Roger L. Simon

The Big Test

This morning’s WSJ asks the question who stayed the course and passed the tough tests during the dog days of the battle for Iraqi Freedom. The President did. Our soldiers did. The American people did. Someone missing?

That leaves America’s elite — the politicians, wise men, think-tank experts, academics, magazine and editorial-page editors, big-city columnists, TV commentators. Many opposed the war from the start, and whether they have now reassessed their views in light of recent events is a matter of some interest. But because they never signed on to the war in the first place, the question of their fortitude throughout its ups and downs is less an issue.

The people who really concern us here — the people who did not pass the test — are those who signed up for the war at the beginning only to find one excuse or another to sign out before it was won. Usually, those excuses centered on some Bush bungle, real or alleged, that no “competent” Administration would have made but that was said to have rendered the whole enterprise morally sullied and irremediable. The looting of Baghdad falls into this category, as does the political wallowing in the abuses of Abu Ghraib.

In this respect, Mr. Galbraith and his ilk are heirs to that generation of ’60s leaders who took the U.S. into Vietnam only to turn against the war in fits of self-doubt, self-flagellation, excessive fine-tuning and political cravenness, after thousands of servicemen had lost their lives. Sad to say, this time around the doubters included all too many conservatives who supported the war at first but then distanced themselves from it as the insurgency grew. They had their own reputational “exit strategies.”

We have had our criticisms of the way the Administration handled the prewar diplomatic and postwar reconstruction and counterinsurgency effort. But no chapter of America’s military history has been free of strategic mistakes and tactical disasters, and our lodestar throughout has been the goal of eventual victory. As we wrote at the onset of war, in March 2003, “Toppling Saddam is a long-term undertaking” and “The largest risk is an imponderable: Whether Americans can generate the political consensus to sustain involvement in Iraq.”

Two years later we know the answer to that question is yes, thanks to the fortitude and wisdom of a President, our soldiers and the American public. Maybe next time, our best and brightest will show the same character.