March 3, 2010


Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Now, if we had followed the counsel of Klein and Ricks and not implemented the surge, their predictions might have been closer to the mark. (Bush’s decision was one of “adolescent petulance” and “the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine,” Klein wrote on April 5, 2007.) As it is, if the positive trajectory of events continue and Iraq does end up reshaping the political culture of the Arab Middle East, the Iraq war will, on balance, have advanced American interests in the region.

On the other hand, if Obama somehow manages to blow it, retroactively that will turn out to be Bush’s fault.

UPDATE: Reader Jeff Weintraub writes in defense of Tom Ricks:

Most of Wehner’s I-told-you-so is justified, and the targets deserve it. However, that particular quotation from Ricks is misleadingly truncated. What Ricks actually said was …

“I think staying in Iraq is immoral, but I think leaving immediately would be even more so, because of the risk it runs of leaving Iraq to a civil war that could go regional.”

And that was part of a post in which Rick’s central message, and bottom line, was that the US should NOT withdraw from Iraq. Furthermore, Ricks has made it clear over and over again, in his book The Gamble and since, that he thinks Bush’s decision not to cut & run in early 2007, but instead to renew the US commitment and switch to the Petraeus/Odierno counter-insurgency strategy, was Bush’s “finest moment.”

OK, Wehner may well think that Rick’s overall perspective in the 2009 post from which he quoted was still too gloomy, since Ricks saw continued US commitment to Iraq as a lesser evil more than a positive good. But there’s no question that Wehner distorted Ricks’s point (carelessly, I trust, not deliberately).

Fair enough — though I think if you read the entire Ricks piece it’s still awfully gloomy.

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