Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
I hope that if I am ever as spectacularly wrong about a major policy issue as Peter Beinart has been about Iraq, I would feel some urge to keep my mouth shut about the relevant issue. Beinart clearly doesn’t feel that way. Now he’s advising Democrats to admit that “the surge worked,” as an act of intellectual hygiene.
But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush’s record, his decision to increase America’s troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Giventhe mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.
It’s time for Democrats to say so. During the campaign they rarely did for fear of jeopardizing Barack Obama‘s chances of winning the presidency. But today, the hesitation is less tactical than emotional. Most Democrats think Bush has been an atrocious president, and they want to usher him out of office with the jeers he so richly deserves. Even if they suspect, in their heart of hearts, that he was right about the surge, they don’t want to give him the satisfaction.
This is absurd. First, it’s far from clear what role, if any, a 15% increase in total U.S. troop deployment in Iraq has played in the country’s journey from something close to all-out civil war two years ago, to today’s merely horrifying levels of sectarian violence (500 Iraqis are still dying in such violence each month, the per capita equivalent of another 9/11 attack in the U.S. every two weeks. This is what strikes Beinart as a marvelous success, requiring bipartisan hosannas).
Indeed, Beinart himself acknowledges that a host of factors have no doubt played a role in the relative decline of violence in the country. That a relatively modest increase in the U.S. troop presence might in and of itself played no role whatsoever (as opposed to, say, bribing tribal leaders in Anbar, and allowing Baghdad to become almost completely “ethnically cleansed,” as well as the purely internal dynamics of Iraqi politics) is quite possible, yet Beinart is so eager to be the classic Beltway centerist voice of reason that he doesn’t even consider that possibility.
Even more objectionable is Beinart’s insistence that President Bush showed great courage by ordering the surge. Do we really need any lectures from conspicuously non-combatant warmongering pundits of military age on the meaning of that word? Two years ago Bush was a lame duck president facing a compliant and spineless Congress, who he knew full well would never have the political will to resist whatever new war strategery he deigned to jam down its collective throat. If he had admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a tragic mistake — now that would have required something like courage. Instead he “stayed the course,” despite the immense damage his bull-headed idiocies have wreaked.
What else has the man ever done in his whole life but that?
Continuing: As several comments note, another key aspect of the matter Beinart overlooks is that the whole point of the surge was to help improve the security situation so that Iraq could begin to become something other than a shattered country and a failed state. On those terms, it’s very unclear whether any real progress has been made.