Rome -- Here the sun is shining, the quiet Tiber suggests lazily that it has seen everything there is to see in this world; the streets are thronged with tourists (including this columnist); the locals are amorous; and the food is delicious. Here, perhaps even more than in the United States, one could easily slip into the comfortable feeling that we are at peace. Explaining the Obama administration's departure from some Bush interrogation techniques, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair described reading about those methods "on a bright, sunny, safe day in ... 2009."
Well, it feels peaceful now. But to paraphrase the great Anonymous: The wise man learns from other people's mistakes. The sensible man doesn't make the same mistake twice. And the fool fails to learn from his own mistakes. History (and being in the Eternal City makes one more than usually conscious of the past) affords thousands of examples of the folly of falling into complacency when a threat seems to have temporarily abated. Troy arguably fell for this at the hands of the Greeks. Europe's democracies deluded themselves that Germany wanted peace as much as they did following the catastrophic First World War. Israel failed to keep its guard up after the 1967 war and was caught flat-footed (for a time) by the attack that came in 1973. Fill in your own favorite examples.
This week the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has exploded what looks to be a real nuclear weapon (the last explosion left some experts in doubt) and also launched a short-range missile as, what, an exclamation point perhaps? This destitute little redoubt of crazed Stalinism now has something of value to sell to the highest bidder. And while we're contemplating that grim picture, consider that there is a failure here.
We've heard incessantly since 2006 that George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War represented the failure of armed force. And while it is certainly true that President Bush waited about two years too long to fix the problems in post-invasion Iraq, the much-overlooked reality is that developments in Iraq now seem to be on track for a happy ending. Even if you believe that the price was too high in blood and money for the results obtained, you cannot reasonably argue that the whole enterprise was a failure. In place of a genocidal aggressor in Iraq, we now have something that looks more democratic than any other Arab state.
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