Saturday, September 09, 2006

American Success in the Terror War Five Years On

Today's lead editorial at the Wall Street Journal is the best how-have-we-changed essay I've read coming out of the fifth anniversay of attacks of September 11, 2001.

The editors humbly review what has been accomplished thus far in the long terror war, noting especially the substantial number of prominent Islamist combatants who have been captured or killed. The article also reaffirms the paper's rebuttal to the anti-Iraq War meme that the war was an unnecessary blunder, and particularly to the "there-were-no-WMD" attacks on the administration's war rationale:

The war in Iraq is alternately criticized as a major strategic blunder, something the U.S. should never have done in the first place; or as a tactical fiasco, a worthy enterprise incompetently executed. We would have more sympathy with the second argument if the history of all warfare were not a (retrospective) study in far greater "incompetence," from Grant's Wilderness campaign to the needless slaughter of Marines at Peleliu. We've cited many of the Administration's mistakes over the last four years, going back even before the war to its (largely the CIA's) reluctance to trust and work with all but its own favored Iraqi exiles. But these columns aren't about to support a war only to back away when things get rough. The mistakes in Iraq at least have some hope of being corrected.

The deeper Iraq argument is that the U.S. should never have gone to war against a country that "posed no threat," a point supposedly proved by the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Charles Duelfer's definitive post-mortem report on Iraq's WMD painted a different picture: Saddam maintained weapons programs that were in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions. And he intended to reconstitute his former programs as soon as the sanctions regime was lifted, something he was well on his way to accomplishing thanks to the global bribery scheme that was the U.N.'s Oil for Food program.

But the notion that Saddam posed no threat beyond WMD capabilities is wrong, and in hindsight the Administration miscalculated politically by emphasizing WMD as it did. That error owed largely to the pressure it was under to take the case for war to the U.N., where Saddam's violations of his disarmament obligations served as an actionable cause of war. But the real WMD in Iraq's arsenal was Saddam himself, the threat he posed to his people and his neighbors, and the misbegotten conceits he inspired in a region hungry for a new Saladin or Nasser, someone to redeem Arab honor by standing up to the West.

This was the boil that most needed to be lanced if there was to be any hope that the societies from which the September 11 hijackers hailed could be meaningfully reformed. Saddam in power meant U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, a chief grievance in bin Laden's fatwa against America. It also meant $25,000 checks for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and the costly maintenance of the no-fly zones and the preservation of U.N. sanctions, which the war's current critics once told us were the cause of thousands of Iraqi deaths from malnutrition and the dearth of medical supplies.

Saddam in power meant that virtually no other Arab problem, such as Syria's occupation of Lebanon, could be addressed, let alone resolved. In short, Saddam in power locked the Arab world--and America's involvement in it--into shapes and patterns that were the source of so many of its political and social ills, and that could only be broken by his removal. And, to a remarkable extent, that is just what happened in the two years after the war.

Whereas many other conservatives have by now withdrawn their support for the Iraq deployment, the WSJ editors continue to back the war, and
their occasional supportive commentaries amid demands for retreat have provided thoughtful policy recommendations for improving progress on the ground.

The WSJ editorial page also ran an interview with President George W. Bush today. The introductory narrative indicates that whether one loves or hates the president, one can't say he lacks the courage of his convictions. I've said the same thing at least once in my blog posts. While I disagree with the administration on a number of points -- illegal alien amnesty proposals, troop levels in Iraq, etc. -- I'd vote for the president again, if he was eligible for a third term.

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