The eternal frustration of political debate is that big, complicated issues take so long to play out that it's difficult to tell who was right and who was wrong. Not so in the war in Iraq.
Much remains unknown about the ultimate fate of the U.S. intervention: Will we find weapons of mass destruction? Manage to form a decent post-Saddam Hussein government? But we already know whether the invasion was a military disaster, and whether the Iraqis cheered our arrival. On these two counts, the level of sheer, cussed wrongness among journalists and Bush critics is stunning.
Most of them were infected with a willful pessimism, prepared to believe the worst about America's capabilities and its image among Iraqis, while puffing up the forces of Saddam. Now that reality has intruded, with a swift military victory and a warm welcome from Iraqi civilians, one wonders:
Will TV jabberer Chris Matthews admit his foolishness in writing, "This invasion of Iraq, if it goes off, will join the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert One, Beirut and Somalia in the history of military catastrophe"?
Will Barry McCaffrey, bluntly, regret his prediction that in the Battle for Baghdad, "we could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties"?
Will Newsweek's Eleanor Clift say she's sorry for warning, "This looks more like a war of conquest than a war of liberation," or writing, "We're embroiled in a conflict that looks like a bad remake of Vietnam"? Will Newsweek be ashamed of its "down arrows" for President Bush ("His war cluelessly flings open the gates of hell, making any sort of victory Pyrrhic") and Dick Cheney ("Tells 'Meet the Press' just before war, 'We will be greeted as liberators.' An arrogant blunder for the ages.")?
Will The New York Times demand retractions from R.W. Apple ("Already [Saddam] is seen as less of an ogre and more of a defender of Islamic honor across the Arab world"), Maureen Dowd ("It was hard not to have a few acid flashbacks to Vietnam at warp speed") and Nicholas Kristoff ("Iraqis hate the United States government even more than they hate Saddam")?
Will Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen make amends for gleefully slamming "'the plan,' which the Bush administration describes as both 'brilliant' and on schedule. As anyone can see -- and as some field commanders keep saying -- it is neither"?
Will quisling journalist Peter Arnett admit not just that he exercised poor judgment, but that he was wrong when he spoke on Iraqi television of "the determination of the Iraqi forces, the determination of the government and the willingness to fight for their country"?
Will muckraker Seymour Hersh take back his suggestion that the United States was lying about the war, as he lamented that for those of us who "went through the Vietnam War, it's sort of terrifying to think it's starting already"?
Will left-wing journalist Eric Alterman apologize for asking, are Bush officials "really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome us as 'their hoped-for liberators'?"
Or author Robert Wright for prognosticating, "As more civilians die and more Iraqis see their 'resistance' hailed across the Arab world as a watershed in the struggle against Western imperialism, the traditionally despised Saddam could gain appreciable support among his people"?
Or celebrity intellectual Edward Said for writing, "The idea that Iraq's population would have welcomed American forces entering the country after a terrifying aerial bombardment was always utterly implausible"?
Will actress Janeane Garofalo take out a new TV ad, correcting the impression left by her old TV ad, in which she noted, ominously, "If we invade Iraq, there's a United Nations estimate that says there will be up to a half a million people killed or wounded"?
I suspect the collective answer is, "Uh, no." As time erases the memory of their words, the naysayers will simply be willfully pessimistic about the next U.S. intervention. They will always predict "another Bay of Pigs," never "another Iraq."