Sobriety check on Iraq
The recent upsurge of violence in Iraq, climaxing with the bombing of the Shiite mosque, was obviously intended to provoke a full-scale civil war, but the curfews seem to have staved off that prospect for now. The cumulative effect of these attacks is clearly undermining morale in the United States, however, as some of the strongest minds are starting to exhibit faint hearts. Last week I blogged about Francis Fukuyama's wary assessment of Iraq. In Thursday's Washington Post, George Will complained about the lack of reality in Bush's speeches on the war. It's not a new theme, and indeed Bush has made some tentative steps toward a more sober tone in his statements about Iraq since early December. He still has a long way to go, however, and Will draws a comparison (unfair?) between the war rhetoric of Bush and Winston Churchill. As Will notes, it doesn't matter if most Iraqi people "choose" peace or democracy unless wise, courageous Iraqi leaders emerge to shepherd them toward stability and prosperity. Beyond mere words, Will is growing more pessimistic on the prospects for the emergence of a stable, effective government in Baghdad, and on the global strategic outlook. He notes that the three members of the "Axis of Evil" (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea) are actually more dangerous now than they were three years ago. I would agree that our forces have not yet achieved their military goals, and that additional resources are needed to subdue the terrorist resistance, but I think Will is being unduly glum.
"Radio blogger" Hugh Hewitt interviewed Christopher Hitchens about this general topic yesterday. (via Instapundit) Hitchens reminds us that conservatives are just plain not eager to fight wars, build state power, or fight over religion to begin with, so their reluctance to make an all-out military commitment without a clear guidepost for victory is understandable. Ironically, Hitchens, the former leftist, gives a more even-handed appraisal of the war than some of the recently alarmist mainstream conservatives. It is easy to overlook the huge advantage we have obtained by doing away with the vicious dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, which used to menace the entire region. Try to keep that in mind the next time you see a news report of a car bomb in Baghdad. Things could be worse -- much worse.
Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Peter Pace, USMC, appeared on Meet the Press this morning, and frankly acknowledged the difficulties on the ground. It's a good sign that he didn't come across as spinning a rosy scenario, but one would hope for something a little more upbeat. He rejected the proposition that Iraq would have been stabilized if we had deployed more forces to occupy it in mid-2003, but no one would expect him to say such a thing and keep his job. Dissent in the military chain of command is supposed to be extremely discreet, behind closed doors.
The death toll
Fifty one American service men and women died in Iraq last month, the fourth consecutive month in which the death toll declined. The total now stands at just under 2,300, including two from our area who died last year: Jason Redifer and Daniel Bubb. See globalsecurity.org. During the course of the war, an average of 63 American soldiers' lives have been lost every month. We are approaching the third anniversary of the war's beginning.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan
A reinforced battalion of Canadian army troops (over 2,000) was recently deployed to the Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan. On Wednesday, one of them died when their vehicle overturned on a mountain road, and yesterday five of them were wounded by a suicide car bomb. Taliban insurgents claimed credit for the attack, which appears to be part of a stepped-up campaign by the extremists to regain the initiative in that country. See the Toronto Globe and Mail.
En route to India, President Bush made a surprise stop in Afghanistan, the first U.S. president to go there since Dwight Eisenwhower. He visited Prime Minister Karzai and greeted some lonely American soldiers, a nice and very appropriate gesture.