Politics & Policy

Our Enemy’s Attrition

Reasons to reexamine the Middle East's negative prognosis.

The majority opinion is that the occupation in Iraq has been so bungled that the blowback has ruined American efforts at promoting positive change throughout the Middle East.

Perhaps. But for all the justifiable criticism of the Iraqi reconstruction, two truths still remain — the United States is taking an enormous toll on jihadists, and despite the terrible cost in blood and treasure, has not given up on a constitutional government in Iraq.

The Sunni front-line states, who subsidized jihadists and still enjoy our misery in Iraq , , but they are now terrified that these killers, in league with the Iranians, will turn on them. The net result is not just that some Sunnis are helping us in Iraq, but that they are being urged to for the first time by those in the Arab world, who would prefer to see the Iraqi government, rather than the terrorists, succeed. And if Iraq is still a terrible disappointment, Kurdistan is emerging as a success few envisioned, refuting some conventional wisdom about the incompatibility of capitalism and constitutional government with Middle Eastern Islam.

Theocratic Iran is not exactly as “empowered” as is generally alleged, but in the greatest crisis of its miserable existence. As the mullahs up the ante in the region, they could very soon not only lose Iraq, but also their own dictatorship. Trying to oppose the West in Iraq, Lebanon, and the West Bank is taking an enormous financial toll, as is the general isolation from the world community.

With oil prices at an all-time high, Iran can’t provide gasoline for its own people, who resent the billions spent instead on Arab terrorists abroad. If oil were to dip from near $70 to $50-55 a barrel, the regime would face abject bankruptcy. For all the criticism of the U.S. position, from the left and right, we have now found the right blend of military determination not to let Teheran go nuclear, combined with economic and political efforts at containment. There is an array of future options — stronger embargoes, blockades, and military strikes on infrastructure — still on the table. The social unrest the mullahs desire in Iraq is starting to spill over the border into their own Iran, and its magnitude and final course are still unpredictable.

Syria for all its terror still can’t overthrow the government in Lebanon, but has managed the impossible: Not only does the Arab world seek to isolate it, but France and the United States are cooperating to thwart it in Lebanon. The last thing we want to do is to give its terror industry the legitimacy it craves by sending any more officials over to Damascus.

Hamas is high on victory in Gaza for now, but all it has accomplished is to further concentrate its nexus of terror into one small miserable — and quite vulnerable — locale in the midst of Jordan, Israel, and Egypt, while sacrificing the Palestinians greatest advantage: deniability of culpability. It will be harder now for the tired good cop/bad cop excuses, “militant wing,” etc. and all the other justifications for terror that the Palestinians use. Since Hamas bragged that it had routed (it matters less whether true or false) the Palestinian Authority from Gaza, the next barrage of rocket attacks from there, rightly or wrongly, will liberate Israel in its response from the past worries of collateral damage. For all the talk of losing the Lebanon War, it is Iran and Syria, not Israel, that are stuck with billions in reconstruction costs for their battered Shiite pawns on the front lines.

After four years of war and acrimony, things are starting to reach a point of resolution. Both the resources of the United States and its enemies are becoming strained, but so far they are rioting in oil-exporting Iran over gasoline, not we in the U.S. Europe has gravitated more in the last four years to our views than we to theirs, especially in regard to the dangers of radical Islam. Israel lost some of its precious capital of deterrence in the last war, but ultimately the real loser was a bankrupt Iran who lost far more materially than did a far wealthier Israel. Iran unleashed terror in the region, but found its own terrorist credentials no exemption from what it wrought.

Because violence per se is the only narrative from the Middle East, and often editorialized as deriving from U.S. blunders, we are in a state of constant depression. But things are not as bad as they seem, and could still turn out far better than anyone might imagine — if we give the gifted Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker the support and time they need to make the necessary military and diplomatic changes.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a contributing editor at NRO.

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