In a speech in West Virginia last week, Hillary Clinton described Gen. David
Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, as "an extraordinary leader and a wonderful
advocate for our military."
Just seven months ago Sen. Clinton indirectly called Gen. Petraeus a liar (it would,
she said, take a "willing suspension of disbelief" to believe what the general was
saying about progress in Iraq since the troop surge began). This most recent Clinton
flip-flop illustrates the sea change that's happened in Iraq since then.
Last Wednesday al Qaida released a videotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden. He
made no mention of Iraq, which is odd, because the Iraq war began five years ago
that day, and bombast about Iraq had been the chief subject of his earlier
videotapes. But on this anniverary there were no threats, no boasts of victory,
perhaps because even supporters of al Qaida would now find such boasts hollow. (Al
Qaida issued a second videotape Thursday in which Osama did mention Iraq, mostly to
suggest it would be a swell place from which to launch attacks on Israel.)
Maybe the best indication that things are going better in Iraq is its virtual
disappearance from television newscasts. In the first ten weeks of this year, news
of the war accounted for just 3 percent of newspaper and television news stories,
compared to 23 percent the year before, according to a survey conducted by the
Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Nearly 4,000 American service members and about 100,000 Iraqis (most of them in the
suicide bombings for which al Qaida has become infamous) have been killed since
March 19, 2003. Has it been worth it?
Iraqis apparently think so. Last week ABC and the BBC released results of a poll
conducted in Iraq last month. In it 55 percent of Iraqis said their lives were
going well, up from 39 percent last August. Forty nine percent of Iraqis think the
U.S. invasion was justified, up from 37 percent in August.
The Iraqis have been freed from an oppressive tyrant, and are the recipients of
billions of dollars of economic aid. But has it been worth it for us?
The Bush administration had both short and long term strategic goals for invading
Iraq; some publicly stated, some not. All are on the verge of being met.
In the short term, the president wanted to go on offense against al Qaida, rather
than wait passively for another attack. The most significant fact in the war on
terror is there has been no successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. This is
chiefly because most of al Qaida's energies and resources have been directed
elsewhere. Iraq has proven to be a graveyard both for al Qaida's most experienced
operators, and for its reputation in the Muslim world.
Also in the short term, Mr. Bush wanted to improve the behavior of Saudi Arabia, and
to send a signal to hostile regimes the U.S. military was not to be trifled with.
"The United States invaded to change the psychology of the region, which had a low
regard for American power," wrote George Friedman, president of STRATFOR, a private
intelligence service. "It also invaded to occupy the most strategic country in the
Middle East, one that bordered seven other key countries."
In the longer term, the president believed the threat would last forever if the Arab
world remained dysfunctional.
"The deepest purpose of the Iraq war was to break this pattern, to kick-start reform
and political change, economic and cultural modernization and maybe even the first
shoots of democracy in the Arab world," wrote UPI editor Martin Walker, a Middle
The war in Iraq has achieved its strategic purpose, said Prof. James Robbins,
director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University. "Saddam
Hussein is no longer a threat, and Iraq has a new constitution and a democratically
It isn't just in Iraq's fledgling democracy where that goal is being achieved, Mr.
"To look at the Middle East today is to see a region transformed," he said. "The
center of gravity is no longer the Levant, trapped in the obsession with Israel and
the Palestinians, but the Gulf states, where oil is no longer the sole source of
wealth. Dubai as a trading port and tourist center, Qatar as a media and medical
center, Saudi Arabia with its new universities, are countries going through a
cultural and intellectual revolution."
The cost of the war in Iraq has been high, much higher than it ought to have been
because of the many blunders made in prosecuting it. But the strategy was sound.
And now thanks chiefly to Gen. Petraeus a historic, transformational victory