(2 of 2)
We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me. All this is true, and it needs to be faced. But it is also true that we are where we are. And true that there was no easy alternative three years ago. You'd like Saddam still in power, with our sanctions starving millions while U.N. funds lined the pockets of crooks and criminals? At some point the wreckage that is and was Iraq would have had to be dealt with. If we hadn't invaded, at some point in the death spiral of Saddam's disintegrating Iraq, others would. It is also true that it is far too soon to know the ultimate outcome of our gamble.
What we do know is that for all our mistakes, free elections have been held in a largely Arab Muslim country. We know that the Kurds in the north enjoy freedoms and a nascent civil society that is a huge improvement on the past. We know that the culture of the marsh Arabs in the south is beginning to revive. We know that we have given Iraqis a chance to decide their own destiny through politics rather than murder and that civil war is still avoidable. We know that the enemies of democracy in Iraq will not stop there if they succeed. And we know that no perfect war has ever been fought, and no victory ever won, without the risk of defeat. Despair, in other words, is too easy now. And it too is a form of irresponsibility.
Regrets? Yes. But the certainty of some today that we have failed is as dubious as the callow triumphalism of yesterday. War is always, in the end, a matter of flexibility and will. And sometimes the darkest days are inevitable--even necessary--before the sky ultimately clears. Visit Andrew Sullivan's blog, the Daily Dish, at time.com