Reaction on the Left to President Obama’s announcement that the remaining 40,000 troops in Iraq would be coming home at the end of the year – with no residual force to counter the Iranian threat – has not been surprising. With a mixture of triumphalism and hate, leftists are celebrating their victory; not over al-Qaeda or the achievement of democracy in a totalitarian prison state, but over their domestic political enemies, while still advocating the prosecution of “criminals” who led the battle to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein.
Despite the fact that George W. Bush has been out of office for nearly three years, there are many on the Left who can’t shake their feelings of loathing and hate for the man who led the nation for 8 years, and who took us to war in Iraq. Bush Derangement Syndrome is alive and well among leftists and it colors their analysis and criticism of the Iraq War to this day.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is the surety with which the Left has pronounced history’s judgment on the war as a universal failure, a blunder, a waste. History doesn’t give out grades before the results are in. And Iraq, as it has been since the beginning, is a work in progress. That progress has been slow at times, but a foundation for democratization has been built in a sea of Islamist totalitarianism. Although not perfect, what we have today is nascent democracy where before there was only mass oppression and killing. For the US, Iraq today serves as a vital strategic asset for America in the Middle East – all now to be given away by Obama to Iran. And the Left applauds.
It is impossible for anyone today to see how the Iraqi experiment will play out over the next few years. Yes, some of the immediate results are not good, even if we had been able to keep a small force garrisoned for a few years. But to believe that this can’t change is to ignore the underlying historical forces that the liberation of Iraq has unleashed. Indeed, dismissing the idea that a struggling democracy on Tehran’s borders doesn’t constitute a threat to the mullahs’ total control is to ignore Iran’s own actions in seeking to destroy the Iraqi government in its cradle. The Saudis, too, were worried enough about contagion from Iraq to spend billions of dollars building a fence to keep the disease out. The Iraqi experiment, consequently, serves as a threat to Islamist totalitarianism in the region and, therefore, serves the interests of America and freedom.
But leftists are not interested in these humanistic endeavors or American achievements – which explains their celebration of Obama’s surrender in Iraq. Successful democracy in Iraq would have meant the discrediting of the Left’s ferocious opposition to the entire operation. In celebrating America’s willing defeat in Iraq, therefore, the Left is cheering the defeat of democracy and security in the fragile, developing country, which makes the progressives’ triumphalism and hate all the more disturbing and hypocritical.
This perversity could not have been more adequately expressed as when radical leftist Tom Hayden gleefully wrote in The Nation that the Iraq decision was a “stunning…victory for the American peace movement.” Not a victory for Iraq, but for Hayden and his allies. Hayden doesn’t exhibit the slightest concern for a fledgling democracy in need of support to preserve the precious gains it has already made; he shrugs off the reality that the country has been “delivered… to the orbit” of the fanatical, despotic mullahcracy next door. And this is a person who purports to care about human rights.
In “Good Riddance to a Woebegone War,” Paul Pillar, writing at The National Interest, encapsulates the view that history is so judgmental that it renders its verdict with blinders on; he refuses to acknowledge an unknowable future:
The return of the last combat troops from Iraq will be a good time to reflect on the nature and broader consequences of what future historians will regard as one of the biggest blunders in U.S. history. That reflection can consider how a small number of determined advocates of war were able to use the post-9⁄11 political milieu and scary themes about dictators giving weapons to terrorists to get enough people to go along with their idea. The reflection also can consider the full range of costs and damage to U.S. interests, from the more than four thousand Americans dead and tens of thousands wounded, to the trillions of dollars of direct and indirect fiscal and economic losses, to the tarring of America’s standing abroad and the boost the war gave to America’s extremist enemies.
Much of what Pillar writes is simply untrue. In the first place, it is not clear at all that our “standing abroad” could have gotten much worse than it was before the invasion. Whether we are loved or hated, despite notions of “soft power” to the contrary, the world can’t ignore us and must deal with us as we are, or as we choose to be.
The assumption that history’s judgment, flowing from the immediate past to the immediate future, is set in stone and unchangeable is disingenuous. The last Iraqi election saw a secular, nationalistic party, the Iraqi National Movement, out-poll the coalition of religious parties led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A party not even in existence for a year had gained two more seats in the Iraqi parliament than Maliki’s coalition, a political power in Iraq since 2004. This was a huge success. Would a future Iraqi government made up of secular parties be able to resist Iranian influence and work to heal the nation’s sectarian divide? Perhaps the better question is: Does Pillar honestly believe that this objective could be better achieved if Iraq is left to twist in the wind?
The sense of triumph over their enemies dominates many leftist reactions to the withdrawal from Iraq. Notably, Jonathan Steele of the leftist British newspaper the Guardian, lets loose with a broadside at the “neocons,” while unabashedly crowing about being vindicated in his beliefs:
The final troop withdrawal marks a complete defeat for Bush’s Iraq project. The neocons’ grand plan to use the 2003 invasion to turn the country into a secure pro-western democracy and a garrison for US bases that could put pressure on Syria and Iran lies in tatters.
Their hopes of making Iraq a democratic model for the Middle East have been tipped on their head. The instability and bloodshed which the US unleashed in Iraq were the example that Arabs sought to avoid, not emulate. This year’s autonomous surge for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia has done far more to galvanise the region and undermine its dictatorships than anything the US did in Iraq.
The less said about Mr. Steele’s total misreading of what is going on in Egypt and Tunisia, the better. “Democracy” it surely isn’t. But the certainty with which Steele renders judgment that the first painful steps toward democracy in Iraq had nothing to do with what was happening elsewhere in the Middle East places the writer in the position of soothsayer, not analyst. It is obvious his own hatred of “neocons” has warped his analysis and he is projecting his prejudices onto events for which there is little understanding. Historical movements like we are witnessing in Arab countries today are usually the result of tidal forces that were unleashed years, perhaps decades ago. In short, Steele, and those like him who are all but gloating over the defeat of the “neocons,” are simply guessing. But their prognosticating is revealing – what is not known for sure is fleshed out by the fervent hope to see American interests defeated and the chance for democracy in the Middle East squashed.
For leftists like Glenn Greenwald writing at Salon.com, however, there is no guessing – just a snarling hatred for George Bush, Republicans, and all who oppose him:
I believe the country has not even gotten close to coming to terms with the magnitude of the national crime that was the attack on Iraq (I think that’s why we’re so eager to find pride and purpose in the ocean of Bad Guy corpses our military generates: tellingly, the only type of event that generates collective national celebrations these days). Needless to say, none of the responsible leaders for that attack have been punished; many continue to serve right this very minute in key positions (such as Vice President and Secretary of State); and (other than scapegoated Judy Miller) none of the media stars and think-tank “scholars” who cheered it on and enabled it have suffered an iota of stigma or loss of credibility. The aggressive war waged on Iraq began by virtue of a huge cloud of deceit and propaganda; perhaps it could end without that.
A mind so warped by hatred that it finds criminality where none exists would, ordinarily, cause the author of those words to be marginalized, and his writings dismissed as the rantings of a crackpot. But Greenwald is not alone in his continued insistence that Bush and his advisers be brought to justice at the International Criminal Court. And he is not some small-fry blogger preaching to an audience of a few dozen equally pathetic lefties. Glenn Greenwald is one of the most popular leftist bloggers in the country, writing for a large, well-respected (on the Left) website. To possess such bile for someone who has been out of office for three years is unnatural. But it serves to show that Bush Derangement Syndrome has a longer life than anyone could have imagined a few years ago.
Most of us would prefer to await history’s judgment on our actions in Iraq until all the cards have been played and the victors and vanquished chosen by events, not politics or personal prejudices. Iraq could have turned out to be something that none of us can currently imagine – it still may yet. To allow triumphalism and hate for one’s political opponents to shade our reading of current events and extrapolate a future from those variations with the dead certainty of the ideologically committed, is a destructive exercise. Destructive as well is the celebration of the strangling of democracy in a country that has known it for so short a time. Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed dearly for the vital gains that Obama now disgracefully plans to throw away, and Iran will be more than willing to make a treasure out of the president’s surrender – all to vindicate the defeatist philosophy of the radical Left and its democracy-hating cause.
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