I am gravely disappointed in William F. Buckley. Among the most literate and well educated men in America, an archetype of American Conservatism, Buckley taught several generations of thoughtful analysts how to, well, analyze. I would never hope to achieve his stature, prominence, or achievement. Still, he disappoints.
At this most critical moment of our noble efforts in the Middle East, Buckley defiantly offers terms of surrender, and proudly denounces Bush Administration policy.
Buckley quotes a Sunni clothing merchant, and Reuel Marc Gerecht of American Enterprise Institute, and concludes, "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." One wonders how completely Buckley might have despaired in any prior conflict, with the devasting quotes no doubt available from those who benefited under Nazi, Soviet, Japanese, North Korean, or Cuban oppression, and despised their liberators when the cure required some sacrifice.
To even humor the notion that America is responsible for any temporal (or more historical animosity between Sunni and Shia is foolish and ignorant. If we had not invaded, Shia would remain brutally oppressed under Saddam. Even Sunnis widely suffered, despite a small minority of their kinsmen might have benefited from the scraps brushed from the table of the tyrant.
The notion that Saddam was some necessary peacekeeper between Shia and Sunni is both ignorant and repugnant. It is likewise the classic excuse of the tyrant. You could as easily say that Stalin was necessary to keep all those ignorant Eastern European countries from fighting amongst themselves. Or that Hitler kept the French and the Jews from killing each other (not too effectively). I would say only Tito in Yugoslavia could plausibly justify the claim that he kept the many Baltic nationalities from civil war, which eventually occurred after his death. That Buckley grasps for this excuse for Saddam is greatly beneath his intellect, however so much he quotes some anonymous US soldier.
I can't speak for Gerecht or why he loses hope at this moment. But I do know that, based his stated reasoning, any committed terrorist, setting off one well-placed bomb, could bring any effort in Iraq to failure. No doubt, if Iraqis falter as fast and as fully as fair-weather Western supporters! All goes according to Al Qaeda plan, and even serious and well-intentioned pundits in the Western media continue to respond obediently on queue.
Buckley concludes "Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans." In individual instances, no doubt true. It were at all wise to base serious political and cultural analysis on isolated emotional flare-ups -- all carefully orchestrated by outside powers and agitators -- than perhaps Buckley properly draws his conclusion.
But is this wise? Has it ever been? How stiff and shallow our resolve! How easily subject to manipulation. Clearer-minded observers sniff the obvious odors of opportunism, even on the part of those in Iraq who would not commit the violence from either side, but cynically seek short-term advantage from the chaos. Secular Sunni and Shia groups, sensing their diminished influence with the dramatic successes of the religious parties, take this opportunity to walk away from negotiations on forming a coalition government.
That there exist "ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols," shouldn't surprise us, given the threat such monsters pose to all of the civilized world, and now Iraq, too. That average people shrink away from direct confrontation with such ilk, shouldn't surprise us either. Oddly, the occurrence of violence doesn't really speak to how effectively a society can work its civil processes. It speaks to determined and vicious terrorists.
Would Buckley write off all the other localities in which the Cartoon Intifadas rage? Clearly, these are all likewise failures in forming or maintaining civilized (democratic or other) societies. When and if the next terrorist attacks occur in Europe, or the US, and populations lash out at immigrant communities in which Radical Islam flourish, will that mean the West has failed?
Much like Israel against the Palestinians, the peace-seeking people of Iraq have born extremist, Baathist thug, and foreign terrorist violence aimed at instigating civil war with great patience and forbearance. Occasional and sporadic lapses into retaliation and vengeful violence should actually surprise us precisely because of how rarely it has occurred. That is is suddenly triggered now, based on an extreme and deliberate example of outside provocation should be cause for outrage and solidarity, not fainting hearts.
Buckley speaks of American foreign policy postulates proven wrong. That remains debatable. Yet I would argue that the postulates for Buckley's argument are more wrong, and compellingly so.
Buckley identifies a critical postulate as, "the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence," and then states, "This last did not happen."
How can Buckley conclude thus? Reports from our military in the field, supported by the few independent journalists who continue to report in Iraq rather than opine, continue to describe the increasing success of Iraqi Security forces. There is growing cooperation of average citizens in turning on (and turning in) the dead-enders and foreign Jihadists. By any objective and balanced measure, both Coalition and the Iraqi forces they train and support are broadly succeeding in their objectives. Security has more and more an Iraqi face, and the tide has clearly turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Buckley uses a false dichotomy to conclude that admitting failure is the better part of valor:
It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.
Buckley is right on this last point. But he is clearly wrong on his opening premise, that the idea that Democracy can be grown and nurtured in Iraq. If you mistake the full picture and significance of events in Iraq, or fail to note the degree to which your impressions are manufactured by your enemy, you will allow Al Qaeda and the Baathist holdouts to achieve their primary aim. Unable to succeed militarily, they seek to sow discouragement and despair, and ultimately, loss of heart.
Buckley is likewise right when he says:
[President Bush] will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.
For this may indeed be a tactical setback, but hardly defeat. And surely from a more sober strategic standpoint, this is exactly one of many developments that our enemy is determined to produce, against which we must fight. With all the tools in our arsenal, those diplomatic, national building, and peacekeeping. And force of arms, when necessary.
Has Buckley not been among the more silent of the silent majority? I can't vouch for the entirety of his work for the past 3 and ½ years, but in the broad expanse of the armchair generals in foreign policy, Buckley's been on leave. Better he remain cloistered, than to add his defeatist voice to those so desperately seeking defeat in Iraq.
Acknowledge defeat? Not with victory at hand.