Friday, October 28, 2005

The Optimistic View

Having recently discussed some of the more pessimistic views on the present war, it behooves me to acknowledge that reasonable people have offered an alternative assessment of the conflict in general and the situation in Iraq in particular.

Victor Davis Hanson, writing in the October 27 New York Times claims:
AS the aggregate number of American military fatalities in Iraq has crept up over the past 13 months - from 1,000 to 1,500 dead, and now to 2,000 - public support for the war has commensurately declined. With the nightly ghoulish news of improvised explosives and suicide bombers, Americans perhaps do not appreciate that the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the effort to establish a democratic government in Iraq have been accomplished at relatively moderate cost - two-thirds of the civilian fatalities incurred four years ago on the first day of the war against terrorism.
and adds

Compared with Iraq, America lost almost 17 times more dead in Korea, and 29 times more again in Vietnam - in neither case defeating our enemies nor establishing democracy in a communist north.

Contemporary critics understandably lament our fourth year of war since Sept. 11 in terms of not achieving a victory like World War II in a similar stretch of time. But that is to forget the horrendous nature of such comparison when we remember that America lost 400,000 dead overseas at a time when the country was about half its present size.

Elsewhere, Hanson has written that

The United States military ousted Saddam Hussein from power in three weeks — in an effort designed to liberate Iraqis rather than aimed punitively against an entire nation. Some observers, however, on the eve of the war predicted a protracted effort to remove Saddam. Later, during the war itself, they warned further that we were supposedly bogged down in a sandstorm on the way to Baghdad.

In the ensuing 30 months, despite hundreds of horrific deaths and thousands of wounded, the military has never lost a single engagement with the terrorists. It has trained hundreds of thousands of Iraqi police and military units, and, now, with last week’s election, seen its hard work pay off in the ratification of the constitution. More parliamentary elections are slated for December.

Such relative optimism is not limited to conservatives such as Dr. Hanson. Objectivists associated with The Intellectual Activist, including Robert Tracinski and Jack Wakeland have argued along similar lines, most recently in a series of articles in TIA daily entitled "Iraq War Casualties" written by Jack Wakeland. After making similar comparison of American casualties to past wars, Mr. Wakeland writes
The good news about the war in Iraq is that it is Islamist militiamen, not American troops, who are taking losses approaching a debilitating rate.

How many of the enemy have we killed? American-led coalition forces have killed more than 15,000 enemy combatants, over 7,000 after the "End of Major Combat." (U.S. forces have accidentally killed about 8,000 Iraqi civilians.)

We have probably killed about 15% to 20% of all those who have taken up arms against us since the guerrilla war started. Another 15% or 20% have been captured, including many top leaders. Coalition forces have killed or captured at least 44 Baathists from the deck of 52, including Saddam Hussein and his two sons. About three quarters of the 10,000 Iraqis incarcerated in coalition-run prisons are insurgents. This includes more than 340 foreign terrorists who vowed to die in jihad, fighting.
Mr. Wakeland continues
Over the past 13 months, the insurgency has been damaged from Baghdad to Mosul, up and down the Euphrates from Fallujah to the Syrian border, and across the deserts of Anbar Province. It has been damaged to the point that American and Iraqi forces are now beginning to pick up or pick off top terrorist leaders. In the past month the enemy has lost the head of Baghdad's al Qaeda operations, their top financier in Syria, and the head of the Mujahedeen of the Victorious Sect Brigades (one of the largest of the dozen and a half major Iraqi insurgent groups, a group that has been active since June 2003).

The successful invasion of Iraq in 2003 changed the balance of power in the region, emboldening Rafik Hariri and the Lebanese to resist and then (after Hariri's assassination) to push out the Syrian occupation. The failure of the Iraqi insurgency to dislodge the United States has removed the only hope for the survival of Assad's regime. By doing the hard, bloody work American soldiers and Marines are accomplishing our nation's long-term anti-terrorism policy of moving the Arab world towards being a string of peaceful republics.
So the question remains, who is correct, the optimists or the pessimists? Since philosophy ultimately determines the course of history, the answer to this question hinges on how philosophically receptive the Arab/Islamic world and Iraq in particular is to the introduction of Western Liberal institutions such as representative government. Frankly, I remain more pessimistic because I still see the strong influence of religion and tribalism in the region, as witnessed for example in the continued hostility toward Israel. Therefore, I don't think that this experiment to create a "peaceful republic" of Iraq will succeed, at least in this generation. Of course I would be happy to be proven wrong.

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