Fear of success in Iraq



When detractors describe Rumsfeld as arrogant, I think they are mostly referring to his "refusal to admit or learn from [his] mistakes." This echoes the Kerry campaign's attack on President Bush: he never admits his mistakes. But it isn't clear what mistakes the press and the Democrats want Rumsfeld to admit to. What they consider mistakes in Iraq, he probably doesn't; more important, he doesn't share their view that the entire Iraq war was a mistake, which is the real point of the attack on Rumsfeld.

As we've said before, the Democrats don't fear that we will fail in Iraq; they fear that we will succeed. Their view that the war was a catastrophic blunder is now widely shared among the opinion elites, and maybe even among American voters; in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released today, 56% of respondents said the war, given what we now know about its costs, was "not worth fighting." So the Democrats' message has been heard loud and clear. Nevertheless, the left fears that the President's policy ultimately will succeed. Elections will be held next month; terrorists are steadily being eliminated; Iraqi soldiers and policemen are being trained. My biggest concern about the war, that Iraqis might not have enough sense of Iraq as a nation to overcome divisions among Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, seems clearly to have been misplaced. The country appears to be both viable and governable.

So the left keeps hoping for Iraq to turn into Vietnam, while fearing that it may not happen. If Rumsfeld is fired, it will be taken as an admission that the war was misconceived, and that is how history--at least for the next four years--will record it, no matter how well things actually go in Iraq. The administration will finally have acquitted itself of the charge of failing to admit its mistakes, but at a terrible price.

One of the reasons liberals fear success in Iraq is that it discredits their entire approach to the use of force. Since the 1970's the left has sought to restrain the use of force by arguing that every potential engagement was a prelude to a quagmire. After Gulf War I, this was revised to every fight against an insurgency is a quagmire and a mistake. When the insurgency is defeated and Iraq is a democracy, the liberals will have lost their last argument against the use fo force and will be forced to deal with each situation on its own merits instead of a reflex against the sue of force. The quagmirest have looked pretty silly so far which makes them all the more determined to prove liberating Iraq was a mistake.


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