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Published on: May 29, 2011
Memorial Day: The War in Iraq

How to commemorate those who have laid down their lives for their country?  Memorial Day wasn’t much of an issue in my childhood.  100 years after the Civil War, most white Southerners still considered this a Yankee holiday.  Robert E. Lee’s birthday, a state holiday across much of the South, got more press.  White folks […]

How to commemorate those who have laid down their lives for their country?  Memorial Day wasn’t much of an issue in my childhood.  100 years after the Civil War, most white Southerners still considered this a Yankee holiday.  Robert E. Lee’s birthday, a state holiday across much of the South, got more press.  White folks didn’t go much to events like the annual commemoration of the Union prisoners who died in the Confederate POW camp in my father’s hometown of Florence, SC.

For me that changed when I went north to Pundit High School at the age of 13 on a full scholarship.  Memorial Day was a BIG event there; the 200 boys in the student body spent many spring evenings learning to march around the campus in preparation for the town’s Memorial Day parade out to the cemetery where the names of all the town’s war dead going back to the Revolution were read out.  A combination of precocious anti-Vietnam feeling and, I think, culture shock at the vast difference between Pundit High and everything else I had known led me to the conclusion that on conscientious grounds I should not march.

The best way, I argued to my put-upon parents and long suffering Headmaster, to commemorate the war dead was to stop the militaristic displays that made new wars and new deaths more likely.  The school made it clear: it was march or go home.  My parents told me it was my decision to make; I thought hard and eventually marched that spring and every spring thereafter until the time came to move on.  I wasn’t quite finished being adolescent about this national holiday.  The school band provided musical accompaniment as we marched, and I wrote French lyrics to the tune “Over There” which many of us sang to complain about the school food. “Pommes de terre,” it began, “pommes de terre; Içi on ne jamais mange que pommes de terre.

Je ne regrette rien, but L’Académie Française has yet to call.

I’ve always thought that to march was the right choice, more than ever now that I’ve moved past the pacifism of my teen self.  But the question of how to commemorate those who have given their lives for our country is still a vexing one — and especially now, as the US role in Iraq winds down and we think about the 4,434 Americans who died there to date, the 32,074 who will carry the wounds they suffered there, and the hundreds of thousands who will carry the memories of their service through their lives.

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2008 (Wikimedia)

After the Vietnam war, a divisive conflict that tore this country apart and failed to prevent Communist triumph in Vietnam and genocide in Cambodia, the country groped its way toward a compromise way to remember the dead and honor the veterans.  Regardless of the merits of the war, those who did honorable service in it or laid down their lives at their country’s call, deserve our respect and our thanks.

That was better than nothing, and a way to reduce the damage that the memory of Vietnam did in the US long after the shooting stopped; there are signs that we are aiming to repeat a compromise of that kind when it comes to the war in Iraq.  Those who opposed the war and those who supported it can unite in tribute to the loyalty, the courage and the sacrifice of those who served there.

That is something, but it is not enough.  The Americans who served, suffered and died in Iraq — and who still serve there today — changed the world and won a great and a difficult victory.  No account of their service, no commemoration of the dead that ignores or conceals this vital truth is enough.

US Marines enter one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Baghdad (Wikimedia)

To celebrate a momentous victory in Iraq is not to acknowledge that President Bush was right to go into Iraq when and how he did; it is not to justify or excuse the years of poor choices and strategic fumbling before the President found the generals who knew how to win.  (One can say the same thing, of course, about President Lincoln.  Like most great leaders, he failed his way to triumph.)  I supported the invasion because I believed Colin Powell’s solemn assurances about weapons of mass destruction; I continued to support the war despite the absence of such weapons and the chaos and incompetence attending the occupation because I believed that vital issues were at stake in Iraq, that defeat was unacceptable, that victory was not nearly as unattainable as the hand wringing, pseudo-smart choruses of despairing ex-hawks so cluelessly and insistently asserted, and that if nothing else we had a duty to the Iraqis and to ourselves not to leave the country without giving it a fair chance to shape the future for itself.

Because of President Bush’s steadfastness, because of the military genius of General Petraeus (or Betray Us as the keen wits and intellects at Moveon.org so memorably called him as, to their frustration and fury, the evidence of victory began to appear) and his associates, because of the professionalism and honor of American officers, and above all because of the dogged courage, patriotism and humanity of the extraordinary men and women who served in the ranks, we won the war.

MoveOn.org’s controversial full page advertisement that ran in the New York Times on September 10, 2007

That victory was much more than a dignified escape from a sticky predicament.  The coalition victory in Iraq was a historical turning point that may well turn out to be comparable to the cannonade of Valmy.  It changed the course of world history.  We have not done justice to those who gave their lives in Iraq until we recognize the full dimensions of their achievement.

The story of Iraq has yet to be told.  It is too politically sensitive for the intelligentsia to handle just yet; passions need to cool before the professors and the pundits who worked themselves into paroxysms of hatred and disdain for the Bush administration can come to grips with how wrongheaded they’ve been.  It took decades for the intelligentsia to face the possibility that the cretinous Reagan-monster might have, um, helped win the Cold War, and even now they haven’t asked themselves any tough questions about the Left’s blind hatred of the man who did more than any other human being to save the world from nuclear war.

It may take that long for the truth about the war in Iraq to dawn, but dawn it will.  America’s victory in Iraq broke the back of Al-Qaeda and left Osama bin Laden’s dream in ruins.  He died a defeated fanatic in his Abbotabad hideaway; his dream was crushed in the Mesopotamian flatlands where he swore it would win.

Osama’s goal was to launch the Clash of Civilizations against the West.  He would be Captain Islam, fighting against the Crusader-in-Chief George W. Bush.  By his purity, wisdom, daring and above all by his special knowledge of the hidden ways of God, Captain Islam would crush and humiliate the evil Bush-fiend and unite the Muslim world behind the Truth.  Osama would complete at a spiritual level the mission his father undertook on the physical plane.  His father’s construction company rebuilt and modernized the ancient holy city of Mecca; Osama would rebuild and restore the entire Muslim world.

The 9/11 attacks propelled Osama to the historical height he sought: in the minds of many he had become a caliph-in-waiting, the fierce servant of God whose claims to leadership were vindicated by the dramatic success of his plans.  Angry young people across the Islamic world, frustrated by a host of frustrations and privations, wondered if this was the charismatic, God-aided figure who would overturn the world order and lead Islam to its old place on the commanding heights of the world.

9/11 was the trumpet, Iraq was the test.  The US invaded an Arab country, overthrew its government, and found itself condemned to the hardest task in international politics: nation building under hostile fire. More, the US had taken a country run by its Sunni minority and put power into the hands of an inexperienced and fractious Shi’a majority.  Then the US occupation began to fail: the government institutions fell apart, there was no security in country or in town, the economy went into free fall, and basic services like electricity and health failed across the land. The provocations were serious and real; the Americans were clumsy and awkward.  US checkpoints and raids were humiliating and degrading; the scalding Abu Ghraib scandal was a propagandist’s dream come true.  The ham-handed diplomacy and tongue-tied defense of American policy from Washington created a sense of rising, unstoppable global opposition to Bush’s War.

There could be no more favorable terrain for Al-Qaeda.  From all over the world, young people intoxicated on radical Islam and hatred of the United States rushed to defend Sunni Iraq from the devil’s own alliance of crusaders, Zionists and schismatics.  Across the embattled Sunni heartland in central Iraq, the fighters were welcomed as reinforcements by desperate tribal militias and former Iraqi army groups fighting the monstrous new order.

So favorable was the terrain for our enemies and so difficult the tasks we faced that the shrewdest critics of the Iraq war argued that the US had in effect fallen into an Al-Qaeda trap.  Bush had blindly and recklessly rushed forward into a quagmire; Iraq would be America’s Dien Bien Phu, a new hopeless colonial war.  It was our Algeria, a second Vietnam, a well-deserved comeuppance for imperial arrogance.  Osama baited the trap, and Bush rushed in to his doom.

For roughly three years America writhed in the toils of our predicament in Iraq.  The Democratic establishment had supported the war.  Some leading Democrats did so out of conviction, some out of a political calculation that no other stand was viable in the post 9/11 atmosphere.  Now the grand panjandrums of the Democratic Party, one after another, made their pilgrimage to Canossa.  Some came to believe and perhaps more came to say that the war was lost and that their original backing for it had been a mistake.

Well do I remember the many impassioned statements in those dark years by leading politicians and pundits that the war was lost, lost, irretrievably lost.  It was over now, they wailed on television and in print.  The Iraqi government was a farce and could never take hold.  These clowns made Diem look like Charles de Gaulle.  We had no option but to get out as quickly as possible.  On and on rolled the great choir of doom, smarter than the rest of us, deeper thinkers, capable of holding more complex thoughts behind their furrowed brows.

Now they have glibly moved on to other subjects; the mostly complicit media is helping us all to forget just how wrong — and how intolerant and moralistic — so many people were about the ‘lost’ war.

While the politicians washed their hands and hung up white flags, and while the press lords gibbered and foamed, the brass kept their heads and the troops stood tall.  And gradually, a miracle happened.  America started winning the war.

We won it the one way the critics could not imagine: we won the contest with Al-Qaeda for Iraqi Sunni support.  The Sunni Arabs of Iraq had seen the Americans at their worst: culturally insensitive and arrogant invaders; failed economic planners and bad managers; cruel abusers of prisoners; incompetent protectors.  They saw Al-Qaeda at its best: God-fearing freedom fighters traveling great distances and taking great personal risks to uphold the cause of the believers against the foreign oppressor.

Yet chief after chief, tribe after tribe and town after town, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq made a fateful decision.  They chose America over Al-Qaeda.  They took the measure of America’s officers and combat troops, and they took the measure of Al-Qaeda’s ‘jihadis’.  They saw us warts and all — and decided that the future lay with America rather than the woman-stoning bomb nuts.  Our troops would secure the safety of their families better than Al-Qaeda could.  Despite the immense religious and cultural differences between us, democratic America stood closer to their values than fanatical Al-Qaeda.

That decision by the Sunni Arabs of Iraq is what left Al-Qaeda gutted and floundering.  That is what turned it from strategic threat to abiding nuisance.  That is what set the limits of Al-Qaeda’s appeal and turned Osama bin Laden from the aspiring caliph of a great Islamic wave to (apparently) a porn-watching recluse in a Pakistani garrison town.

The Sunni Arabs made that decision, but it was the competence, honor and courage of the Americans on the ground whose conduct won them over.  Suspicious Sunnis, still burning with resentment over foreign invasion and loss of status to the Shi’a, watched our troops fight Al-Qaeda, watched young Americans lay down their lives to protect Muslim children and old people from suicide bombers.  They learned to believe that American officers keep their promises and deliver on their commitments.  They saw that an army composed of people from many religions (and some holding no religious belief of any kind) lives up to the ideals of Islamic combat better than an army of fanatical zealots.  They also saw for themselves to what barbarities and absurdities Al-Qaeda’s parody of Islam can lead.

Al-Qaeda’s rejection by Sunni Iraq punctured the Osama bubble in the Muslim world.  His following didn’t dry up overnight, but his dizzying rise yielded to dispiriting decline.  And the damage went farther than Al-Qaeda.  Radical Islam lost its allure as the coming thing in the Arab world.  It is no longer unrivaled as the ideology of youth and the hope of the nations.

The French scholar Gilles Kepel, no friend of the war in Iraq and no admirer of George Bush, makes the core point.  Osama’s dream was to shift history into the realm of myth.  He passionately believed that the ordinary course of mundane history wasn’t what really mattered: there was a divine and a miraculous history just behind the veil.  Osama aimed to pierce the veil, to bring hundreds of millions of Muslims into his reality, transfixed and transported by the vision of a climactic fight of good against evil, of God against America and its local allies.

That dream died in Iraq.

But on this Memorial Day it is not enough to remember, and give thanks, that Osama’s dream died before he did and that the terror movement has been gravely wounded at its heart.

Because the dream didn’t just die.

It was killed.

And it was killed by coalition forces.  They killed it by fighting harder and smarter than the enemy and they killed it by winning trust and building bridges better than the enemy.  They did it because they were better, more honorable warriors and better, more honorable partners for peace.  Mostly American and mostly Christian, the coalition forcers were more compassionate, more just, more protective of the poor and more respectful of Arab women than the crazed thugs who thought setting off bombs in the market was fulfilling God’s will.

We must continue to honor and thank the Arab allies and tribal leaders who made the choice for America in a dark and a difficult time.  But especially on this Memorial Day we must honor and remember the American heroes who by their lives and by their deaths brought victory out of defeat, understanding out of hatred and gave both Muslims and non-Muslims a chance to get this whole thing right.

The story of America’s victory over terror in Mesopotamia needs to be told.  In justice to those who sacrificed so much, and for the sake of those who may have to face similar dangers in the future, somebody needs to tell the real story of how, against all odds and in the face of unremitting skepticism and defeatism at home, our armed forces built a foundation for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

All wars are tragic; some are also victorious.  The tragedies of Iraq are real and well known.  The victory is equally real — but the politically fastidious don’t want to look.  The minimum we owe our lost and wounded warriors is to tell the story of what they so gloriously achieved.

On ths Memorial Day, a truth needs to be told.

We have not yet done justice to our dead.

show comments
  • Greg Krehel

    Thank you very much for this moving and excellent piece.

  • Luke Lea

    “because of the dogged courage, patriotism and humanity of the extraordinary men and women who served in the ranks, we won the war [in Iraq].”

    God, I hope you are right. But I still worry about what happens next.

  • Luke Lea

    “All wars are tragic; some are also victorious. The tragedies of Iraq are real and well known. The victory is equally real — but the politically fastidious don’t want to look.”

    Perhaps you can give us a reading list to document just how “nailed down” our victory is? I’ve followed the war in Iraq but don’t know what to believe. What happens when our forces leave — or can they leave? Al-Qaida (foreign Sunni fundamentalists) out of Iraq is one thing, peaceful co-existence between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia in a democratic coallition another. And what about Afghanistan? Now there’s a place I’d like to see us declare victory and go home!

  • Jimmy J.

    An excellent summation and analysis of the war in Iraq. I can’t disagree with a word of it. We can hope that what we did will have a lasting benefit for Iraq. There are, IMO, still many things that can go awry because the Iraqis, while more developed and potentially richer than many other Muslim nations, have not the traditions and institutions for repsresentative government. They are still essentially a tribal society with all the disadvantages that implies.

    None of this should distract us from honoring the incredible performance of our those who served in Iraq or giving their fallen the honor accorded to all the heroes and heroines who have given their all in defense of freedom.

    I am a Vietnam vet who knew, up close and personal, 13 American heroes who did not come home. Memorial Day is personal for me as I’m sure it is for all those who have lost family or friends. The loss hurts but as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg address:
    “…….It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -……” It is a task that is not and never will be finished because freedom is so easily perishable.

    Thank you for giving voice to the seemingly forgotten accomplishments of our warriors in Iraq.

  • bob

    Great article Professor. Nice to see that one of the “intelligentsia” still is grounded in clarity and has the courage to tell truth. Frankly you belong with the folks riding motorcycles down in Washington D.C. And I mean that in a good way!

  • Steve C.

    Not to be precious, but as was said of the French Revolution, “It’s too soon to say.”
    It’s in the hands of the Iraqis now. We’ve given them a good start, now they must make something of it.
    I’m optimistic.

  • PJ

    Amen, Professor.

  • swift boater

    You still parrot the liberal Dem talking points about Viet Nam. Viet Nam, when we left in 1973, was a complete strategic victory for the West. Our goal of keeping our ally was achieved through a terrible sacrifice, but to repeat myself, achieved.

    The Communists largest offensive of the war, the Easter Offensive in 1972, left N Vietnamese forces more than decimated (decimated meaning losing 10%, their losses were greater than that). The combination of American air power (no US combat troops) and the ARVN had held and allowed Kissinger to negotiate the 1973 peace accords.

    S. Viet Nam would have remained a valuable outpost in the Far East if the new Dem Congress of 1974 hadn’t pulled the plug on any new shipments of aid to S. Viet Nam. As long as the USSR and the PRC kept shipping their aid in the collapse in 1975 was inevitable.

    Imagine what Europe would look like today if the 1974 Congress had been in office say in 1946 or Korea if they were voted in in 1954.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    Awesome. I had never thought about the war in exactly these terms before.

  • Richard Aubrey

    Some, the dems, liberals, left, cannot afford to acknowledge that we’ve won. They will continue to move goalposts, redefine victory, point to shortcomings as evidence of defeat, make speculation as to the future the equivalent of fact.
    As Mead implies about Reagan and the left and the end of the Cold War, it is impossible for the left/libs/dems to admit it. The techniques by which they deny and require the rest of us to forget will be applied to Iraq.

  • Tobias Took

    Very, very good. Thank you, sir.

  • Jake Peachey

    America won the war the only way it could have won the war; it was by default of Rumsfeld’s “mistake” — not strategy aforethought.
    With a little more than a hundred thousand troops, Saddam Hussain was overthrown. Rumsfeld pulled back into a small footprint to avoid the risk of alienating the populace.
    Both Shiite and Sunni radicals moved in with indiscriminate barbaric viciousness. They succeeded in alienating the populace in Iraq and greatly reducing the approval radical Islam in fellow Muslims worldwide.
    Both sides of the Shiite and Sunni divide were so sick of the radicals that they cooperatively work with the American military surge, which turned out to be a cakewalk.
    This reminds me of the quote “God watches out for little children, fools, drunks and the United States of America.”

  • Michael Penney

    Wow. Just wow. Walter- well written and moving commentary. Keep doing what you do.

    Michael Penney

  • ThomasD

    “the scalding Abu Ghraib scandal was a propagandist’s dream come true.”

    How true, the MSM certainly jumped all over it in their efforts to undermine their chosen enemy (a sitting US administration.)

    Meanwhile that same MSM dutifully ignores the Afghanistan Kill Team atrocities that occurred under Obama’s watch.

    Propagandists indeed.

  • Claude Hopper

    “US checkpoints and raids were humiliating and degrading” in Iraq in the same way TSA checkpoints are in US airports.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Actually, having passed through them myself on a visit to Baghdad, I can tell you that the Iraq version is and has to be tougher. After all, most TSA personnel speak at least some English; many are native born Americans who understand the local mores; and they do not live in fear of an imminent suicide attack. TSA inspections are usually held indoors in air conditioned buildings rather than outside in 120 degree heat. The checkpoints in Iraq were more necessary than TSA searches in the US, but they were much more difficult both to administer and to endure. It is greatly to the credit of the American military that over time we made these checkpoints less difficult for all concerned — while maintaining their effectiveness.

  • Jerry R

    Very poignant article. Full of truths about our so-called political elite and our honorable and courageous soldiers, airmen, sailors….there can never be enough honor bestowed on those who gave all for their country, their countrymen, their brothers & sisters in arms….
    I only hope, that those handwringers, cowards, backstabbers and betrayers will also be found in the book of history, along with their foul deeds.
    Americans won and continue to win, in a difficult and constantly changing field of battle.
    Our political fools continue to squander that victory.

  • Joe Y

    Extraordinarily well done. It deserves the widest publication, although those who most need to read it, the Luke Lea’s of the world, lack the ability to understand its crucual point, that it was in Iraq where AQ and its dream of setting the world on fire was crushed.

  • herb

    Prof Mead: you should pick up a copy of Lewis Sorley’s A Better War. Your comment about Lincoln and Bush looking for the General that would win their wars was true in VietNam as well. GEN Abrams was the one that won.

    Interestingly, as well, Petraeus was channeling Abrams in his change of strategy in Iraq. His soldiers started protecting the population from their enemy, alQuaida

  • Howie

    @swift boater: in addition to the lack of appreciation for how the Easter Offensive of 1972 was turned back, we should also reflect back on the press coverage of the Tet Offensive. The truly heroic struggles in February and May were reported as NVA victories-they were not. The expectations of the North and the many VC who died in these unsuccessful attacks were unrealized. Intelligent commanders and brave US soldiers, airmen and Marines achieved a victory that was deliberately misreported by the press. This is a shameful legacy that has not been acknowledged by the media, and not well understood by the people here. Thank you to those who served.

  • Wayne R. Byard

    Professor Mead;
    You have put into words that which I have for the most part always believed, felt and to some degree understood concerning America’s liberation of Iraq. A fitting tribute this Memorial Day to all american veterans and especially those who have fought and served in this war. I am a Viet Nam War veteran and say this in hindsight; the US military soundly beat the VC and the North Vietnamese miltary machine, it was the the lack of political will here at home that lead to the betrayal of the South Vietnamese and handed them to the communists.
    Wayne R Byard

  • Delcy Voisine

    It did my heart good to read this superb analysis of our honorable action in the mideast. I thank GWB for his steadfastness and the members of the military who served so valiantly.

  • Judith

    Magisterial and badly in need of saying (and hearing, but some people won’t). Thank-you, Professor Mead.

  • David Billington

    “It may take that long for the truth about the war in Iraq to dawn, but dawn it will. America’s victory in Iraq broke the back of Al-Qaeda and left Osama bin Laden’s dream in ruins.”

    In Iraq, events and U.S. actions disproved the American pessimism of 2005-06, discrediting its premise that the war was unwinnable. But relief at defeated averted may be the more appropriate response here. Human rights in Iraq are better but leave much to be desired, and Iran is now the dominant influence in the country. Whether Maliki or some general becomes a new dictator is at best uncertain.

    There is also a larger context that includes Afghanistan and Egypt, where the indications are both worse and better.

    Afghanistan was neglected for too long and has not gone well. Belatedly we have added too few troops and too little time to turn things around in a country vastly more difficult than Iraq, and the corruption is as bad as ever. It can hardly be claimed that Osama Bin Laden was defeated in Iraq if he was winning in Afghanistan; it is his killing in Abbotabad that marks his final defeat, which now makes it easier for us to scale back our efforts in that region to a more realistic level, if conditions do not change by 2014.

    The good news is the Arab Spring generally, and events in Egypt in particular. Ordinary people removed authoritarian regimes backed by the West without embracing anti-Western ideas, and in Tunisia and Egypt they achieved a Western political goal without armed Western intervention. This is a deeper defeat for al-Qaida, if it can be consolidated.

    What we have seen is not vindication of a partisan narrative of the last ten years but a decade in which victory and defeat both turned out to be less certain than anyone had thought, and the power of our ideals rather stronger. I only hope we think more carefully about the contingencies that might arise in the future from very long-term or open-ended commitments.

  • Uncle Bob

    The bottom line is, the Iraqis future is now and belongs in, the hands of the Iraqis. We have an ally now, an ally, it is hoped, who will see the US and coalition countries through the prism of the relationships our forces fostered and those of Al Qaedh. We must also remember those relationships and treat Itaq as an important ally and, more importantly,our good friend and partner.
    Thank you Mr. Mead for this essay celebrating our Heroes, am sending the link to all I know. Happy and Thankful Memorial Day Sir.

  • http://www.cifwatch.com Adam Levick

    Thank you for such a moving post. Really, thanks. Happy Memorial Day, Russel.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I have said it before and I will say it again, the Iraq war will become known as one of the greatest strategic victories of all time. It is an example of Cultural Judo of the first order, and the “Arab spring” is a direct result of our nation building in Iraq, and it isn’t the first result nor will it be the last. And this from someone that doesn’t approve of nation building, because I believe that a people get the government they deserve. But Iraq was a place where we could leverage nation building, into a culture wide move to successful western culture by the failing Islamic culture.
    Frozen and stagnate authoritarian governments all over the Islamic world are now in motion, as aspirations of a brighter future based on western ideals and institutions of Democracy, Justice from the rule of law, and Free Enterprise have been stoked in the people. In Iraq we planted the seed, our care and sacrifice has created a young tree, whose growth and example has planted seeds across the Islamic world. Cultures evolve at glacial speeds, so if all we get from the “Arab Spring” is “One Man, One Vote, One Time” that is still a Victory for US, as we are getting movement where none has occurred in a thousand years.

  • bob

    ‘This reminds me of the quote “God watches out for little children, fools, drunks and the United States of America.”’

    Or better yet, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” — Winston Churchill

  • R.C.

    YES.

    Thank you, Walter Russell Mead.

  • SteveJ

    It is sad to see people who do not understand the distinction between liberal interventionists and antiwar leftists on one side of the political spectrum and Conservatives on the other side.

    As someone who lived through the Ronald Reagan era, and supported his policies for a tough stance against the Soviet Union, I know very well that Reagan merely tolerated the liberal interventionists that were beginning to infect the Republican Party at that time.

    But what saddens me most is that you took today of all days to reiterate necon talking points and claimed that support for those talking points must be linked to the homage we owe our fighting men and women in uniform.

    Ronald Reagan would not have supported such a manipulation of this important day.

    Neither do I.

  • Mercer

    Many Iraqis disagree:

    “most went straight to Hussein’s grave or read from a poem dedicated to “the courageous hero, the martyr.’’
    “Even when you are in the grave you frighten,’’ reads the poem, inscribed on a wall above the grave. “They killed you and revived in our conscious your memory.”
    Most visitors said they recalled days under Hussein when their children could go to school without fear of improvised explosives on roadways and when the electricity stayed on far longer than it does these days.
    “Everything was better,” one Sunni said.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/war-zones/at-shrine-to-saddam-hussein-in-iraq-nostalgia-for-a-fallen-leader/2011/05/18/AFvW7u7G_story.html

    This is how the “great achievement” is being remembered today in Iraq. I don’t see how this justifies the deaths of thousands of US soldiers.

  • willis

    “But especially on this Memorial Day we must honor and remember the American heroes who by their lives and by their deaths brought victory out of defeat…”

    Some of us must. Liberals never have and never will.

  • JLK

    Dr Mead:

    I want to thank you for your brilliant explanation of the REAL reasons for the war in Iraq. Creating a Democracy between (geographically and politically)the 2 most obdurate and vicious enemies we face in the region, Syria and Iran, was and is a means of eviscerating the status quo.The Arab Spring is only one of the salutary effects of victory in Iraq.

    Only a committed “Realist” like Scowcroft could actually believe we could limp along with a consistently corrupt and in Saddam’s case psychopathic leadership in the region. That kind of blind stupidity is absolutely breathtaking.

    As for the diehard Bush Haters still using silly epithets like “neocon” without having a clue as to what a neocon is; they will (eventually) be forced to wake up to the fact that history will show Bush was right. And these obtuse deniers, while refusing to emerge from their “BDS” (Bush Derangement Syndrome) cocoons will not only be proven wrong, but held up as classic examples of inbred groupthink, able only to close their eyes and ears to the blindingly obvious.

    The war was never about “WMD”. Those weapons could be reconstituted in months when the time was right. Only a lightweight in geopolitical thinking would believe that.

    And for those who supported the war early on until it became politically unpopular….. then using the excuse of “Bush screwing up” to show they were right and it would have worked if only for that stupid Nazi Neocan etc….. all I can say is what a craven strategy.

    Building a Democratic state under those conditions….30 years of brutal dictatorship, 3 distinct religious groups that hated each other, the presence of Al Qaeda with the full support of 2 hostile neighbors…was nothing short of a miracle. I would love to see any of those cowardly flip-floppers come up with a winning strategy.

    Harry Reid declaring defeat days before the surge was a great example of the quasi-treasonous state to which some of our “leaders” have sunk. That was followed by my favorite clown act, compliments of Kerry’s “voting for it before I voted against it”. These people seem incapable of shame.
    JLK

  • SmithWill

    @JLK

    I suggest you read the Federalist Papers.

    One of the worst things you can do in a society that has not had a constitutional breakthrough and has no private property rights is hold national elections.

    Places like post-War Germany and Japan had Constitutional Monarchy phases in their histories.

    Dr. Mead ought to know that. They are not models for Iraq.

  • teapartydoc

    Interesting how debaters have bravely come out of the woodwork on this one. Political denial is very much like the denial one has with cancer. It can be outlandishly telling in cases of [a particularly unpleasant form of ] cancer [restricted to males] when the tumor is sitting there right in front of the denier (quite literally), and they will sit there straight faced and tell you they just now noticed [something large and disturbing that should have been obvious] only two days ago. To these Iraq is still a disaster. I remember telling my sons that unless the country literally turned back into Eden, with a new Adam and a new Eve, the left would remain in denial. It will take a century, unless they can find a way to change the narrative ala Gorbachev.

  • Rob

    There’s been an awful lot of confusion created by the antiwar movement and the George W. Bush administration.

    A lot of people think that liberals who are not antiwar are to the right of liberals who are antiwar. They’re not — just different. They feel free to use our military for welfare projects. And as liberal elitists, they believe a society can be created for someone else at a boardroom in Washington, D.C.

    A bizarro world has been created by George W. Bush where up is down and down is up.

    WALTER RUSSELL MEAD is a typical college professor. He is a Democrat who voted for Obama.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Russell_Mead

    Here is a Conservative analysis of Mead’s article.

    http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2011/05/30/a-disgraceful-distortion/

    If you would like to support the Democrat and reject the Conservative, you are free to do so.

    I just don’t see what you’re doing in the Republican Party.

  • jb

    Rob is closest to what really is . . .

    Consider:

    TR (Progressive) Spanish American War.

    Wilson (Progressive) WWI

    Roosevelt (Progressive) WWII

    Truman (Progressive) Korea

    Kennedy/Johnson (Progressives) Viet Nam

    Bush I/Clinton (Progressives) Panama/Iraq I

    Bush II/Bammster (Progressives) Iraq II, Afghanistan, lurking in Libya . . .

    Why “conservatives” (who claim to have a clue about the constitution, keep defending this century-old plus Progressive war machine, is beyond description.

    Worse yet, is why thos wars happened.

    The last war America fought that met Constitutional standards was the War of 1812.

  • Luke Lea

    I second David Billington’s remark #23. I am surprised by the near unanimity of commenter support for Mead’s declaration of victory. At the very least it is controversial, in my (and David Billington’s) view premature. I would like it to be true, but saying something doesn’t make it so. My prediction: a 50,000 man garrison of American troops permanently in Iraq to preserve the status quo, similar to Korea. I hope it works. It would be useful for other purposes too.

  • Luke Lea

    Here is something we can agree on:

  • Scott Peaker

    An excellent piece, covering so much that needed to be said and then some. I’m extremely glad to have come across this magnificent read. Without such things being said, and eventually trumpeted unanimously by the reasonable, proper recognition of past achievement and purposeful motivation for future generations will be diminished irreparably. It’s time for the democrats to start empathizing with OUR troops as much as they sympathize with those who wish our extinction..

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    I consider myself a nationalistic centrist, who believes that the best way to keep governments limited, humble, and HUMANLY(as distinct from merely corporately) accountable, is to make sure they remain STD – secular, territorial and democratic. (I’ve yet to meet a corporation – useful and productive as they are – that answers sincerely to any of those adjectives). I probably find myself loosely aligning with “lib-left-dems” on more than a few economic issues – though on virtually no social issues. And even re economics, not nearly as much aligned with the ideas of today’s liberals as with the instincts of a Truman or an Eisenhower.

    And so, in brief, I’ve never been more horrified by the ideological packages on offer, across every point in the US political spectrum, than I am right now. Frankly I can’t see how any of our current lot, from the most cynical “realists” to the most fiery ideologues (both right and left), has anything to teach us concerning how the Real World Beyond America really works. On top of it, I suspect many of them don’t even CARE how that world works – and are quite proud of that fact. America IS the world, is the message I keep getting from them – or else it will be very shortly. And if not, why, then surely Jefferson was right: we can just shut out that mean old unworthy-of-America world indefinitely.

    That said, for quite some time I had the most morbid fear of either Saddam or an emerging Saddamist dynasty acquiring WMDs (whether he had them in 2003 or not, I felt sure it was only a matter of time before he got them – and then used their threat to position his regime as a kind of economic lynchpin and nerve center of the Middle East). I also welcomed the prospect of democratizing Iraq, partly I thought the country was due and desperate for change, and partly because I hoped a serious experience of nation-building would go some way towards restoring and solidifying our American sense of being One Nation. I’m nothing if not a poor prophet. But meanwhile, all of these concerns made me pretty staunchly hawkish from the outset of the war, as many friends and acquaintances – who still consider me a bit soft in the head – can attest. I was immensely relieved at the relief-from-command of Rumsfeld, Bremer et al, and so of course I entertained the highest hopes of Petraeus and his surge. And I must admit, I’ve yet to see those hopes seriously disappointed. Indeed about the only thing I can imagine disappointing them is us Americans failing to be ONE COUNTRY in a manner sufficient to help the Iraqis maintain themselves as one country. In fact, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that if you’re going to occupy a country successfully, it helps to want to BE a country yourself – and not just some noble idea or clever concentration of economic interests. A point we Yanks seemed to understand well enough in Germany, Japan and Korea, and perhaps began to forget through the long ordeal of Vietnam. Whether or not we REMAIN more or less the same hyperindividualistic, vehemently uncivic-minded, disdainful-of-genuine-patriotism society that emerged out of the last three decades of the 20th century is up to us. (Though God help us if we do.)

    In conclusion, I find there is hardly a word in Professor Mead’s post that I’m able to take issue with. Many thanks for a bold and timely message.

  • Neildsmith

    Good article. What else could you say to someone who was injured or lost a family member in a war? They did a good job and their sacrifice was needed. That’s what we say.

  • Eric in Denver

    Wonderful essay, but Obi’s hostility to the victory in Iraq has left the Iraqi leaders little choice and little desire but to appease Iran, and that process is well advanced now. Per instinct or per plan, Ob and the American left have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, to “prove” and implement their doctrine that America and freedom cannot win. I wish Professor Mead would address this.

  • Cunctator

    This is a very compelling piece of writing, and pays much-earned respect to the US military forces, their leadership and President Bush. I also supported the war from the start and, while less impressed with many other administration officials, I think that future historians will see George W. Bush as a “profile in courage” (take that Democrats!!!).

    However, the war is far from over. The threat posed by Saddam is gone: Osama bin Laden is dead. All that is true. But the jihadist cause is alive and well and the clash of civilisations (for what else can we call the West’s inescapable confrontation with Islam, both moderate and extremist?) is still thriving. The problem with Iran, the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood (not a pro-democracy force by any stretch of the imagination) throughout the Middle East, and the slowly rebuilding al Qaeda, all testify to the continuing fight.

    Americans should honour those who serve in the military on Memorial Day, but do not relax your guard. All of us, in whatever Western democracy, depend on you.

  • mark

    It is good that our “hero’es” did not have to face battle-hardened troops like Russians. To trounce the rag-tag Sadam’s army is a shame to the U.S.A. My son, who had to participate it it (by contract obligation) will never again enlist or be drafted. No more wars for Israel!

  • LD

    So, Prof. Mead believed Colin Powell’s solemn assurances about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. wow.

    Neither that, nor the other lies (obvious at the time), for example, the “Al-Qaida trap”, we have been fed about Iraq and our obdurate, but miniscule, enemies on either side of Iraq, can justify the deaths of 4500 Americans, the serious injuries of ten times that many Americans, or the bad memories and trauma of 100 or more times that many Americans. Nor can they justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis at American hands since 1991.

    The same goes on in Afghanistan, Libya, and many other countries.

    By all means, a truth needs to be told. Bring our soldiers home.

  • SmithWill

    “I consider myself a nationalistic centrist, who believes that the best way to keep governments limited, humble, and HUMANLY accountable, is to make sure they remain STD – secular, territorial and democratic.”

    That is wrong. And the Founding Fathers made it quite clear that is wrong.

    The Founding Fathers noted that the right to property was a precondition for other freedoms — such as privacy and the freedoms of expression, association, and religion.

    It is private property that causes a real diffusion of power, and creates a real checks and balances system.

    A real checks and balances system is based on power distributions — not the abstraction of three branches of government.

    Private property was an outgrowth of feudal Europe — not Democracy. Japan, and by extension Korea, adopted the European land code during the 1860s — well before we arrived on the scene in the 1940s. And they would not have been able to do that if they were not consolidated nation states — a process that took hundreds of years.

  • Ben A

    I’m a frequent reader of and fan of Meads, and incline to his view on Iraq. That said, I’d be very interested in hearing his response to the general line of argument advanced by Larison (and, I guess, Bacevich) in the critical article linked in comment 35.

  • JLK

    @ Smithwill

    No idea what you are talking. If you are speaking of the Constitutionality of the Iraq war the votes of approval in both houses come a lot closer than the previous 3-4 wars.

    At least you didn’t fall back on the blessings of the UN as the ultra-craven are prone to do.

    Muscular Diplomacy must be backed up by the possibility/threat of military action or it will become a weak and flabby diplomacy. The Libs don’t seem to get that. You can’t send a few drones in blasting away with Hellfire missiles and expect an incredibly tough opponent like the Afghanis to put their “haende hoch”.

    You also can’t send a message that we will only fight a war with what I call “CNN Rules of Engagement”. If a marine hits the wrong house in a firefight he is prosecuted. If a head-hacking Al Qaeda sends a disgusting execution video around the world the Libs try to “understand” while blaming the West for the terrorist’s poor upbringing
    JLK

  • richard

    With all due respect to W.R.Mead, let me suggest an alternative interpretation.

    The further we move away from the terrible events in Iraq the clearer the picture becomes. Saddam Hussein was a dictator, a lot crazier than Mubarak and Qaddafi but until he invaded Kuwait in 1990, after being implicitly told we won’t object (please see Dean Acheson on Korea) by our Ambassador, everything changed. He became the really evil one.

    One needs to recall that President Hussein attacked Iran shortly after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 with our covert support. We helped him in many way including providing targeting on Iranian troops when Iraq was firing poison gas shells, some of which many believe were supplied by the U.S.

    The point of all this was President Reagan clearly saw that Iraq was the natural enemy of Iran and played the critical role in the balance of power in the Mideast to contain Iran. So the really smart thing to do was he used Hussein as a counter to Iran.

    Fast forward, when Bush invaded Iraq there were no al qaeda in Iraq as every sane person knows. In fact most people agree that Hussein hunted them down much as did Mubarak in Egypt. Of course there were no nukes in Iraq which really was no suprise, but what was really shocking, there wasn’t even a single gas shell!( And by the way he presented absolutely no threat to America!) Needless to say this made Bush, Powell etc look utterly ridiculous. So quick change, what’s the new reason to sacrifice American soldiers — of course to make Iraq “safe for demoracy”. How pathetic!

    Now Bush and his policies moved on to totally destroy Sunni dominance in Iraq. The Sunni army disbanded and we essentially joined the Shite side in an internal civil war. The Sunnis who make up only maybe 25% of the population were fighting both us, the Shities and the Kurds.

    By the time of the surge that war was just about over with the overwhelming victory of the Shites. Mass murder and ethnic cleansing etc. achieved that victory. The surge really just forced the Sunnis to finally figure out they had lost and to keep fighting especially in support of the radical Islamists like al queda was crazy and only further weakened them relative to the Shitesand Kurds. Were the Sunnis crazy to fight us in the first place, yes. Were they crazy to align with the Islamists yes, as it helped to drive the U.S. to destroy what remained of serious Sunni oppositon to Shite rule. But then let’s be honest who ever would claim any of these people operate in the rational real world? Yes, we defeated a rag tag group of die hard Sunni Islamists with the major help from the other Sunnis who finally figured out they had lost. But also in the process lost Iraq by firmly consolidating Shite rule.

    To sum up: where we are now, the American invasion of Iraq achieved what over a 1000 years of Shite efforts couldn’t do: give them control of Iraq. This was the greatest strategic victory for Iran in centuries. At last they have their co-reglionists in power in the country that presented the greatest threat to them. Poor President Reagan, he must be spinning in his grave.

    We are already seeing the results of this with the ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of the year and the full realignment of Iraq as Iran’s foremost ally. Let’s admit reality, we’re being kicked out of Iraq after 5000 dead Americans and one trillion dollars spent. So tell me again what was the invasion about? The events of next 18 months will I think fully confirm the above analysis.

    Finally the realy suprising aspect of this article is how an intellegent historian can completely miss the big strategic picture of the Iraq war. I don’t think there was any mention of Saddam Hussein in the article, barely any mention of the Shite/Sunni civil war, no discussion of Iran. In fact, it sounds like the whole reason we invaded Iraq was to fight al queda/ bin Laden which wasn’t even there until after we destroyed the Sunni secular dictatorship which hated bin Laden as much as we did. And by so doing, we allowed Al Queda to gain a foothold in Iraq.

    The whole al queda/bin Laden thing was really a side show to the huge strategic issues of Iraq realignment in ultimate support of Iran.

    And finally the vast destruction and deaths unleashed by the totally unnecessary invasion of Iraq will I am afraid provide more than bin Laden ever could reasons for Moslems all over the world to hate America for decades or perhaps centuries to come. This really is the most frightening legacy of this whole tragic Bush fiasco.

    In many ways this war may be a far greater strategic defeat for us than Vietnam which was really just another civil war in southeat Asia which we butted our way in. I wonder how the mothers, fathers, wives etc. of the 50,000 plus Americans who died in that fiasco feel this Memorial Day now that the same communist Vietnam is suddenly our best friend and a semi-ally against China. What did they die for?

    Until we can stop this insane intervention in everybodies civil wars we will continue to end up losers matter how many fairy tales we invent to make it sound like we won. In many ways our brave service men and women deserve even more credit as they have soldiered on to their deaths in spite of being led by utter fools. God bless them.

  • Callmelennie

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything Prof Mead says, but I would add one significant factor which turned the tide in the war against the insurgency and caused the Sunni shaykhs to side with the Americans.

    Starting around 2006 the historically quiescent Shi’ites turned on their Sunni tormentors and began the process of paying them back for fifty years of the most horrific oppression imaginable. And the form it took was truly horrific, as you could well imagine. Sunni men were kidnapped and were discovered weeks later with their corpses disfigured by acid and with holes drilled in their skulls and similar horrors

    And the folly of the insurgency suddenly dawned on the Sunni tribal leaders — the Shi’ites actually outnumbered them and there was no longer helicopter gunships and Army tanks available to slaughter them and no terror apparatus to control them. And if the Americans were driven out, the Shi’ites would visit these horrors on everyone.

    I think this played a huge role in the Sunni shaykhs turning to America

  • Charlie Elwis

    Of course our soldiers are brave and are worthy of our lasting gratitude. However, for accuracy’s sake, prior to the invasion of Iraq, Al-Qaeda was not present nor were the WMDs. It was the dethroning of Saddam that made it possible for Al-Qaeda to enter the equation. No one will miss Saddam and the only good member of Al-Qaeda is a dead member, but for the sake of history facts do matter.

  • SmithWill

    @JLK

    I am noting that the political objectives did not make any sense. There is no way to create a Republic in Iraq at this time. I am noting that Iraq is not a Constitutional society. Nor is it a politically consolidated society.

    The only thing you can create in Iraq by holding elections is a Democracy. And that is very bad thing to create.

  • Luke Lea

    @Richard, comment #49: nice counterpoint.

  • B_Wooster

    Mr. Mead,
    I served in Iraq for a year and I am very proud to say that I saw a lot of courage displayed by young Americans. However, I completely disagree with your use of the words “victory” and “glorious” to describe the American invasion of Iraq. Although we don’t like to admit it, the “Sunni Awakening” was driven by massive payoffs, not because the Sunni tribes suddenly saw us as saviors. That whole rotten place wasn’t worth the loss of a single American life. Furthermore, life for the average Iraqi is, on average, worse than it was in March 2003.

  • John

    Comment No. 49 nails it. May God Bless our wonderful soldiers and may God forgive our foolish leaders.

  • Anthony

    Been away and missed Memorial Day post but our troops need a salute despite positions on Iraq. WRM,” On this Memorial Day we must honor and remember the American heroes who by their lives and by their deaths brought victory out of defeat, understanding out of hatred and gace both Muslims and non Muslims a chance to get this whole thing right” says it all for me. To our honorable men in the armed forces, politics aside, God Bless/Stay Well!!

  • http://sgreffenius.wordpress.com/ Steven Greffenius

    Walter Russell Mead rightly praises our soldiers in Iraq. Our servicemen and women deserve our respect. Mead also claims our soldiers are responsible for our victory in Iraq. Read David Larison’s post in response to Mead for another view of that claim. It’s at The American Conservative: . Larison’s article explains once more why the Iraq war was a costly, strategic blunder. Some so-called victories aren’t worth the cost, no matter how motivated you are to claim success.

    When Mead compares George W. Bush to Abraham Lincoln, saying both leaders failed their way to victory, he shows an irrational sympathy for Bush, an incompetent criminal. The Iraq war seems one of those issues where people won’t change their view. I’m in that category. I believe an illegal war can’t have a good outcome for the country that initiates it, no matter what happens in the attacked country years later. A criminal act remains a criminal act.

    Caution: don’t analyze responses to this war based on standard political labels like left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, or any other spectrum. The labels just don’t work. Mead uses these convenient categories to dismiss people who don’t see things as he does. The leftists and the defeatist liberals, he says, will always refuse to see the victory right in front of their eyes. When you see a good thinker use these categories to dismiss the opposition, become skeptical. Labels often mask intellectual laziness.

    A thinker of Mead’s caliber should not make simple mistakes. Mead actually claims that our success in the Iraq war changed world history because it deflated Al Qaeda’s grandiose plans for a new caliphate that would destroy the United States. What he misses is that grandiose, unrealistic plans always fail. They deflate one way or another. You don’t need a horrible war like the one in Iraq to accomplish that result.

  • Omar Ibrahim Bakr

    The American conquest of Iraq will eventually go down in American history, as presently universally perceived, as the wanton ,aggressive war that not only failed to achieve its coyly declared objective (bringing democracy to the Arab world) BUT succeeded in possibly being the first war fought
    a-for ulterior non American objectives and interests and
    b-to be markedly counterproductive in terms of ulterior beneficiary.
    .
    A***:The war was conceived and executed as a preemptive war for the benefit of Israel: ridding it of a potential major Arab military cum technological challenger.
    Wolfowitz, then part of the inner Bush Jr. coterie, asked for it immediately after 9/11, according to Bob Woodward of the Washington POST.
    Zelikow, the rapporteur of the 9/11 Congressional investigation of 9/11 , as such highly versed in USA sensitive political/security affairs, spared no words in declaring that it was fought for the protection of Israel in his U of Maryland (?), or was it Virginia Tech, lecture.
    The amount of wanton destruction inflicted on Iraq for no clear military purposes and the obviously pre planned dismemberment of Iraq both as a nation and as a state equally point that way and attest to that.

    B***:Few wars managed to hand over almost totally the fruits of its “victory” to its declared enemy: the American conquest of Iraq managed that remarkable feat by handing over Iraq to IRAN; at practically zero cost to Iran.

    It was no less counterproductive about its declared objectives, bringing Democracy to the Arabs, for what Arab public opinion garnered from the conquest primarily relates to:
    -the burning of Baghdad Public Library
    -the looting of its Archeological Museum
    -Abu Ghraib
    -Faluga and Samara battles AND
    -Black Water
    Plus millions displaced and hundreds of thousands civilians killed hors combats.

    Memorial Day should primarily commemorate the wantonness of this war, the destruction and dismemberment of Iraq, the victory handed over to Iran, the millions Iraqi civilians killed and displaced and the American GIs killed in the service of others!

  • Sam H

    With all due respect to some of the posters here…

    There were WMDs in Iraq, all of it proscribed by the treaty ending the First Gulf War (my war). There was dual-purpose equipment and the systems in place to produce and deliver more. Plus, you have Saddam himself on tape saying that he is just waiting for the UN “inspectors” to leave before ramping up production. So, please, enough of the no WMDs mantra. It is patently false and absurd. There may have been some question as to the quantity of WMDs Saddam possessed but one thing is certain; he has none now.

    As is the notion of no Al Qaeda in Iraq. The fanatical interpretation of Islam is an ideology and ideology does not have the boundaries of nations. The American strategy of leaving a light footprint in Afghanistan and going into Iraq, a relatively flat country where we own the night, was brilliant. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of jihadis went on their final crusade and met their deserved fate. Al Qaeda tenatacles were in Iraq long before America; the first WTC bombers sought refuge there. Saddam paid bounties to “Palestinian” suicide bombers. Abu Nidal was living in the Baghdad Hilton. So, yes, Al Qaeda, and its attendant philosophy, was in Iraq long before America was.

    Iraq is a constitutional society and, while it is not “politically consolidated (whatever that means)”, guess what? Neither are we “politically consolidated.”

    My young years were spent hearing liberals and leftists explaining how we were going to have to learn to live with communists and Communism because they simply were not going away. There surely are millions of former “communists” who seem to be doing quite fine thank you.

    Communism is not tenable with representative government nor with free-market economies. But communists are.

    It will take time and much blood has yet to be spilled. And Islam is not tenable with the realities of a free society.

    But Muslims may just be.

    Time will tell. But Mr. Mead is correct. History will record the Iraq campaign as a great American victory. Indeed, a great victory for all free men from across the globe.

    God bless America and the American fighting man.

  • Luke Lea

    @Sam H: “Iraq is a constitutional society and, while it is not “politically consolidated (whatever that means)”, guess what? Neither are we “politically consolidated.”

    Sometimes you gotta wonder. About the range of opinion in the United States I mean. Not that there is anything wrong about that. :) But seriously, what kind of educated person could hold an opinion like that? And why would he be reading Mead?

  • SmithWill

    @Luke and @ Sam

    I am mystified as to why anyone would consider Iraq a constitutional society. Certainly the Founding Fathers would not.

    The Founders noted that property rights were a precondition for a host of other rights. Our Bill of Rights has no real meaning without them.

    You cannot have minority rights or truly limited government without property rights. There are no land property rights in the Arab world. The very concept of ownership is different from that of the West. The Arab world may be able to develop those rights. But you do not accomplish those things quickly. And you need stability in order for those kinds of institutions to take root. Democracy does not provide stability.

    For some reason liberals claim that you can go from Dictatorship to Democracy to Constitutional Democracy. That doesn’t make any sense. Democracy is in fact a step backwards.

    The general progression in Europe was Absolute Monarchy progressing to Constitutional Monarchy progressing to Constitutional Democracy. The democracy came last. The United States itself evolved out of a Constitutional Monarchy.

    Some people bring up Japan and by extension Korea. But Japan, and by extension Korea, had Constitutional Monarchy phases in their histories.

    What you are creating in Iraq, if you are creating anything at all, is a Democracy similar to Venezuela, Iran, Lebanon, Indonesia, and a host of other illiberal democracies plaguing the planet.

  • David Billington

    SmithWill: “There are no land property rights in the Arab world.”

    Could you explain what you mean? The International Bar Association link below (hyperlink should be unbroken) seems to describe categories of landed property in Iraq, including private ownership.

    http://www.ibanet.org/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=e2f9fb38-c584-4854-972c-95378836f941

    The difference I would see between Iraq and the United States relates to the level of personal security and law enforcement, not property rights per se.

  • J. Froney

    By my reckoning Professor Mead attempts to hallow the political ground he claims by the sacrifices of those we all honor on Memorial Day. As always, this divisive strategy poisons our ever-faltering (but not yet failed) attempts at collective self government. The last full measure given by so many in Iraq cannot justify, or consecrate that war, as policy or strategy.
    I understand his wish that the sacrifices our country has made in Iraq, that we have all made together, in our name and by our will, might prove a victory. But “America’s victory over terror” is apparently no better won than our victory over ignorance, or deceit, or even wishful thinking. Certainly we have not proven victorious over grandiosity, and as Daniel Larison makes clear, exaggeration appears to have overwhelmed Professor Mead’s sense of proportion.
    Memorial Day seems an especially inappropriate time to confuse glory and sacrifice, and while I agree that “we have not yet done justice to our dead”, we do them great injustice by convincing ourselves (as we will never convince them) that the truth is that they won a glorious victory. They did not die so that we can feel victorious, or good, or that our geopolitical interests might prevail. They made their sacrifices “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” They, and we, can act on no more. Not only on Memorial Day, but every day, the truth must be sought, and told, so we may “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Professor Mead conjures the truth he wishes, dishonoring those whose sacrifice he enlists as a cudgel. They deserve better. So do we.

  • SmithWill

    @David B

    You can say that people “own” homes in Iraq. And that there is “private property” there. But what does the government mean by those terms? Does private property have the same kind of inviolability in the Arab world as in the West. I think the answer is a clear no.

    One of the better articles I have come across on the subject is below. Although it looks to me like the person who runs the web site has the same Wilsonian misunderstanding regarding the effect Democracy will have on the problem. It uses as its primary source the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom.

    http://arabliberty.com/?p=146

    The DeSoto article referenced is also interesting.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    My opinion (for whatever it may be worth):

    In a given country’s history – however fledgling or “makeshift” that country (e.g., Afghanistan) may seem to us – the different political phases are very mysterious things. You never can be sure (until maybe decades later at the earliest) how deep or shallow the roots of a particular phase may be, or when those same roots may crop up again above the surface. The phase of constitutional monarchy in Iraq’s history (1931-1958) may seem to have had very shallow roots: it never was very popular, and it came to a hugely unpopular end. But we cannot ASSUME it failed to teach the various people(s) of Iraq something – of real value – about what was desirable or undesirable in one or another mode of governance. With sufficient hindsight you can learn even from things you hate – or thought you hated. And sometimes hindsight can bring with it a sense that your original opposition was perhaps too excessive, or disproportionate, or even just plain wrong. I’m sure there are many people in Iraq today who remain nostalgic for Saddam at the very height of his power. And who am I to blame them? But all the same, I doubt if many of them are Kurds, or even Shiites. And while I’m sure many Shiites and others once groaned under the yoke of the Sunni-dominated Hashemite monarchy, the latter must have seemed like Benevolence itself – following the brief Qasim interregnum – once they’d sampled the exemplary tolerance of Baathist pan-Arabism.

    Of course it was mad to think we could “impose” democracy on Iraq. But is it any less mad to ASSUME we could have lived indefinitely with a Stalin-worshiping Baathist dictator (of a party whose pro-Axis pedigree was second to none) who was determined to acquire nuclear capability at the soonest possible convenience? Or with trading partners – France, Russia, China, perhaps eventually Germany and Italy – who were equally determined NOT to live within the limits of official embargo? Are we also supposed to assume that a quasi-Islamified future Saddamist dynasty would never have mended fences with al-Qaeda? Or even gone the way of producing its own al-Qaeda or kindred jihadist franchises (for export only, of course)? Did they not both share a common – and lethal – enemy?

    Far be it from me to say that my imagination does not run in morbid directions. But meanwhile, what did we do? We deposed Saddam, and then we proceeded to institute the most radical policy of de-Baathification conceivable short of pure chaos. And we instituted various statutes, devices and policy maneuvers, all designed to ensure Iraq’s – let us say – maximum and immediate oil accessibility. Which measures unfortunately gave many Iraqis on the ground the immediate (oh, no doubt unjustified) sense that we cared not a whit for their immediate economic needs and concerns. In short, however well-intentioned we Yanks may have been, we were setting up both ourselves and them for a pattern of endless miscommunication and failure. And whatever latent aptitude Iraqis might have possessed for constitutional self-government, we were making sure it remained safely buried. A more vigorous PRACTICAL argument against the viability of democracy in the Arab world it would be hard to imagine. But am I supposed to blame the Iraqis for the fruits of our excessive commercial zeal?

    No, democracy does not come down off a shelf, or out of a bottle. But the last thing we should want to do is to delay, impede or retard its coming unnecessarily. And I wonder if some of our most convenient economic ties with Arab countries haven’t done precisely that. For instance, has anyone seriously bothered to investigate the effects on local societies of rapid and drastic economic liberalization – and in particular on countries that have little or no tradition of rule of law, property rights or constitutional governance? Like Egypt, for example?

    Regardless of what a place’s “innate” capacity* for property-rights-based constitutional government may be, at the very least we may ask whether the things we’re doing – and in particular the things we’re investing in – are strengthening or weakening that capacity. The most intimate and inextricable ties between oil-producers (like Saudi) and oil-consumers (like US) so far do not show a very impressive track record in developing the producers’ talent for self-government. And the more strategically non-negotiable those ties are (e.g., both of us being partners-in-God for the defeat of godless Communists, etc), the more entrenched become those ruling interests that have the least stake in, and the most to lose from, any move towards representative government. And the more unhappy, restive, and even explosive many of their people – and not just Shiites – can become. Sometimes in direct rebellion against those countries’ regimes. At other times, simply by way of development, and further radicalization, of an ideology already being propagated by the regime itself.

    *How anyone can know THAT from the get-go is beyond me.

    “Private property was an outgrowth of feudal Europe — not Democracy. Japan, and by extension Korea, adopted the European land code during the 1860s — well before we arrived on the scene in the 1940s. And they would not have been able to do that if they were not consolidated nation states — a process that took hundreds of years.”

    My apologies to all for any confusion I may have caused. The last thing I wanted to suggest was that democratic institutions come easily, or do not take a long time. Or that we Americans somehow imposed democracy “ex nihilo” upon Germany, Japan and Korea. I was actually thinking of countries – like our own – in which democratic practice is well-rooted and long-established. My concern was about those countries’ governments ceasing to be SECULAR (as in making no ultimate, all-consuming or “religious” demands upon their citizens), TERRITORIAL (self-explanatory, I hope), or DEMOCRATIC (as in every citizen – regardless of income, property, influence or accomplishment – being guaranteed a voice and a vote). My fear was that this could happen through various institutions, which of their organizational nature CANNOT be STD, coming to wield a preponderant share of influence in our governing. That sort of outcome may seem remote given our present egalitarian circumstances. But as I said, my imagination tends to run morbidly.

    Lastly, this has been by and large a very civil, respectful forum of discourse. I realize the subject of Iraq can arouse passions that even the Red State vs Blue State model discussions don’t engage. But can we please TRY not to come down so hard on each other? I’ve been detecting an unwonted vehemence of tone – even a certain denunciatoriness? – from some quarters I’ve really come to admire and enjoy. It seems to me, if ever there was a time when we needed to come together – not to bury our differences, but to see them in a longer perspective of larger threats – it is now. We face enemies today who would like nothing better than to divide us, even to the point where it becomes increasingly hard, or irrelevant, to see and appreciate each other’s common humanity. Jihadism – whether Salafist or Khomeinist – disdains to have any specific or redressable grievances, precisely because it believes its grievances to be those of God against humanity itself. It is theologically anti-human by its very nature: it would correct sin by consuming the sinner. As such it seeks to be the very incarnation, as it were, of a god of hate. Hence the more reasons we can find NOT to hate – or despise, or loathe, or pity, or condescend to – each other, and the more reasons we can find to hate “religious” nihilism and everything it stands for, surely the better off we all (including my good friends the Chinese) will be?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Thanks for the thoughtful post. I have noticed a tendency for comments to become a little more ‘ad hominem.’ It’s not a good trend and the editors will renew their vigilance to ensure that the comments posted on this site do not make disparaging comments about others participating in the discussion. As always, there is more latitude to insult me than to insult anybody else. WRM

  • SteveJ

    All due respect to Dr. Mead, the title of the article is:

    Memorial Day: The War in Iraq

    The title creates an emotive atmosphere. And he goes onto to say that Memorial Day isn’t about Memorial Day. It’s about supporting his viewpoint.

    “Those who opposed the war and those who supported it can unite in tribute to the loyalty, the courage and the sacrifice of those who served there.
    That is something, but it is not enough.”

    In other words it is not enough for Americans to unite in tribute to our troops. You must also accept Dr. Mead’s views on Iraq.

    The article invited incitement from all sides. Poor judgment.

  • Open Escrow

    Both Professor Mead and Comment 49 make compelling arguments. Mead offers American hopes and 49 offers Arab/ US anti-war predictions. But they are no more than arguments, far from factual or true, the thing is playing out. Like arguments in 1790, it might take 90 years before we know who was right.

  • richard

    just a brief reply to “Open Escrow” comment #18. I do not consider my observations in comment #49 as representing Arab/US anti-war predictions. Please re-read the comment. You will note I cite President Reagan as a clear headed advocate of real politic in dealing with such characters as Hussein.

    I have little faith in the Arab/Moslem world to be able in the next thousand years to adopt any meaningful aspects of Western/Christain civilization most especially democracy! Please read Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations for further insights into these issues.

    The point of Comment #49 and what I object to is U.S. politicians sacrificing American troops in pursuit of fuzzy headed impossible goals using politically correct mumbo jumbo rationale where there is not real threat to the United States. And with military leaders fighting wars as if they were in the Peace Corp. I.E. using strategies and tactics which sacrifice American troops so as not to damage the property or hurt civilians, who are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and who deeply hate Americans. It is the never ending idea (see Vietnam) of winning “the hearts and minds” of these people. It is Prof.Mead’s article which is laced with all of these misguided ideas which never work but cost the lives of thousands of American troops. See Afghan.Libya et al. If President Lincoln used these kinds of tactics we’d still be fighting the Civil War, and please, by the way George Bush “is no President Lincoln”!

    Since prof. Mead appears to from the South, I would suggest he review how General Sherman successfully handled this problem in the Civil War, particularly the March to the Sea and then into the Carolinas, as an excellent template for teaching terrorists a lesson not to attack the United States.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Several comments on this post seem so angry at Bush and the neocons that they missed the point of my post. I did not make an argument about the spread of democracy or Iraq as a model. This was entirely about accomplishing the negative agenda of blocking Al-Qaeda’s quest to put itself at the head of World Islam. I do not say that we turned Iraq into a good democracy or that that was or should have been our goal. I say something else entirely: the US defeated Al-Qaeda’s attempt to hijack the Sunni insurrection in Iraq and that the results substantially impaired Al-Qaeda’s political prospects throughout the region.

  • Omar Ibrahim Bakr

    Professor MEAD
    Re your concluding sentence : ” the US defeated Al-Qaeda’s attempt to hijack the Sunni insurrection in Iraq and that the results substantially impaired Al-Qaeda’s political prospects throughout the region.”
    I contend you are wrong on two counts :
    1- The implied presumption that Al Qaeda was the major Islamist set up fronting Islamist and nationalist rejection of American aggression on Iraq and elswhere.
    Implied as it is the weight given both al Qaeda and the killing of Ben Laden, in your article and American media in general, seem to me to draw away due public attention and concern from the much more important Arab-Islam/American enmity.

    2-Whether ” the US defeated Al-Qaeda’s attempt to hijack the Sunni insurrection in Iraq ” is certainly premature and remains to be seen.

  • SFC MAC

    @B_Wooster,

    I served in Iraq twice, (in an intel capacity)and you’re totally missing the point. Saddam Hussein was a WMD, terrorist supporting megalomanic. We went into Afghanistan first, but there’s no doubt in my military mind, that Iraq earned its place on the to do list. Worth it? You betcha.
    READ: http://sfcmac.wordpress.com/2008/06/17/no-lies-about-iraq/

    I’d have leveled 3/4ths of the Middle East on 12 September 2001. Islamic terrorists are funded, trained, bred, and supported throughout the region. I’d have made William Tecumseh Sherman look like a boy scout. That’s how you fight a jihad, but I’m a former Soldier, not a politician.

    Cheers,
    SFC MAC

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