I hesitated and actually quivered a bit as I contemplated writing this, but honesty means taking on your icons too. William F. Buckley Jr. is one of the most brilliant and entertaining thinkers in American history. When he recently wrote a column saying we need to admit defeat in Iraq, I was disheartened. He has opposed the endeavor from the start but now he moves in a direction not reflective of the actual situation. I realize that I step way above my station to say that we should not take his view, but I don't rise to gainsay WFB. I rise to gainsay those who have held powerful views during their lives and fought the good fight, but counsel against action in their advancing years. For WFB it could be simply the solidification of a life of conservatism, although he seemed considerably more keen for action during the anti-communist rather than the current anti-Islamist battle, or maybe that was just Blackford Oakes.
Yitzhak Rabin transitioned from hawk to dove as he aged, and eventually opposed the same policies that gave him the security to oppose them. Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger underwent the same pacification and opposed the Iraq War warning of the cost to humanity and the tens of thousands of casualties we would suffer taking Baghdad. Now I am not saying WFB is becoming a dove, but I think he is taking a more fatalistic view than is warranted. People's views often evolve from the heady world-changing activist days of youth, to the grind of middle age where every good thing must be earned, to the twilight where it's tougher to see why you should upset any stability.
The situation in Iraq is ugly in places, but also peaceful and prosperous in many others. To declare that we have been defeated in our goals says to me we have a misunderstanding of what those goals really are. We deposed the most dangerous tyrant in the Middle East freeing 25 million people. We shepherded them through free elections, a constitution, and the development of increasingly capable security forces. We put forth the idea that liberty and freedom were a possibility for Iraqis and everyone else in the region. The one factor we have been least able to control is the amazing recalcitrance of the Sunnis. I considered it reasonable to assume that once they had been shown they were no longer in power, the natural instinct for survival would kick in. They would determine that living in a new Iraq beat dying in a failed effort to restore a dead tyranny. But they have exceeded everyone's expectation on the iconoclasm scale, and now they may end up getting a Shia-Kurdish beatdown.
They have certainly earned it, but the rest of the country and a bigger portion of Sunnis every day would rather MoveOn. Bombing the Golden mosque was a miscalculation that may well cause more Sunnis to turn in the foreign terrorists. Regardless, the response to the atrocity has been an Iraqi one and things got under control pretty quickly. I think we are very near the point where we start waving goodbye with a good chunk of our forces, and let the Iraqis deal with what's left of the insurgency. That is certainly not good news for Sunni and Baathist holdouts, as the Americans are the only thing stopping the payback the Sunnis have on account for their Sadaam era and also current bad actions. All of this is a long way from stability, but stability and realpolitik brought us Oil for Food and bin Laden, and we have been at this only a couple of years.
I revere Mr. Buckley and his contributions to conservatism, America and the world. But I think this current call for defeat owes more to a desire to see success and stability now, rather than later. I believe a longer term perspective offers a much less pessimistic view.
- Uncle J