over to the government's side, drying up the sea in which the jihadists swim. After all, we found Zarqawi in heavily Sunni territory by means of intelligence given to us by local Iraqis.
Protests in America over the amnesty suggestion have caused both the administration and the Maliki government to backtrack. But don't believe it. Amnesty will be an essential element in any reconciliation policy. Which, in turn, is the only route to victory -- defined today just as it was on the first day of the war: leaving behind a self-sustaining post-Saddam government, both democratic and friendly to our interests. It is attainable. The posturing over amnesty can only make it more difficult.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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