Turn­around in Iraq? Don’t stop the presses

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

There’s an old ex­pres­sion about war: “Vic­tory has many fa­thers, while de­feat is an or­phan.” But in the case of Iraq, it seems the other way around. We’ve blamed many for the or­deal of the last four years, but it is the Amer­i­can vic­tory in An­bar Prov­ince that now seems with­out par­ents.

In the last few months, the U.S. mil­i­tary forced Sunni in­sur­gents in An­bar to quit fight­ing. This en­emy, in the heart of the so-called Sunni Tri­an­gle, had been re­spon­si­ble for most Amer­i­can ca­su­al­ties in the war and was the main cause of un­rest in Iraq. Even more un­ex­pect­edly, some de­feated tribes joined in an al­liance of con­ve­nience with the Amer­i­can vic­tors to chase al Qaeda from Iraq’s ma­jor cities.

As Pres­i­dent Bush re­cently told U.S. troops about An­bar Prov­ince: “It was once writ­ten off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq.”

But that dra­matic turn­about is rarely re­ported on. We know as much about O.J.’s es­capades in Ve­gas as we do about the An­bar awak­en­ing or the flight of al Qaeda from Bagh­dad. When we do hear about Iraq, it is just as likely through a Hol­ly­wood movie — “In the Val­ley of Elah,” “Redacted,” “Li­ons for Lambs” — preach­ing how the U.S. was mostly in­com­pe­tent or amoral in fight­ing a hope­less war.

The Abu Ghraib prison scan­dal of 2004 war­ranted 32 con­sec­u­tive days on Page One of the New York Times. Con­gres­sional ap­peals for timeta­bles and sched­uled with­drawals, amid cries of “fi­asco” and “quag­mire,” were reg­u­larly re­ported this sum­mer. Now, though, there is largely si­lence in newspa- per head­lines about the grow­ing peace in An­bar Prov­ince.

Why this abrupt am­ne­sia about Iraq, given a rad­i­cal drop in Amer­i­can ca­su­al­ties and en­tire cities now largely free from se­rial vi­o­lence?

Many an­ti­war crit­ics are so in­vested in the no­tion of the Iraq war as the “worst” some­thing or other in U.S. his­tory that they can­not ac­cept the rad­i­cal turn­around af­ter over four years of war. Other op­po­nents have sim­ply changed their ar­gu­ment from “Iraq is lost” to “Even if we do win, it will not have been worth the cost.” Ei­ther way, good news from the front seems to trans­late into no news.

Even some sup­port­ers of the war are leery and hes­i­tant to tout Amer­i­can suc­cess. Maybe they re­mem­ber past op­ti­mism over suc­cess­ful elec­tions and the eu­pho­ria over the pur­ple fin­gers — all prior to the 2006 Shi’ite-Sunni sec­tar­ian blood­let­ting.

New un­cer­tain­ties else­where also over­shadow Iraq — the fall­ing dol­lar, mar­tial law in Pak­istan, sky­rock­et­ing oil prices, and fear of a soon-to-be nu­clear Iran. Amid all that chaos, Iraq may no longer be our chief worry.

The mil­i­tary — un­like the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion — is strangely silent about its re­cent suc­cesses. The cau­tion is not just due to un­cer­tainty over whether the Sunni Tri­an­gle will stay won for good.

In­stead, the Septem­ber tes­ti­mony of Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, the top U.S. com­man­der in Iraq, and the re­ac­tion to it — whether the “Gen­eral Be­tray Us” Moveon.org ad or Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s jab that to be­lieve the gen­eral’s tes­ti­mony re­quired a “will­ing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief” — re- minded of­fi­cers how Iraq will loom large in elec­tion-cy­cle do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. Get­ting drawn into such pol­i­tick­ing is some­thing re­spon­si­ble mil­i­tary lead­ers try to avoid.

Nev­er­the­less, we may be wit­ness­ing one of those rad­i­cal, un­fore­seen re­ver­sals in Amer­ica’s wars that have of­ten changed our his­tory.

The White House was burned by Bri­tish forces in late Au­gust 1814; a lit­tle more than four months later, the Bri­tish were routed at New Or­leans. Dur­ing the Civil War, the Union army was on the ropes in July 1864 but out­side At­lanta by Septem­ber. The Ger­mans were driv­ing through France in March 1918, but flee­ing to­ward the Rhine by Au­gust. The com­mu­nists took Seoul in early Jan­uary 1951, yet were pushed back across the De­mil­i­ta­rized Zone in lit­tle more than three months.

Of course, we don’t know the fi­nal out­come in Iraq, given the re­main­ing prob­lems of Shi‘ite mili­tias and diehard al Qaedists — and the ques­tion of our own re­solve.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps may well soon sta­bi­lize the Iraqi democ­racy once deemed lost. Or per­haps, in the man­ner of Viet­nam be­tween 1973-75, the pub­lic may have be­come so tired of Iraq — de­spite the im­prove­ment — that it sim­ply wants it out of sight and out of mind.

Ei­ther way, his­tory is now be­ing made while we sleep.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist and a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Hoover In­sti­tu­tion. He is the au­thor of “A War Like No Other: How the Athe­ni­ans and Spar­tans Fought the Pelo­pon­nesian War.”

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