The Corner

Harry Reid’s 2007 Declaration of Defeat in Iraq: A Blast from the Past

Today former defense secretary Robert Gates called Reid’s 2007 remark that the Iraq was “lost” disgraceful. I remember writing about that for NRO at the time, when the Democrats were getting dangerously close to mustering the votes necessary to kill funding for the war. This is from my April 4, 2007, piece, “The Politics of Pessimism“: 

The “surge” appears in some respects to be working. And the Democrats have reacted as if this were the kiss of death.

Even if the Democrats are not crassly playing politics with the troops, the ugly fact is that they have a lot to lose if things start looking positive in Iraq. This is why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — one of the most innocent and pitifully transparent politicians of the last generation — laments the “failed policy” behind this “failed war” at every opportunity — and especially at any mention of good news. For the Democrats, bad news out of Iraq is political insurance, and good news is poison — just as for the Republicans, the reverse is true.

That bodes ill for the war effort. It has become politically expedient for the Democrats to convince the wavering middle that we have been defeated in Iraq. And there may be no better way to convince them of that “fact” than to make it happen.

The pessimism of the center – and the exigencies of political survival — are turning the Democrats firmly against the war effort. And that could kill our chances in Iraq.

As it turned out, we crushed the insurgency in Iraq that year. Actually, as I later found while embedded with Marines in Iraq that summer, the attacks on coalition forces in Anbar province plummeted to insignificance in the spring of 2007, right at the time I was writing the above, and as Harry Reid was declaring defeat. By the end of 2007 and into 2008 it was quite clear that we had won and that the Iraqi government was firmly in the hands of the most pro-American factions. 

Alas, the Democrats remained invested in defeat, even after the war was over. So the Obama administration turned away from Iraq, and allowed our troops to be expelled before the vital work of consolidating our victory into a lasting achievement was done. Obama left our allies in Iraq totally in the lurch. As Gates’s memoir makes clear, that followed from the Obama administration’s whole worldview. Any foreigner who agreed with George W. Bush must not be a friend worth having. And into the vacuum created by our departure has finally stepped Iran, to take advantage of a strategic opportunity that was largely foreclosed to it while our troops were still there. And now the Syrian civil war is starting to spill over into Iraq, creating the prospect of two major failed states at the heart of the Middle East. In 2007, I walked the streets of Ramadi and Fallujah in absolute safety, past local Iraqis who would smile and wave at me and sometimes say something like, “Thank you, coalition,” as I walked by.

Just look at Anbar now. ​History has already decided that the U.S. won the Iraq War, despite Harry Reid’s protests to the contrary. But it will also decide that we threw away the peace through Obama’s awful insistence on bringing a “responsible end” to a war that was already over. The deeply stabilizing presence of American soldiers in a democratic and peaceful Iraq was removed. What’s so irresponsible about Obama’s “responsible end” to the war in Iraq is that he has only increased the instability and dangers of the Middle East – and the risk that our young men and women we will have to go and fight there again one day. 

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola is a research associate professor and the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program at Florida International University and a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. From 2017 to 2019 he was the associate director for regulatory reform at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.