Roger L. Simon

Iraq: Peter Beinart and la phrase obligatoire

Peter Beinart has a new column in the Washington Post aimed at his fellow Democrats – Admit It: The Surge Worked. And it did. Beinart even cites supporting examples from the New York Times, in case you missed them months before on the Strategy Page. He wants Democrats to acknowledge the surge’s success for their own good, even though “[t]hat acknowledgment may not do much for Bush’s legacy.”

That last phrase comes from the final sentence of the column, but the real phrase obligatoire I refer to in my title comes much sooner – at the top of the third graph – injected early lest anyone think the author has turned into a mushy-brained neocon: Moreover, even if the calm endures, that still doesn’t justify the Bush administration’s initial decision to go to war, which remains one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history.

“One of the great blunders.” Well, maybe so… but then maybe not. It’s hard to tell at this point. Suppose, ten years from now, Iraq is a “good-enough democracy,” to paraphrase D W. Winnicott’s brilliant description of satisfactory parenting, the “good-enough mother?” Suppose that “good-enough democracy” is a functioning state in the Middle East, not led, as it most probably would have been, by Uday and Qusay Hussein – two individuals more sociopathic than their father, if such a thing is possible. And that state is providing a buffer against the psycho-theocracy of Iran, possibly even an inspiration to democratically-inclined people there?

Will such a thing happen? Beats me. Perhaps Iraq will fall apart in tribal mayhem and civil war. But it’s also possible that, in an even shorter time frame – five years, say – Iraq will be a thriving Middle Eastern democracy with a growing economic engine, slowly but inexorably leading the Shiite and Sunni cultures out of medieval darkness into the modern world.

If that were to happen, of course, George W. Bush would be seen as a great hero, shocking as that might be to his opponents now, who think (historically speaking) in a remarkably short time frame. What’s interesting too is that a positive outcome in history is what turns Bush heroic in retrospect. It’s a strange position for liberals to be in, dependent on failure to be “right,” when you think about it. No wonder Beinart makes the preemptive strike of declaring the Surge a success. Too bad he doesn’t have the courage to leave the door open for even greater success. But that’s politics, I suppose. Or, more precisely, punditry.