"Forty-five dead - that's not peanuts," veteran journalist Donatella Lorch told the Washington Post, referring to the number of casualties in the wake of the Iraqi elections. "If that had happened in the United States on Election Day, we would have made it a major scandal. Now we're acting like in Iraq it's a great success. We seem to have become numb to the daily car bombs and daily attacks."
Yes, that's true. If in fact 45 people were killed on their way to the polls in America, it would be a "major scandal." Who can argue with that? In the "Well, duh!" department, Ms. Lorch's comment ranks just a few notches below the illuminating observation that bears habitually use our national forests to go potty.
Of course we all recoil at the murderous attacks last Sunday. But that's a point about trees. The forest is over here: Roughly 8 million Iraqis went to the polls - largely on foot - to vote in the face of very, very credible threats that their children would be murdered, their families slaughtered, their homes blown up if they did so. By this one act, they robbed the insurgents of any claim to be the "authentic voice" of Iraq. Their motives for voting were no doubt a mix of the parochial and the idealistic, but one overriding reason they voted was that they could. And they could for only one reason: The United States and its allies had toppled Saddam and had stayed put to prevent a civil war and foster democracy.
A foreign policy realist might have said, "Oops, no WMDs" - and then bugged out. We called Saddam's bluff, which was our perfect right given the stakes, but it's not in our interests to stay. That's realism. And it's funny to hear Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore et al. keep invoking it.
Bush decided to stay partly out of a different realist analysis of our national interest: A democratic Middle East, he believes, is the best chance for stopping the production of terrorists.
But we also stayed as a matter of honor. In the run-up to war, according to Bob Woodward, Colin Powell allegedly coined the "Pottery Barn rule," which holds that if "you break it, you bought it." Saying, in other words, that we'd be obliged to fix Iraq if we broke it. The press loved this phrase because - they believed - it was so pregnant with I-told-you-sos.
Fair enough. But keep two things in mind. First, Iraq was already broken - broken by a madman responsible for unspeakable crimes inside Iraq and out. Second, the Pottery Barn rule is merely a pedantic way of saying that America is honor-bound to fulfill its commitments and act on its ideals. Ted Kennedy and Iraqi Sunnis demand that America fix a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq as if honor is an installment plan one can abandon when it gets too hard.