It's been five years since the US implemented the UN Security Council decision that Iraq was in substantial and serious violation of no less than 17 UN Security Council Resolutions (678, 686, 687, 688, 707, 715, 949, 1051, 1060, 1115, 1134, 1137, 1154, 1194, 1205, 1284, 1441), with the last one - 1441 - being the most serious.
Let us remember 1441: it stated that Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 687, the cease-fire after Kuwait. The key word is material breach: this means:
...any failure to perform that permits the other party to the contract to either compel performance, or collect damages because of the breach.
This is a legal concept, and given the impossibility of collecting damages, it compels performance.
The US compelled performance. It took a war to do so: a war fought to minimize deaths on the other side, a war brought to a quick and almost bloodless conclusion. That is the war that deserved the infamous "Mission Accomplished".
Up front, the true heroes of this story are first and foremost the men and women who have served their country. They deserve our respect and admiration, and I thank them, deeply, for their service. And for those who would immediately ask why I am not there: I did not qualify for service, both at the time when I would have been inducted (yes, I am that old) and the time I would have volunteered.
I'm not going to argue with the left about their fantasies regarding why the Iraq war happened. They chose to ignore the facts and instead argue an interpretation of the facts that does not, frankly, meet even the simplest test of empirical verification (in other words, if you actually read what President Bush actually said at the time, you must realize how little the fantasies of the left have to do with empirical reality).
Let's, instead, revisit the time that the decision was made: we now know that both France and Russia were desperately seeking, behind the scenes, to avoid having the severe corruption of key decision makers in their governments from being known (Food for Oil program). We now know that within the UN, no one expected President Bush to actually believe in the UN, thinking instead that he'd be forced to back away, weakening the US position in the Middle East severely, which was, after all, the goal of countries like France, Russia and China. This was a time of naked power politics, swathed in diplomacy, but barely understood by outside observers at that time.
President Bush, to his permanent credit, denied them the destruction of the UN as a functioning body; he did the right thing, for the right reasons, and that is what is so completely and totally unpalatable to the left. He has been vilified, but that is par for the course: history will show him to be correct, especially if his successor follows up and completes his task.
I am utterly convinced that President Bush actually saved the UN from ruining itself by implementing UN resolution 1441: if he had backed down, the UN would have been exposed as being just as worthless as the League of Nations turned out to be, and while there remain massive problems with the UN, the idea that the UN can still play a meaningful role was saved by President Bush.
What has been achieved?
First and most fundamentally, Iraq is in compliance with Security Council Resolutions.
Second, Iraq has been transformed from a repressed dictatorship based on blood and terror to a democratic state, federalist, complete with completely normal inadequacies and problems.
Third, the US has stood up to Arab terrorism, faced it down and, at the end of the day, destroyed it, with the Iraqi people, in Iraq. If you do not understand the symbolism that this has, then you do not understand much about the Middle East. This far, far outweighs the negative symbolism of Abu Ghraib and the imagined triumph of Al Qaeda when it beheads innocents and sets bombs to blow American soldiers up. The way that Al Qaeda fought war led directly to their failure against the US.
Fourth, while Iraq has a long, long way to go before it can be considered peaceful and US troops can be withdrawn, there is progress being made in exactly this direction.
Fifth, this has been done with extraordinary restraint and at a minimal cost.
Now, I can well imagine those who wonder at some of these statements. Well you might: you don't understand the bigger picture, consumed as you are with small things.
I say that this has been done with extraordinary restraint. There have been, unfortunately, exceptions to this, and the Iraqis have understood, far better than the left ever will be able to, that while the US is not perfect, it has acted with civility and respect where it could have done exactly the opposite. It would have been simplicity itself to have used massive air power to flatten Fallujah and kill everyone in that town; we did not do so. Nor did we ever even contemplate it.
Minimal cost, you say? Hundreds of billions of dollars, close to 4000 dead and close to 30,000 wounded?
If you understand the big picture, yes.
I honor the dead by insisting that they did not die in vain and that their deaths will not be in vain. Their deaths must not, may not be in vain: that would be the cruelest and most dishonorable thing that a US administration could ever do to those who serve this country. The current administration refuses to do so: it could well be that another does. That is our way of government: when fools are elected, they can behave as fools. The honor of the sacrifice is not changed by this, and history is not kind to those who do so.
The same is true for the wounded.
If you have any idea of the sheer size and vitality of the US economy, the money we have spent, while not trivial, is minimal. Even the maximum amounts that partisan thinkers have come up with - $3 trillion - remains, in comparison, relatively low. It sounds like a lot, but when you look past the headlines, as it spread out over decades, the relative amount becomes, well, relative. $3 trillion in the face of $100+ trillion is minimal ($100+ trillion being the size of GDP over the same time period as the $3 trillion cost).
Little went as planned. But if you understand anything of human history, of wars and conflicts, little in war ever goes as planned. You have contingency plans for everything, but these plans aren't blueprints for what to do, but rather guidelines for possibilities. Rumsfeld's litany of "known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns" was absolutely correct: those who call Iraq a fiasco, a disaster, a blunder, a debacle, all do not understand what really happens during wartime, or are too partisan or too lazy to understand the bigger picture.
This is really what few seem to understand. Iraq, back then, was viewed as a secular state, repressed but relatively intact, ready to be freed and take its place amongst the nations of the world. Instead, Iraqis, after the war, made it clear that they really lived in a failed state, one that had long ceased to function as anything besides the plaything of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath party. It became the deadly playground of its neighbors, having long lost its own sovereignty.,The killing started not because of any innate hatreds, but because enough Iraqis, prodded and manipulated by their neighbors, who were acting out of their own self-interest, found it politically and personally suitable to begin killing their neighbors. It will end, as it appears to be doing so, when those people are killed and enough Iraqis decide that this is not how they wish to live. That is reality.
It is easy to call the last five years a failure, a mistake, a folly, a debacle, an error, to declare it to have been utter stupidity, the sign of bankrupt policy and to call it "Bush's war".
It is nonetheless wrong to do so. The hard part of Iraq is understanding why the US is there: to break the Arab cycle of failure, destitution, delusion, and incompetence that leads back to failure. To claim that Arabs lack a democracy gene is deeply racist and fundamentally ignorant of Arab history and culture. The goal, instead, is to help Iraq become a civilized state once again, one that will be capable of great things, given the natural riches of the country, coupled with a rich historical tradition capable of greatness.
All I expect to hear from the left is unthinking, dogmatic, knee-jerk reflex, polemic and lacking any semblance of understanding and comprehension, deeply reactionary and fundamentally disappointing. You'd think that unionists would leap at the idea of introducing unions to the unorganized workers of Iraq; that those enamored of "free" health care would jump at the chance to help a country organize it. But instead all that is visible is the shame of the left today: their idea that the US dare not be successful in Iraq.
It's been only five years. History will tell us in 50 years how it went. Anything else is folly.