If we mess up Iraq, on the other hand, it will be a disaster of biblical proportions. Iraq will go into a bloody civil war, the region will destabilize, al-Qaida will grow, oil prices might skyrocket, democracy in the region will founder for a generation, millions more Muslims will embrace terrorism, and even millions more will emigrate to America and Europe to escape the poverty and chaos our failure will encourage. Cats will sleep with dogs. And, perhaps most dangerous, American resolve will lose credibility around the world, which will exact a terrible price in as-yet-unknown hotspots.
When Sen. Ted Kennedy says the invasion of Iraq is possibly "the worst blunder in the entire history of American foreign policy," he's putting the cart before the horse (and giving short-shrift to his brother's work in Vietnam). The worst blunder would be the failure to see things through in Iraq.
What's sad is that Kennedy's partisanship makes that blunder more likely. That's probably what prompted Sen. Joe Lieberman to be the grown-up in the Democratic party and ask his colleagues to "stop encouraging our enemies" by undermining the administration's efforts in Iraq.
Still, at this point, there's simply no disputing that Iraq reconstruction isn't going well, though not as badly as many think.
Much of the country is doing just fine, especially the Kurdish north. But the confusing mess in Fallujah, the outrageous prison abuse story, the fact that Muqtada al-Sadr isn't in chains yet, the seemingly deteriorating security and the less than encouraging public opinion data from across non-Kurdish Iraq suggest that if the "new Iraq" were a patient on the operating table, the ping machine would be going kerplunk.
Even defenders of the war are getting understandably anxious about the course of reconstruction, worried that we are turning our back on our lofty goals. My hope is that what we are witnessing with the halting of "de-Baathification," our backing down in Fallujah, etc., is realism about means, not ends. Compromises on the way to a new Iraq are like amputations on the way to saving a patient - hard choices, but tolerable in comparison to the alternative.
But, you know what? We were told rebuilding Iraq would be hard. When Bush spoke underneath that much derided "mission accomplished" banner, he said this was going to be long and hard. Well, folks, this is precisely what long and hard looks like. Nation building is ugly and difficult; so is cutting out a man's bad heart and putting in a good one.