The Petraeus strategy was nothing if not counter-intuitive: He gave the enemy more targets and assigned them to more vulnerable positions – outside the well-guarded FOBs and in the shadowy streets. But once the Iraqis understood why the Americans were there – to defend them from terrorists – they provided a wealth of intelligence. Before long, Americans and Iraqis were fighting side by side against their common Islamist enemies.
That was historic. It should have been big news. But the media were not much interested. As one well-known reporter told me: “It doesn’t matter.” The important action, he said, was taking place not in Baghdad but in Washington where politicians were reading the polls and finding Americans discouraged and ready to cut their losses.
What’s more, such groups as MoveOn.org – heavily invested in an American defeat they could blame on Bush, Cheney and the “neo-cons” – had a well-funded plan, “Iraq Summer,” that was to make it politically untenable for members of congress to continue to support the Iraq mission.
What this perspective failed to take into account: The startlingly rapid progress that Petraeus and his troops would make against al-Qaeda and the Iranian backed militias. That was coupled with a battle of ideas on the home front: Tenacious pro-mission groups – e.g. Vets for Freedom, Families United, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Move America Forward, Freedom’s Watch -- formed a loose but effective coalition that matched MoveOn.org congressional contact for congressional contact, and told the stories most reporters would not.
One can say the invasion of Iraq was unwise: Before committing troops to battle, a president should have a realistic understanding of what can be achieved, in what time frame, and at what cost. One can say the occupation of Iraq was bungled.
What one can not say is that regime change in Iraq was unjustified: Not if you know Saddam’s record, his clearly stated intentions, and his ties to international terrorists --including, as a new Pentagon report reveals, a group headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al Qaeda's second-in-command.
Nor can one say that the outcome in Iraq – the heart of the Muslim Middle East – will be inconsequential to the outcome of the wider war being waged by militant, supremacist Islamist movements intent on nothing less than the destruction of America and the West.