"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Turning to "Af-Pak"

It's been awhile since we've heard from Michael Yon, who's been on "vacation" getting ready to go to Afghanistan to do the same valuable front-line reporting he gave us in Iraq. But he posted an excellent and moving piece on where things stand in Iraq yesterday (it gets a little bitter at the end, but then he's never pulled his punches). I think it's worth repeating at length:

By now, no credible person denies the dramatic success that continues to manifest itself in Iraq. No doubt, there will be years of political dramas ahead for that country, and when they occur, we will blame ourselves for them, as is our habit. Americans have a tendency to blame ourselves nearly everything from wildfires to genocidal wars on the other side of the globe. And what we don't blame ourselves for, others will. Some might see our ability to take initiative and shoulder responsibility as naiveté. I think it's one of America's greatest strengths.

Many people around the world see America in decline. As someone who travels a great deal, I see the opposite. America is just getting started. Yes, we face enormous challenges and dangerous enemies. But the soul of our country, the initiative of our people, and the depth of the collective intelligence are all far stronger than our critics, and even many Americans, imagine. Al Qaeda thought that America would fall to her knees after 9/11. They were wrong. Today we hunt them like jackals.

Of course, the Iraq war has led some to think that the United States has committed a tragic imperial overreach. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant, a truth widely accepted by the international community. Yet the international community can do little about evil tyrants. They leave that up to us, complaining when we do nothing and criticizing when we take action.
However history finally judges him, President Bush will be remembered for two decisions. In 2003, he invaded Iraq. And in 2006, he did not surrender.

Whether or not the first decision was right seems difficult to answer definitively without falling back onto ideological bias, partisan politics, or wishful thinking. Reasonable people likely will disagree about that decision for as long as the event is remembered. If Iraq falls apart or again becomes a tyrant state, then Bush was a brash, imperialistic President invading a sovereign nation without cause, who made things worse and spent lots of money and lives in doing so. If Iraq becomes a stable and prosperous nation even vaguely similar to the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, then most fair-minded people likely will judge Mr. Bush as a little-understood visionary who paid a moderate price to dramatically improve an important region of the world.

But few reasonable people who have been paying attention can disagree that the second decision was correct. In January 2007, one prominent Senator predicted that the Surge would only deepen the sectarian conflict in Iraq. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there: In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now it's difficult to tell exactly what Senator Obama thinks about the Surge, for each remark he makes on the subject seems to veer in a different direction without ever actually going anywhere.

Please remember all those politicians and journalists who insisted that splitting Iraq into three parts was the only way. Meanwhile, those of us who were actually in Iraq kept insisting that the idea of splitting Iraq was ridiculous. There is no substitute for being on the ground over a sustained period.

History will show that after five years and more than four thousand American lives, we have proved that we never planned to steal Iraq's oil. To see a real war for oil, one need only look at what Russia is doing in Georgia. Vladimir Putin's Russia is reminding the world how much it needs America.

Sure, we made mistakes in Iraq, and we will continue to make mistakes in the future—there, in Afghanistan, and anywhere we dare to venture. But if we didn't try, the world would quickly turn to chaos and tyranny. The world is filled with extremely powerful weapons, and criminal-minded leaders who would use those weapons against any weaker nation who has something they want. America is the only country on Earth with power, will, and good intentions (at least, most of the time). That is why we are the indispensable nation.

Today, through perseverance, military courage, and increasingly smart strategy and politics, the Coalition has won the war in Iraq. Iraq has a chance to emerge from its bloody past. Having new BMWs and Mercedes bought with oil money does not make a country modern. Yet Iraq now has the chance to lead their people into the promise of a new life, and inspire their neighbors toward positive change.

What Iraq does now is largely up the Iraqis. They will have dramas, for which the world likely will blame the United States. But ultimately, the Iraqis now control their own future. This is what freedom means. It's not easy, and nothing's guaranteed. But at least the Iraqis have got a serious chance. If the Iraqis have the intelligence and will to seize the day, they will emerge as a powerful force in the Middle East with close ties to the West.

Looking back on the Iraq war, for all the attention the media paid, their reporting was anything but balanced. The outcome of the war was being negatively affected by irresponsible journalism, some of which was intentionally misleading. We truly could have lost the Iraq war due in large part to journalistic travesties. That we won the war despite the media demonstrates just how great our soldiers are. And let’s never forget the price that the British and others paid, like the Poles, and even the Georgians.

An unintended consequence of the Iraq war was that we ignored Afghanistan/Pakistan, where things only got worse. Now many are calling Af-Pak "The Good War," but let's see how long that lasts. Our NATO allies hide behind the sturdy legs of the United States and Great Britain, who do most of the real fighting in Afghanistan, just as they did in Iraq.

Now that media attention is turning back to the Af-Pak war, let's hope that the sum of their reporting will be more informed and less biased than what came out of Iraq. If the Iraq model is followed again, the Western politicians will say whatever is expedient, bending to popular pressure created by the media, many of whom understand the bending of truth better than Einstein understood the bending of light.

Meanwhile, the press will meander around like a herd of buffalo, occasionally stampeding in unison off a cliff, and taking public perception with them to the jagged rocks below.

One might hope the press, chastened by their generally horrible coverage of Iraq, would not repeat the same mistakes in Afghanistan, especially since they think it's the "right" war. I wouldn't hold my breath.


Finally, more disturbing news from our Russian friends. Various news outlets have reported that Russia intends to cut or "freeze" all ties with NATO, and that their response to the Polish-American missile defense deal will go "beyond diplomacy". This could be bluster, or it could mean something more ominous. Hopefully, they're just blowing off steam.


Anonymous said...

So it's not above the president's pay grade to proclaim when life begins but somehow the Pope is able to accurately note that there is no clear moment of ensoulment? (link here... http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/08/when-an-embryo.html) Obama gave a fundamentally conservative answer, in stating that he is not omniscient and some things are difficult, if not impossible, to be ascertained with complete, unswerving certainty. The exact moment when life 'begins' is a lot harder to pin down than in a soundbite. Pick on him for flip-flopping on drilling (which he did) if you'd like, but there's no grounds for the critique that you offer.

Cincinnatus said...

Actually, there is. First, the argument of 'ensoulment' which you introduce courtesy of Andrew Sullivan (I did check the link, and leave it to Andrew to quote himself in his own article) is not the same as when human life begins. Pope Benedict is discussing, by his own admission, a philosophical debate as to when the soul actually enters the human body, something which is indeed impossible to ascertain with certainty because it's a fundamentally spiritual question. And it's not the question the two candidates were asked. They were asked when human life begins, and the Church has always held that it begins at the moment of conception. THAT is a fundamentally conservative answer; there are many different opinions out there as to when life can be considered life, and for those interested in erring on the side of preserving the basic right to live, pin-pointing the moment when the embryo assumes the unique genetic identity it will have for the rest of its life safeguards that right. My issue is not that Obama didn't given a succinct answer like McCain's; it's that he talks about abortion being a "serious moral issue", requiring much grappling and soul-searching, when his own voting record demonstrates less grappling and more playing to the most extreme pro-abortion elements on the Left. It's also disingenuous to claim that picking one side or the other on this is 'above his pay grade', because like I said, as president he will have many opportunities, from choosing judges to signing or vetoing legislation, to directly affect the debate. That's what he's getting paid for, after all, and voters have a right to know what choices he'll make when they pay their taxes to give him that paycheck.