Wow. That was my reaction reading Walter Russell Mead’s Memorial Day blog post. Mead chooses to honor our American troops past and present by talking about what he calls their ‘momentous victory’ in Iraq. That’s right, Iraq. Not World War II or I, not the American Revolution or the Spanish-American war, but the George W. Bush-led war in Iraq. Mead, a top notch American historian, is one of the most sober, deep thinking social and political commentators our country has right now and this was one of his most memorable.
In the piece, Mead argues that the turning point in the wars, Iraq and War on Terror, occurred when Iraq’s Sunni population decided to choose the American side over Al Qaeda’s in 2006. Not only was a strategic victory for a future, democratic Iraq, but for Mead, it was the end of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s dreams of bringing their version of Islam to the masses. Basically, the Sunni’s of Iraq saw what both sides had to offer, neither perfect of course, and made a fateful decision to choose America’s path. Here is Mead’s description:
But on this Memorial Day it is not enough to remember, and give thanks, that Osama’s dream died before he did and that the terror movement has been gravely wounded at its heart.
Because the dream didn’t just die.
It was killed.
And it was killed by coalition forces. They killed it by fighting harder and smarter than the enemy and they killed it by winning trust and building bridges better than the enemy. They did it because they were better, more honorable warriors and better, more honorable partners for peace. Mostly American and mostly Christian, the coalition forces were more compassionate, more just, more protective of the poor and more respectful of Arab women than the crazed thugs who thought setting off bombs in the market was fulfilling God’s will.
Though I am sympathetic to Mead’s core argument that the war in Iraq should be seen as a victory for the United States, I believe there is much more work to be done before the history books will really have a definitive answer. Concerning the War on Terror, Osama may be dead, but Al Qaeda isn’t. There are still far too many people still left, who follow a disturbed and dangerous form of Islam, that wish the United States and our allies harm. Sadly, I would not be surprised in the least if the United States homeland was targeted for a serious terrorist attack in the near future. Back to Iraq, there are still so many questions yet to answer: How will the country handle life without a large US military presence? How will the Iraqi government handle a full transfer of power from one political party or leader to another, a key sign of a functioning democracy? How will the country deal with a more forceful Sadr movement? Will Iran be able to fill a vacuum that may be created when the US forces finally depart? What must be noted, however, is how amazing it is that these questions can be stated in reference to what used to be a totalitarian nightmare. Iraq is one of the more stable, democratic, and liberal places in the Middle East. That means something and Mead is right to call it a ‘victory’.
Another key part of Mead’s post is his calling out, though not by name, of all those who abandoned the Iraq war when the fighting got tough. From war hawks to Moveon.org (Never forget General Be-Tray-Us), it is amazing how many, including most of the ‘elite’, gave up on the war effort. Times got tough and a lot of people threw in the towel, at times, myself included. Thankfully, the men and women of the US military and their Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush did not. I’ll let Mead finish off:
We must continue to honor and thank the Arab allies and tribal leaders who made the choice for America in a dark and a difficult time. But especially on this Memorial Day we must honor and remember the American heroes who by their lives and by their deaths brought victory out of defeat, understanding out of hatred and gave both Muslims and non-Muslims a chance to get this whole thing right.
The story of America’s victory over terror in Mesopotamia needs to be told. In justice to those who sacrificed so much, and for the sake of those who may have to face similar dangers in the future, somebody needs to tell the real story of how, against all odds and in the face of unremitting skepticism and defeatism at home, our armed forces built a foundation for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.
Go ahead and read the whole thing.