It’s become a trend for lefty pundits to express their disgust when supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom offer their opinions about the reasons for the present crisis in Iraq. Here’s Jonathan Chait summarizing the theme:
What do liberals believe about the current disaster in Iraq? One thing most of us believe is that the United States should stay the hell out. But another thing liberals believe with even greater conviction is that advocates of the last Iraq war should not participate in the current debate. The Atlantic’s James Fallows argues that Iraq war hawks “might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while.” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, writing in the second person, instructs Iraq hawks, “Given your role in building this catastrophe, you should be barred from public comment, since anything you could say is outweighed by the damage you’ve done.” Washington Post columnist Katrina Vanden Heuvel, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, and many others have reiterated the point. This meta belief about who should be allowed to argue about Iraq, more than any actual argument about Iraq itself, has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.
Rarely have so many people felt so cocky about leaving a genocidal dictator in place. Rarely have so many people felt so sure about the completely unprovable and speculative claim that this hostile genocidal dictator’s next eleven years in power would have been better for America than the decision to depose him. And rarely have these same people been so cocky about working so hard to ensure the failure of the course of action they opposed, then crowed about their success even as they blamed their ideological opponents for the resulting human toll.
This I believe: America made some profound mistakes at the beginning of the war, bad choices that if made differently could have had a material, beneficial effect on the course and conduct of the war. In hindsight, I believe we shouldn’t have disbanded Iraq’s military and its civil service. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have limited our footprint on the ground. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have waited so long to adopt the counterinsurgency tactics of the Surge. The list of mistakes could go on, but war is hard, the enemy always has a vote, and sometimes only cruel experience can teach us the right lessons.
This I know: America has made profound — and far more costly — mistakes at the beginning of virtually every war. The opening months of World War II were a national nightmare, rendered more palatable to the public only through large-scale censorship that sometimes blocked the American people’s knowledge of defeats that cost more lives in one night than America would lose in entire years in Iraq or Afghanistan. In the Korean War, profound diplomatic and intelligence failures led to headlong retreats and mass-scale slaughters of unprepared soldiers. In the Civil War, poor tactics and dreadful leadership almost destroyed the nation less than one century after its founding, as a Union with immense manpower and industrial benefits arguably came within a few improper orders and missed battlefield opportunities from crumbling in the face of the Army of Northern Virginia. The list of horrifying mistakes could go on, but — as I just said — war is hard, the enemy always has a vote, and sometimes only cruel experience can teach us the right lessons.
This I also know, because I was there: In Iraq, we learned from our mistakes, and the Iraq we left — even as early as late September 2008, when I flew home — was a far, far better place than it is today, a far better place than it was under Saddam, and an actual ally of the United States. Commentary’s Peter Wehner states it well:
By the time the surge ended in 2008, violence in Iraq had dropped to the lowest level since the first year of the war. Sectarian killings had dropped by 95 percent. By 2009, U.S. combat deaths were extremely rare. (In December of that year there were no American combat deaths in Iraq.) Iraq was on the mend. Even Barack Obama, who opposed the surge every step of the way, conceded in September 2008 that it had succeeded in reducing violence “beyond our wildest dreams.”
It’s one thing to know statistics. It’s another thing entirely to live the reality. The transformation was simply stunning. In 2007, when we went outside the wire, the tension was palpable and the fear (certainly for me) was very real. We knew the odds, and we knew our vulnerability. By late 2008, the difference was profound. I shopped in streets that months before were war-torn and infested with roadside bombs.
And we threw it away, with a huge assist from the Maliki government.
We are all responsible for our words and actions. Even though my influence is minimal (especially compared to my colleagues posting here on NRO and syndicated nationally) I sometimes agonize over individual words in blog posts. And I still think every day about the choices I made in Iraq. But if I’m responsible — as a supporter of the war from the beginning and a veteran of that same conflict — for what I say and do, so are the victory lappers. And I would not trade places with a group that helped manufacture the “war weariness” that gripped an American public that has, apart from a tiny minority, sacrificed nothing for this conflict and would continue to sacrifice nothing even if we maintained the small force in Iraq necessary to secure our gains.
You helped America leave, and in so doing, you helped waste the sacrifice of those few who served.
Your moral superiority is misplaced.
Your victory lap is grotesque.