The headlines today–”Iraqi Factions/Seek Timetable/For U.S. Pullout”–encourage another look at the Iraq situation, focused not on the desolation of the enterprise, but on the planks of despair. Is it really true that the Sunni and the Shiites are making common cause? Indeed, the report in the New York Times tells of 100 Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish leaders who have signed a statement in which “a withdrawal of foreign troops” is demanded “on a specified timetable, dependent on an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces.”
A learned observer writes about that which he classifies as “increasingly surreal.” “I find, about discussions of Iraq, two universes of discourse, parallel but not contiguous. When I talk to one set of friends and acquaintances or read what they write, I get one version of what is going on. When I talk with another set, or read what they write, I get an entirely different and incompatible assessment. If you talk to military affairs specialists like Victor Davis Hanson, or political analysts like David Pryce-Jones, you get the sense that immense progress has been and is being made both in getting rid of the terrorists and in establishing a workable society in Iraq.”
It is certainly true that we do not read much about, or ponder at all, the importance of terrorist plots discovered and disrupted. We are not told how many senior al-Qaeda agents are in custody.
We are reminded of the Iraq constitution and know, of course, of the great election only a few weeks away, on December 15. Is there a corresponding explosion of municipal and business infrastructure? Water and sanitation and communications systems, schools, oil pipelines, local and national business initiatives? Does the eye of reason see in the frenzies of the terrorists desperation of the kind insurgents feel who see defeat ahead, not victory? The kind of people who are prepared to bomb children to express their desperation?
Critics talk of “racing for the exits” in Iraq. But–most emphatically, by a vote of 403–3–Congress recently rejected with fervor exits of the type associated with despair. The terrorists are acting like the beleaguered Japanese in Okinawa when they saw themselves destined to defeat, alienation, and even deracination. My friend writes of one critic’s “tendentious assertions, typically offered in the protasis of his sentences in order to enhance the aura of casual but apodictic assurance. ‘But while the war is lost both as a political matter at home and a practical matter in Iraq . . . ‘ Hello? What confirmation do we have of exit strategies going on by the president or his Secretary of State or his Secretary of Defense?”
The New York Post on Sunday assembled a comparison of what Messrs. Reid, Clinton, Dean, Biden, Kennedy, Kerry, Gore, and Byrd had to say about going into Iraq, the threat of Iraq, the dangers in ignoring the threat of Iraq, the advantages, strategic and moral in asserting ourselves there, the need to enforce the resolutions of the U.N. being ignored by Saddam Hussein. . . The Post set these comments over against the language being used today by the summer soldiers. It is illuminating and casts a long shadow over the future of the United States, the security of the commander in chief, and the longevity of the national will.
My correspondent concludes, “You told me that your friend predicted that within six months of the election, it would be clear to all that the country was on its feet. Is he correct? I do not know. I note that many people assured me that a constitution would never be ratified in Iraq. They were, by and large, the same people who assured me that were the U.S. to invade Iraq, the Arab street would erupt in a world jihad.
“The supposedly impossible thing in fact happened, and the dead certainty failed to take place. Even more curious is how little difference that has made in the–is the word appropriate?–debate. Reality–what actually happened or seemed to happen–somehow hasn’t counted for much when it comes to informing opinion on Iraq. Six months from the election takes us to 15 June. It would be interesting to step back and specify some milestones by which we could judge the campaign: what developments, were they accomplished, would lead us to judge the venture a success? What are some alternative eventualities that would compel us to acknowledge failure?
“We could scribble a few such criteria on a sheet of paper now and seal it in an envelope marked, ‘Do not open until June 15, 2006.’ Then, on a balmy summer eve, we could have an envelope-opening ceremony and see where things stood. I suspect the backers of Mr. Bush would have something to celebrate.”