The Historical Record on Afghanistan and Iraq

What will be remembered?

by Victor Davis Hanson

San Francisco Chronicle

In the present chaos in Iraq, of course, the war’s purpose and outcome seem clouded. But in five years, if we persevere, there will be a stable consensual government, and then both Iraq and Afghanistan will properly be seen as the anchors of a new Middle East, one whose democratic origins were fraught with controversy—as was (Ronald) Reagan’s new bellicosity with the Soviet Union in the 1980s—but ultimately both successful and humane in eroding the fascistic landscape that fostered global terror and mass murder at home.

The three-week toppling of Saddam Hussein was brilliant. Its rocky aftermath reminds us that the ancient laws of war still prevail: Despite high technology and globalized communications, the degree of postbellum stability is directly proportionate to the sense of defeat, and, yes, humiliation, experienced by the enemy — something not quite achieved since the 4th Division never came down from Turkey into the Sunni triangle, that was thus left relatively untouched during the conventional war.

We can recite and lament the myriad subsequent mistakes — tolerance for looting, unguarded borders, failure to keep intact the Iraqi army, arms depots not destroyed or too prominent a public presence of Americans. But error is the story of all wars; instead the key is to what degree were these lapses fatal to the overall cause of securing a democratic Iraq? So far, none of them need be.

We are in a postmodern age, where globalization, instant communication and the spread of moral equivalence make it hard to wage necessary wars against ogres like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, since few believe in evil, much less of the need to eradicate it through force. The U.S. military not only must lose none of its own, but is expected to kill few of the enemy either—requisites almost impossible to satisfy.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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