As a conservative in no way comforted by the Clinton-Obama-Pelosi-Reid rhetoric on the war in Iraq, I should have taken heart from the president's fifth-anniversary remarks revisiting the Battle of Baghdad, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the thrill of Iraqi elections, the perfidy of Al Qaeda terrorists, the Anbar Awakening, and the success of the surge.
Was it because the speech, with its tone of meandering reminiscence, sounded more appropriate to a Soldiers Home remembrance 40 years hence? Or was it because I'd heard it all 40 times before? ("Defeating this enemy in Iraq will make it less likely that we'll face the enemy here at home."... "The future of the Middle East belongs to freedom.") That's part of it. But there was something else. In these remarks taking stock five years later, there was very little sense of, well, taking stock.
Indeed, the president was still rhapsodizing about the "transformative power of liberty" -- even as such power has failed to transform any of the Islamic societies we have been micro-managing over the past few years, from Afghanistan to Hamastan, into anything resembling liberty-based societies. ("Liberty" in Hamastan has practically destroyed Israel, a bona-fide ally and genuine democracy.) Turns out the "transformative power of liberty" always hits a rut in a Sharia-based society, but such a blip still doesn't show up on the presidential radar.
Rather, as Bush put it, "a free Iraq will fight terrorists instead of harboring them" -- although wasn't Iraq perfectly happy to "harbor" arch-terrorist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a little earlier this month? (And didn't more than 100,000 Baghdad residents rally in favor of Hezbollah in 2006?) "A free Iraq," the president continued, "will be an example for others of the power of liberty to change the societies and to displace despair with hope."
Such is the conservative dream -- and, more troubling, the conservative strategy to thwart jihad coming from the Middle East. Charles Krauthammer recently contemplated Iraq in similar terms: "Imagine the transformative effects in the region and indeed in the entire Muslim world, of achieving a secure and stable Iraq, friendly to the United States and victorious over Al Qaeda."
I dunno. I look across the Iraqi border and see Kuwait -- "a secure and stable" state, to be sure, "friendly"-ish to the United States, and "victorious" over Saddam Hussein, all fruits of an earlier U.S. victory. But there was absolutely nothing transformative about that accomplishment, not in the region, not in the Muslim world. (You'd think we'd at least get a break on oil prices from countries we saved from Saddam Hussein.) Do we have reason to expect that even a democratic Iraq will turn into something better -- a linchpin of our Middle Eastern strategy?
Listening to Gen. David Petraeus low-ball the much-vaunted surge's effect -- "I wouldn't ever use the word success or victory or anything like that," he recently told Voice of America -- and express frustration at the pace of Iraqi "reconciliation" to The Washington Post, it's hard to say yes. And especially not after sifting through the more disturbing findings of a recent BBC poll of Iraqi opinion. For selective optimists, the poll does indeed reflect an increasing Iraqi optimism, which has cheered conservatives as happy anniversary news. What has gone more or less overlooked (or dismissed) are the survey results indicating a shocking Iraqi hostility to America's efforts on Iraq's behalf.
For example, 79 percent of Iraqis have not much or no confidence in U.S. forces; 70 percent think U.S. forces have done a bad or very bad job; and, most appalling, 42 percent think attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable. Acceptable! This last figure is down 15 points from six months ago, so I suppose we should applaud the "progress." But just imagine if, after D-Day in 1944, 42 percent of the French believed attacking Americans was "acceptable"; or if after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950, 42 percent of South Koreans did, too; or if 42 percent of Grenadians after being liberated by Ronald Reagan in 1983 were of the same violently anti-American mind.
Would we consider such peoples worthy of American blood and treasure? And would we consider them likely linchpins of a long-term alliance?
"Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it," the president said. Me, I'm still waiting for a straightforward discussion of what it is we can reasonably expect to win.