The big pic­ture in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - MICHAEL BARONE

When my fa­ther re­turned from ser­vice as an Army doc­tor in Korea in 1953, he brought back slides of the pho­tos he had shot, show­ing a war-torn coun­try of in­cred­i­ble poverty. We would have laughed if you had told us Amer­i­cans would one day buy Korean cars. But 50-some years later, South Korea has the 13th-largest econ­omy in the world, and you see Hyundais and Kias ev­ery­where in Amer­ica. Look­ing at things in mi­cro­time­frames is not al­ways a re­li­able guide to the macro-time­frame fu­ture.

So it may turn out to be with Iraq. We have been look­ing at Iraq in mi­cro-time­frames — or, for many who op­pose the war, frozen in the time frame of late 2006. A bet­ter pic­ture of the mi­cro-time­frame is that we achieved con­sid­er­able suc­cess this year.

“The trend to­ward bet­ter se­cu­rity is in­dis­putable,” writes the As­so­ci­ated Press. U.S. mili- tary and civil­ian deaths have de­clined sharply. An­bar Prov­ince is paci­fied, Iraqis are stream­ing back to Bagh­dad, and al Qaeda in Iraq is on the run. Time’s Joe Klein, a critic of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, ad­mits the gains and ad­vises Democrats not to try to cut off funds. Con­ser­va­tive colum­nist Tony Blank­ley claims “a very real ex­pec­ta­tion that next year the world may see a gen­uine, old-fash­ioned vic­tory in the Iraq war.”

Amer­i­can me­dia present less re­port­ing from Iraq, partly be­cause some in the me­dia be­lieve good news in Iraq is not news. Some Demo­cratic con­gres­sional lead­ers still main­tain that the surge strat­egy has made no dif­fer­ence, and they seek a vote on troop with­drawal. But Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, more closely at­tuned per­haps to changes in events and opin­ion, are talk­ing less about with­draw­ing from Iraq and more about what we should do (or should not do) about Iran.

Let’s look, how­ever, not just at the mi­cro-time­frame but the macro-time­frame. Yes, vi­o­lence could re-es­ca­late, as Mr. Klein pre­dicts. But within sight is a far more hope­ful tra­jec­tory. In the long run of his­tory, our in­volve­ment in Iraq is start­ing to look less like a de­scent into a hope­less quag­mire and a more un­sta­ble Mid­dle East.

Re­mem­ber that in early 2005 the suc­cess­ful ini­tial in­va­sion and the specter of a pos­si­bly demo­cratic Iraq prompted Libya’s Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi to give up his weapons of mass de­struc­tion and Syria to with­draw troops in the face of the “Cedar Revo­lu­tion” in Le­banon. The in­creas­ing vi­o­lence in Iraq in late 2005 and all of 2006 was ac­com­pa­nied by the Ha­mas takeover of the Gaza Strip, the in­creas­ing men­ace of Iran, Syria’s con­tin­ued bul­ly­ing of Le­banon and other dire de­vel­op­ments.

There was sim­i­lar back-and­forth in Korea: com­mu­nists nearly driv­ing the United States off the penin­sula, then the suc­cess­ful In­chon land­ing and push to the Yalu River bound­ary with China, then the Chi­nese coun­terof­fen­sive that re­sulted in a stale­mate roughly along the 38th Par­al­lel. Each of those de­vel­op­ments sug­gested a very dif­fer­ent fu­ture tra­jec­tory. The one that turned out to be last­ing was the main­te­nance of a non-com­mu­nist South Korea that over sev­eral decades be­came first pros­per­ous and then demo­cratic.

That ex­am­ple gave im­pe­tus to sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ments in East Asia and even China, which adopted a sys­tem of au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment and mar­ket eco­nomics rem­i­nis­cent of 1970s South Korea. Harry Tru­man was re­garded as a failed pres­i­dent, with job rat­ings be­low Ge­orge W. Bush’s. But the long-term ver­dict on his Korea pol­icy is much more pos­i­tive.

An Iraq that is rea­son­ably stable, fairly demo­cratic, more pros­per­ous and pro­duc­tive than the Mid­dle East­ern stan­dard: This seems to be at least one pos­si­ble tra­jec­tory from the suc­cess of the surge. That would be a con­sid­er­able achieve­ment, with pos­i­tive re­ver­ber­a­tions for decades to come.

In time, the back-and-forth be­tween vic­tory, then rout, then ac­cept­able but in­com­plete suc­cess that we saw in Korea — the mi­cro-time­frames that seemed so im­por­tant at the time — was mostly forgotten. And the qual­i­fied but sub­stan­tial progress achieved in the macro-time­frame, in Korea and in the dan­ger­ous re­gion around it, dom­i­nated our view.

We have now some ba­sis to hope some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pens in Iraq and the dan­ger­ous re­gion around it. We are still far from the “broad, sun­lit up­lands” that Win­ston Churchill pointed to in the dis­tance af­ter dis­as­ter was nar­rowly averted at Dunkirk. But we seem to be get­ting closer.

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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