The most naive sentence in the English language is: It couldn't get any worse. That's an argument many who have protested the war give for getting out of Iraq -- that nothing could be worse than 3,000 U.S. troops killed as the Iraq insurgency has grown stronger.
There is something worse: Some 3,000 U.S. troops dead, followed by the collapse of the Iraqi government, thousands of Sunni Arabs dead, Iraqis who worked with the coalition forces assassinated and their families butchered, and thousands more refugees swarming across the Middle East. Something worse would be 3,000-plus troops dead after a defeat that has emboldened jihadists, who want to kill Americans, and have become convinced that if they do, the United States won't fight back -- not for long, anyway.
The worst of it is: Defeat in Iraq is assured, if that's what Americans choose. Yes, the Bush administration has made horrible mistakes -- start with too few troops -- that have cost American lives. It also can be said, however, that the antiwar movement has stoked the insurgency by showing that civilian and military casualties could lead to troop withdrawal -- and that has increased the coalition's death toll and made it harder for the coalition to succeed.
When Canon Andrew White, now the Anglican vicar of Baghdad, wrote his book "Iraq: Searching for Hope" (Continuum) in 2005, he looked at the six criteria for a just war as defined by Christian doctrine and concluded that the war was justified. One criterion, "reasonable hope of success," he wrote, was "by far the easiest of six criteria to satisfy. There was never any serious doubt that the coalition would be victorious." It is heartbreaking to read those words today.
I asked White about that statement over the phone Wednesday. He responded, "We have to face up to the fact that we won the war," but the coalition didn't follow-up "correctly."
White was anxious. We spoke before President Bush gave his speech Wednesday and he told me, "I'm waiting for your president to say something, to try to save the day."
To those who want U.S. and British troops to pull out of Iraq, White had this to say: "We can't just pull out. If we pulled out, there would be even more bloodshed and total civil war."
White is no gung-ho supporter of the U.S.-led coalition. He faults the coalition's failure to secure Iraq's borders early on, believes de-Baathification turned Sunnis into insurgents and berates the coalition's failure to work with Sunni and Shiite religious leaders. He has seen Iraq spiral downward and friends die because of those mistakes.