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Debating Iraq

Posted by Richard on March 21, 2006

I support the Bush Doctrine in general and the liberation of Iraq in particular, but I’ll gladly admit that those choices aren’t slam-dunks. Reasonable people can reach different conclusions, and there are plenty of questions about GWOT strategy, military tactics, Iraqi politics, and a dozen related subjects that deserve ongoing debate and discussion.

Regrettably, it’s hard to have an intelligent debate and discussion with most of the people who oppose the Bush Doctrine and/or the liberation of Iraq.

"Bush lied, people died!"

"You mean about WMDs or Saddam’s support of terrorists? Well, that’s not true. Are you familiar with Stephen Hayes’ book, The Connection? Or the Iraqi documents from the Saddam era that have recently been translated? Or the WMD evidence presented by…"

"Neo-cons! You can’t believe any of that! They’re all lies made up by neo-cons so they can kill women and children and promote Zionist imperialism and steal Iraq’s oil! Neo-cons lied, people died!"

"Now calm down. You can’t reject all this evidence just because…"

"La-la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you! Bush lied, people died! Bush lied, people died!"

The "arguments" of most liberal/left critics (and, I’m sorry to say, of most libertarians and paleoconservatives, too) are hardly worth the effort required to refute and discredit them. For real intelligent discussions of the strategic and tactical mistakes made and lessons learned, the political and military prognoses in Iraq, and the desirability of continuing to pursue the Bush Doctrine, you have to look at the disagreements among those on the right.

For instance, William F. Buckley declared Iraq a failure, and Rich Lowry and Jed Babbin have triggered a debate over the Bush Doctrine that’s ongoing. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Cliff May can always be counted on to chime in. National Review Online hosted a symposium on "Iraq three years in." For the liberal hawk perspective, there’s Christopher Hitchens.

But any consideration of the Bush Doctrine and Iraq should pay attention to what George W. Bush says. I strongly recommend that you read Monday’s speech to the City Club of Cleveland. Much of the speech is devoted to telling the story of the western Iraqi city of Tal Afar. It’s a fascinating story, and well-told. It’s the story of initial mistakes and complete failure, a serious rethinking of strategy and tactics, and finally tremendous success:

The success of Tal Afar also shows how the three elements of our strategy in Iraq — political, security, and economic — depend on and reinforce one another. By working with local leaders to address community grievances, Iraqi and coalition forces helped build the political support needed to make the military operation a success. The military success against the terrorists helped give the citizens of Tal Afar security, and this allowed them to vote in the elections and begin to rebuild their city. And the economic rebuilding that is beginning to take place is giving Tal Afar residents a real stake in the success of a free Iraq. And as all this happens, the terrorists, those who offer nothing but destruction and death, are becoming marginalized.

The strategy that worked so well in Tal Afar did not emerge overnight — it came only after much trial and error. It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq. Yet the strategy is working. And we know it’s working because the people of Tal Afar are showing their gratitude for the good work that Americans have given on their behalf. A recent television report followed a guy named Captain Jesse Sellars on patrol, and described him as a "pied piper" with crowds of Iraqi children happily chanting his name as he greets locals with the words "Salaam alaikum," which mean "peace be with you."

When the newswoman asks the local merchant what would have happened a few months earlier if he’d been seen talking with an American, his answer was clear: "They’d have cut off my head, they would have beheaded me." Like thousands of others in Tal Afar, this man knows the true meaning of liberation.  

Read the free-wheeling Q&A session that followed, too. Yeah, a few of the questions were softballs, but there were some pretty tough ones, too. And, with allowances for his less-than-glib-and-polished delivery, Bush handled them rather well, displaying his command of the subject matter and firmness of conviction. He did the same during the press conference this morning — his handling of the execrable Helen Thomas was a highlight for me.

I was struck by how much better, on average, the questions from ordinary citizens in Cleveland were than the questions from the professional journalists. The former varied from supportive to confrontational, but they were all real questions to which the askers expected — and got — real answers. Many of the journalists’ questions, on the other hand, seemed to be opening gambits in an argument, not real questions. Most of them began with a dependent clause that stated as fact an extremely dubious premise, e.g., "Now that you’ve stopped beating your wife, will domestic violence initiatives…" The argumentativeness of the reporters was apparent on the multiple occasions when Bush was interrupted just a few seconds into his answer. These journalists weren’t interested in hearing Bush’s answers, they were interested in refuting them.

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