Time Magazine headlines it “Iraq Breaking Point”, William F. Buckley, Jr. says President Bush needs to come to terms with failure in Iraq, and even the most optimistic observer can be forgiven for seeing the beginning of devolution to civil war in the wake of the explosion of the sacred Golden Mosque in Samarra. No doubt, we are at a critical juncture in our campaign to liberate the Middle East that began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and, as has come to be typical for post-Vietnam America, the biggest challenge for President Bush is to win the war on the home front.Buckley’s conclusion is disappointing and gives less credence to the hope for success based on our progress to date than I would expect from him. We can engage in all of the “could haves, should haves, would haves” and “we told you sos” that journalistic license will allow, but the reality is that we are where we are, and defeat is not an option we can tolerate. I believe that the American people, at some level, understand this.
Politically, from this point forward, Iraq will be what the Iraqi people make of it. Are there any Jeffersons, Madisons, Washingtons, Adamses, or Franklins in the room? Who knows?; probably not, at least as we know them, but that doesn’t mean that their own heroes won’t rise to the occasion. Will the ultimate outcome be civil war? Possibly. After all, at the time of our founding we had all of those people plus a 150-year history of self-governance in the colonies in the context of the British heritage of the rule of law and still couldn’t avoid a civil war with over 600,000 casualties and a re-founding just over eighty years after our original founding.
I have said all along that this war would be a massively (and messy) transforming event and, sure enough, it’s working out just that way. To say that we should have anticipated all that has gone wrong is to be ignorant of all the history of major transformational world events, particularly those involving warfare. Think of Antietam, think of Kasserine Pass and Utah Beach—the list goes on and on. Eliot Cohen asks, will we persevere?, and answers by suggesting that success will require the rarest of American qualities: patience. But a larger issue is the one so perceptively noted by Victor Davis Hanson, which is that Iraq is no longer a war whose prognosis is to be judged empirically. He believes, and I agree, that it has become a powerful symbol that must serve deeply held, but preconceived, beliefs—Bush’s deceptions, the neoconservative cabal, blood for oil, etc. It is the insidious growth of this phenomenon that must be extracted and defeated, for the war in Iraq is but a piece, albeit a significant one, in the larger war against Islamofascism that must be prosecuted over the coming decades and that will require much more patience and sustained commitment than has been asked or in evidence so far. In the immediate aftermath of the recent violent Islamic reaction to the Danish cartoon satire of Mohammed, Chris Matthews asked the rhetorical question: “we have a long century ahead of us; is this the beginning?” The answer is yes. Is there a Churchill in the room?