Mistakes And Success In War By Betsy Newmark

David Brooks has a column today that will probably rile up many New York Times readers. He reminds us that, while Bush made mistakes is deferring to the commanders on the ground in the period from 2006-7 as violence spiraled out of control in Iraq, Bush made the right choice in his stubborn support of the surge despite all those who opposed the idea. And his stubbornness has paid off.

The additional fact is that Bush, who made such bad calls early in the war, made a courageous and astute decision in 2006. More than a year on, the surge has produced large, if tenuous, gains. Violence is down sharply. Daily life has improved. Iraqi security forces have been given time to become a more effective fighting force. The Iraqi government is showing signs of strength and even glimmers of impartiality. Iraq has moved from being a failed state to, as Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations has put it, merely a fragile one.

The whole episode is a reminder that history is a complicated thing. The traits that lead to disaster in certain circumstances are the very ones that come in handy in others. The people who seem so smart at some moments seem incredibly foolish in others.

The cocksure war supporters learned this humbling lesson during the dark days of 2006. And now the cocksure surge opponents, drunk on their own vindication, will get to enjoy their season of humility. They have already gone through the stages of intellectual denial. First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good. Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement. Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress. Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home.

But before long, the more honest among the surge opponents will concede that Bush, that supposed dolt, actually got one right. Some brave souls might even concede that if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the world would be in worse shape today.

I would bet that, in the end, a hundred years from now, the latter success will matter a whole lot more than the earlier mistakes. I just returned from visiting the battlefields of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Chancellorsville is remembered as Lee’s greatest tactical victory as he divided his army three times in face of greater numbers. However, what made it a success were all the mistakes that his opponent, Joe Hooker, made. At the time Lincoln anguished, “What will the country say?” when he heard the news of the battle. And Lincoln was blamed for this terrible loss which came six months after the horrible loss at Fredericksburg where as before Lincoln’s hand-picked general made horrendous errors. But now we don’t revile Lincoln for his poor choices in generals to lead the Army of the Potomac. We have a fuller picture of his leadership and the results of the war. As David Brooks details here, we may yet come to remember Bush for his stubbornness in refusing to slink off in failure and to insist on remaining and fighting for success in Iraq than for the earlier mistakes. And those who oppoosed the surge and still deny its success will be remembered in history more as the Copperheads or Peace Democrats of the Civil War are – people who agitated for a negotiated peace rather than for fighting through to success and who we’re grateful today that they lost in their efforts.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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