Betting On Defeat Not The Safest Bet

U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) listens to opening statements from fellow Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation members on Captiol Hill February 28, 2006 in Washington, DC.
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This column was written by Victor Davis Hanson.

Lately, it has become popular to recant on Iraq. When 2,500 Americans are lost, and when the improvised explosive device monopolizes the war coverage, it is easy to see why — especially with elections coming up in November, and presidential primaries not long after.

Pundits now daily equivocate in their understandable exasperation at the apparent lack of quantifiable progress. The ranks of public supporters have thinned as final victory seems elusive. It is hard to find any consistent public advocates of the American effort in Iraq other than the editors and writers here at National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Steyn, Norman Podhoretz, and a very few principled others.

But for all the despair, note all the problems for those who have triangulated throughout this war.

First, those who undergo the opportune conversion often fall prey to disingenuousness. Take John Kerry's recent repudiation of his earlier vote for the war in Iraq. To cheers of Democratic activists, he now laments, "We were misled."

Misled?

Putting aside the question of weapons of mass destruction and the use of the royal "we," was the senator suggesting that Iraq did not violate the 1991 armistice accords?

Or that Saddam Hussein did not really gas and murder his own people?

Perhaps he was "misled" into thinking Iraqi agents did not really plan to murder former President George Bush?

Or postfacto have we learned that Saddam did not really shield terrorists?

Apparently the Iraqi regime neither violated U.N. accords nor shot at American planes in the no-fly zones.

Senator Kerry, at least if I remember correctly, voted for the joint congressional resolution of October 11, 2002, authorizing a war against Iraq, on the basis of all these and several other casus belli, well apart from fear of WMDs.

Second, those with a shifting position on the war sometimes cannot keep up with a war that is shifting itself, where things change hourly. And when one has no consistent or principled position, the 24-hour battlefield usually proves a fickle barometer by which to exude military wisdom.

Even as critics were equating Haditha with My Lai, al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda mass murderer in Iraq, was caught and killed. And what was the reaction of the stunned antiwar pundit or politician? Either we heard that there was impropriety involved in killing such a demon, or the former fugitive who was once supposedly proof of our ineptness suddenly was reinvented as having been irrelevant all along.

The Iraqi army — well over 250,000 strong — is growing, and the much smaller American force (about 130,000) is shrinking. How do you call for a deadline for withdrawal when Iraqization was always predicated on withdrawal only after there was no Iraqi dependence on a large, static American force?

After lamenting that the Iraqi government is a mess, we now see a tough prime minister and the selection of his cabinet completed. So it is not easy to offer somber platitudes of defeat when 400,000 coalition and Iraqi troops are daily fighting on the center stage of the war against Islamic terrorism. Someone from Mars might wonder what exactly were the conditions under which a quarter-million Muslim Arabs in Iraq alone went to war against Islamic radicalism.

Third, there is a fine line to be drawn between legitimate criticism of a war that is supposedly not worth American blood and treasure and general slander of the United States and its military. Yet much of the Left's rhetoric was not merely anti-Bush, but in its pessimism devolved into de facto anti-Americanism.

Senator Durbin compared Guantanamo Bay to the worst excesses of the Nazis. Senator Kennedy suggested that Abu Ghraib, where thousands perished under Saddam Hussein, had simply "reopened under new management: U.S. management." Democratic-party chairman Howard Dean confidently asserted that the Iraq war was not winnable. John Kerry in his youth alleged that Americans were like Genghis Khan in their savagery; in his golden years, he once again insists that we are "terrorizing" Iraqi civilians. With friends like these, what war critic needs enemies? Americans can take disapproval that we are not fighting "smart," but they resent the notion that we are somehow downright evil.