The Real Iraqi Miracle
Opting for tolerance.
11:14 AM, Oct 31, 2007 • By DEAN BARNETT
IN THE FACE OF MEDIA indifference, the facts on the ground in Iraq have changed--dramatically and for the better. The deaths of Iraqi civilians over the past two months have declined precipitously. Before the surge and its accompanying change in tactics took effect, often 3,000 Iraqis would die violent deaths in a month, directly victimized by the sectarian violence. In September, that number dropped below 900. In October, the plunge continued to below 700, the lowest figure for any month at any point during the war.
One of the fears regarding the surge is that its change in tactics, a wholesale transformation that would put greater emphasis on engaging the enemy and less emphasis on force protection, would bring with it intolerable American casualties. Not intolerable to the men and women who have chosen to go to Iraq and want to win there, but surely intolerable to certain elements of our media and political establishments that would opportunistically seize on each piece of bad news as another reason to end "George Bush's war." Happily, this scenario hasn't transpired. American fatalities due to hostilities have declined each month since May. In October, there were fewer than thirty American hostile fatalities, the lowest such figure since February 2004.
Yet war opponents and President Bush's foes are nothing if not determined. They're not likely to take this good news lying down. In the past, the media and the Democratic party have preferred to paint Iraq as an irretrievably violent place where we've already lost. The New York Times not long ago infamously editorialized that genocide was preferable to our current situation.
Even for lefty dead-enders, this narrative has become increasingly untenable. In order to avoid embarrassing themselves, the war's opponents in the press and politics will have to make a tactical adjustment of their own. Look for them in the coming weeks to try to shift the debate to the one area where Iraq has not progressed dramatically since the start of the surge--its stumble-prone central government.
If they are allowed to do this, then the American people will miss the real miracle that has occurred in Iraq over the last several months. Peace is breaking out through Iraq and the sectarian violence declining because that is the demand of the Iraqi people. Iraqi society has tired of bloodshed, and has opted for tolerance. It is the most amazing and inspiring story of the admittedly still-young 21st century. And yet few in the media have deigned to tell it, and many in our body politic refuse to hear it.
A FEW YEARS AGO, conservative commentator and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote an article that harshly responded to President Bush's idealistic second Inaugural Address. Noonan posited that Bush was overreaching in trying to eradicate tyranny, and even argued that tyrants have their proper role in history.
"Certain authoritarians and tyrants whose leadership is illegitimate and unjust have functioned in history as--ugly imagery coming--garbage-can lids on their societies," she wrote. "They keep freedom from entering, it is true. But when they are removed, the garbage--the freelance terrorists, the grievance merchants, the ethnic nationalists--pops out all over. Yes, freedom is good and to be strived for. But cleaning up the garbage is not pretty."
Noonan's imagery was no less repulsive because she acknowledged its ugliness. Dismissing entire populations as "garbage" who need tyrants to keep them in their place is not the sort of language that her former boss, Ronald Reagan, would have countenanced.
Noonan was every bit as misguided in terms of realpolitik. By the start of this century, the age of the "successful" tyrant had long since passed. In Saudi Arabia, in spite of a ruthless, illegitimate regime that attempted to smother its society, a movement led by an embittered millionaire had "popped out" and toppled America's two tallest buildings. Long before then, our tyrant in Iran, the Shah, lost his place atop Iranian society. The totalitarian Fundamentalists who replaced him have been killing Americans and other free people for over a generation now.
It's important to note that the regime that replaced the Shah was popular; thirty years ago, it reflected the will of the Iranian people. Surveying the rest of the Islamic world after 9/11, we had and still have cause to fear the rise of more regimes cut from the Iranian cloth. Brutal Wahabism dominates Saudi society; the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood is ascendant in Egypt.
President Bush's plan regarding the Iraq war was audacious and risky. He wanted to prove that an Islamic country could be peaceful and democratic. In order for the project to succeed, the demands for peace and tolerance had to necessarily flow from the Iraqi people.