Fouad Ajami, writing on the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, at OpinionJournal.com. A few points worth pondering:
For our part, we did not always fight this war most wisely and skillfully. It took us a while to get the right commanders and envoys on the scene. We did not have the linguists we needed, for the 1990s had not prepared us for wars of ideology and culture.
Even the bureaucracy itself -- the State Department, CIA -- was full of people who doubted the wisdom of this war and second-guessed it at every turn. Some of the very people dispatched to Baghdad were no friends of this project.
Still, five years on, this endeavor in Iraq is taking hold. The U.S. military was invariably the great corrector. In their stoic acceptance of the mission given them and in the tender mercies they showed Iraqis on a daily basis, our soldiers held out the example of benevolent rule. (In extended travel in and out of Iraq over the last five years, I heard little talk of Abu Ghraib. The people of Iraq understood that Charles Graner and Lynndie England were psychopaths at odds with American military norms.)
So we did not turn Baghdad into a democratic city on a hill, and we learned that the dismantling of Sunni tyranny would leave the Arab world's Shiite stepchildren with primacy in Iraq. A better country has nonetheless risen, midwifed by this American war. It is not a flawless democracy. But compare it to the prison it was under Saddam, the tyranny next door in Damascus and the norms of the region, and we can have a measure of pride in what America has brought forth in Baghdad.
There has been design and skill in recent American endeavors. The Sunnis had all, but wrecked their chances in the new order. The American strategy in the year behind us worked to cushion the Sunni defeat. The U.S. now sustains a large force of "volunteers," the Sons of Iraq, drawn mainly from the Sunni community. This has not met with the approval of the Shiite-led government, but the attempt to create a balance between the two communities has been both deliberate and wise.
In the same vein, American power has given the Kurds protection and a historic chance in a neighborhood that had hitherto snuffed out all their dreams. But a message, too, has been sent to the Kurds. The condition of this protection is a politics of sobriety and a commitment to the federalism of Iraq. We have not re-invented that old, burdened country, but this war is the first chance Iraqis have had to emerge from a history of plunder and despotism.
In the past five years, the passion has drained out of the war's defenders and critics alike. Our soldiers and envoys are there, but the public at home has moved onto other concerns. Still, the public is willing to grant this expedition time, and that's for the good. There is no taste in this country for imperial burdens and acquisitions in distant lands. But Americans also know that the lands and sea lanes of the Persian Gulf are too vital to be left to mayhem and petty tyrants.
Read the whole thing...