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November 01, 2004

GREG DJEREJIAN comments on Tora Bora and responds to an email over at Andrew Sullivan's:

How easy all this handwringing about a failed Afghan campaign! Let's get back to basics, people. By any judicious standard, Afghanistan has proven a major success. People can, from the sidelines, carp on about neo-Talibs regrouping in the southeast and higher opium production rates. But here's the bottom-line. We were attacked on 9/11 by al-Qaeda. Bush got Pakistan on board and quashed the Taliban with utmost speed--denying al-Q their key state sanctuary in the process. This is, of course, a major victory in the war on terror--by any fair standard.

In Iraq, and little noted of late, Bush has successfully mitigated the perils of having to grapple with two insurgencies simultaneously-- through a nuanced combination of sophisticated counter-insurgency efforts and attendant political machinations contra Moktada al-Sadr. We are now, therefore, free to focus like a laser on the key Sunni insurgent strongholds--with a battle for Fallujah looming shortly.

The biggest (legitimate) criticism of Bush in Iraq, it seems to me, is that he has moved in too, um, nuanced a fashion where Fallujah is concerned. Bill Quick has certainly been arguing that for a long time, and so has Andrew -- though Andrew has attributed that to a shortage of troops, which I believe is wrong. The Marines had Fallujah under control in April but withdrew because the White House and Pentagon didn't want to inflict the large numbers of civilian casualties that might have been involved. You can argue with that approach, but it's not at all clear to me that it has been proven wrong at this point. Indeed, growing Iraqi anger at the Sunnis of Fallujah and environs has drastically lowered the political costs within Iraq of such civilian casualties. In addition, there aren't that many civilians left in Fallujah at this point.

To go back to a point that Virginia Postrel makes in the post linked below, perhaps I'm less unhappy with things in Iraq than, say, Andrew because I expected much worse. I thought we'd experience far more casualties in the invasion phase (which lasted three weeks) than we've experienced in the entire year and a half since the war began. My biggest disappointment is that the Administration hasn't taken more direct action against Syria and Iran, which are supporting the insurgency in the hope that it will cause us to elect Kerry and withdraw before doing anything about them. But I don't know what they know, and second-guessing them on this is perilous.

I could write more, and had planned to before I ran across this post, but Greg has done a better job than I would anyway. Go there and read the whole thing. I will, however, note that although Andrew thinks I believe that everything in Iraq is rosy (where have I said that, exactly?) here's what he was writing not long ago:

There are also many valid criticisms of the occupation. But I have yet to read any cogent criticism that offers any better future plan than the one president Bush outlined Monday night. John Kerry's plaintive cries to "internationalize" the transition are so vacuous they barely merit attention. The transition is already being run by the U.N.; very few countries have the military capacity to cooperate fully with the coalition, and few want to; quicker elections would be great, but very difficult to pull off on a national level before the end of the year. So what are Bush's opponents proposing? More troops now? But wouldn't that undercut the message of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis? A sudden exit of all troops? But no one - apart from right-wing and leftwing extremists - thinks that's a wise move. Giving a future Iraqi government a veto power over troop activities? Done, according to Blair. The truth is: Bush's plan is about as good as we're likely to get. And deposing a dictator after decades of brutal rule could never have led immediately to insta-democracy. . . .

What I'm saying, I guess, is that as long as the anti-war critics continue relentless negativism without any constructive alternative, they will soon lose the debate. Americans want to know how to move this war forward, not why we shouldn't have started it in the first place. Right now, the president has the best plan for making this work. What does anyone else have?

I think that this analysis is spot-on, and I don't see what has changed in the interim that would account for Andrew's rather dramatic shift in tone -- toward, if I may say so, the kind of "relentless negativism without any constructive alternative" that he criticizes above. Perhaps this is, in Mickey Kaus's words, "Classic excitable Andrew." Andrew's excitability is part of his charm, of course, but I think that in wartime, patience is perhaps a greater virtue. I suggest that these words provide a better touchstone:

Nothing threatens al Qaeda or the Islamo-fascist terror network more than the possibility of a constitutional democracy in Iraq. If Iraq succeeds, the entire dysfunction in the Middle East on which al Qaeda relies for its recruitment and growth would be in danger of unraveling. If Iraqis can achieve a semblance of a free and democratic society - with economic growth, political pluralism, and religious freedom - then the al Qaeda model of theocratic fascism will lose whatever appeal it now has in that part of the world. Losing Afghanistan was bad enough for the Jihadists. Seeing Iraq emerge into modernity would be fatal. . . .

I'm sorry, Mr Zapatero, but the liberation of millions from two of the most brutal police states in history is not now and never could be described as "a disaster." Even to utter that sentiment is to have lost even the faintest sense of moral bearings.

Those words, I can agree with.