Did we lose the war in Iraq?

Mona Charen
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Posted: Jul 22, 2003 12:00 AM

Each day brings news of another American killed in Iraq. Additionally, we learn that the electricity is not yet working properly, the Shiites want an Iranian-style theocracy, and U.S. forces are weary and demoralized. An American general confirms that we are now fighting a guerrilla war, and the liberal press virtually choruses, "I told you so." A weapons expert in Britain commits suicide, and the buzz is that Tony Blair is in deep trouble. A visitor from Mars would certainly conclude that we were fighting a desperate rearguard action instead of beginning the process of rebuilding a shattered society.

Yes, Iraq's situation is not pretty at the moment. Violence and lawlessness plague the population. Saddam remains undead and therefore capable of instilling fear. There are fuel shortages (ironic in an oil-producing state, but bad government can accomplish miracles), electricity shortages and a certain amount of disorder. But consider what Iraq was four months ago!

Sixty mass graves have been discovered so far, and when dutiful Muslims put questions to imams, they frequently touch on the religious law for burying body parts. Part of the problem with restoring electricity, we now learn, is that Saddam used electricity, like everything else, to reward friends and punish enemies. And so the grid contains political distortions that will take time to iron out.

From the day Baghdad fell, the American and British media have fed us a nonstop diet of woe and defeat. There has been very little acknowledgment of what British and American forces have been able to achieve in such a short time. J. Paul Bremer, Iraq's administrator, told The Weekly Standard: "When I got to Baghdad eight weeks ago, the city was burning. It was on fire. There was no traffic in the city, other than coalition vehicles. And I slept with earplugs at night because of the gunfire. This is a remarkably better place in all three respects."

I hope I'll be forgiven an "I told you so" of my own. Five months ago, I was asked at a public forum for a prediction about how liberals would respond to the stunning victory in Iraq. I said they'd probably start complaining if the country wasn't a Madisonian democracy within three months. These are the same people who were ready to declare the war a "quagmire" when we hadn't defeated the enemy in two weeks (it took three).

These nanosecond time horizons for monumental historical undertakings are childish. The Weekly Standard elsewhere offers a relevant historical parallel. The American occupation of Germany that began in 1945 was hardly a cakewalk. Crime was a constant concern, particularly because the Nazi police had to be carefully vetted. De-Nazification was controversial on the ground and back home. A shortage of troops (many were sent to the Japanese theater as soon as Germany surrendered) hampered efforts to restore order, feed the starving and begin the rebuilding of the country. And in no way did the Germans love their American conquerors, at least not until 1948, when the same planes that had rained death from the skies rescued a blockaded Berlin.

The American media seem so focused on pointing out American mistakes that they lose sight of the larger objective. President Bush cannot turn a phrase the way Tony Blair does, but his strategic thinking is first-rate. He believes that we are in Iraq (and pulling out of Saudi Arabia, and placing American troops in friendlier Gulf states, and supporting Israel staunchly) to begin remaking the Middle East, the region that incubates the most virulent anti-Americanism. This is not going to be easy. The Baathists of Iraq are not fully defeated, which is why our men are being picked off daily.

It is difficult to imagine any part of the world more in need of American power right now than the Middle East. Do we still need thousands of soldiers in Europe, standing ready to repulse a Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap? Couldn't we use some of those men to relieve the fantastic young people of the Third infantry Division who have earned some time off?

Rebuilding Iraq can be done -- but not without time, trouble and pain. Welcome to the real world.