Jonah Goldberg

"Good Lord! You sliced that man open from his neck to his belly! You've cut out his heart! . You're sucking out his blood, you ghoul!"

These are just some of the things you might say if you stumbled on a surgeon conducting a heart transplant.

Of course, you wouldn't actually say it because you'd see the men and women in their gowns and masks, along with all the medical doodads including "the machine that goes 'ping'" - as they say in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life."

But the important thing to keep in mind is that in a major operation - on a person or a nation - the patient is the most vulnerable, and looks the most horrible, halfway into the procedure, not at the beginning or the end. And if, in your horror, you screamed, "Stop what you're doing right now!" you'd be saying you want the patient to die.

It's not the best analogy for Iraq. Heart surgeons typically have lots of experience. They have guidelines that, if followed more or less faithfully, will yield success most of the time. And heart surgeons rarely get harassed in the operating room.

Meanwhile, nobody under the age of 80 has worked on as ambitious a nation-building project as what we're doing in Iraq. An operation of this magnitude has only been conducted twice before in the modern era, in Germany and Japan. And those were very different patients.

Everywhere else what we call "nation-building" has been tried, it has been on a much smaller scale, with more good will from the people on the ground, the nations in the region and the so-called "international community."

And, in the past, the stakes for America have been far, far smaller. Getting Haiti or Somalia or the former Yugoslavia up and running as healthy societies may or may not have been worth doing, depending on your viewpoint. But there's no disputing that the consequences of failure in Haiti and Somalia - two places we did more or less fail - have been trivial to the United States. Yugoslavia is still a work in progress, but even if the Balkans suddenly exploded - as is their wont - the bottom line for the United States would be pretty minor.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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