A Long Way from Failure

Ralph Peters, no fan of the way the war has been prosecuted and a bitter opponent of Don Rumsfeld’s vision for the military, nonetheless argues that we’re winning in Iraq:

In the last few weeks, group-think — or group hysteria — has overtaken the pundits. Lunatic proposals have been advanced to end an imagined debacle in Iraq. One strategic genius suggested that we need to allow the Iraqis to defeat us so they can take pride in themselves again. Other voices have called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops, despite the awful consequences such cowardice would bring.

Yet we are a long way from failure in Iraq. Helping a broken country reconstruct itself is very hard work. Setbacks are inevitable. Instead of predicting doom whenever we stub a toe, we should be surprised at how well so much is going.

Iraq is stumbling forward — not backward, forward.

Baghdad will soon have its own nascent government — and it’s not necessarily a bad thing that we didn’t get our way in choosing its leaders. We’re in danger of becoming an overly protective parent. We need to let the kid ride the damned bike and fall down a couple of times.

The insurgents continue to fail everywhere but in Fallujah. Kurdistan is free and prospering. Iraq’s key factions are talking instead of shooting.

The economy is on the move.

Development lurches ahead, despite terror attacks.

And the people have already shown far more political maturity than Europeans did in the 20th century.

The time will come for us to leave Iraq. But it’s not here yet. Leaving prematurely would undo much, if not all, of the good that has been accomplished, while making a mockery of our soldiers’ sacrifices.

Sometimes you win just by staying in the game — or fail by losing heart and leaving the table,

Fareed Zakaria sees hopeful signs as well:

The administration has finally begun to adhere to Rule No. 1 when you’re in a hole: Stop digging. But it needs to go further and move decisively in a new direction. Consider the magnitude of recent policy reversals:

̢ۢ The administration had stubbornly insisted that no more troops were needed in Iraq. But today, there are 20,000 additional soldiers in the country.

• From the start it refused to give the United Nations any political role in Iraq. Now the United Nations is a partner, both in the June 30 transition and in preparing for elections. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was the “quarterback,” Bush said yesterday.

• Radical “de-Baathification,” the pet project of the Pentagon and Ahmed Chalabi, has been overturned. The army that was disbanded is being slowly recreated.

̢ۢ Heavy-handed military tactics have given way to a more careful political-military strategy in Fallujah, Karbala and Najaf that emphasizes a role for local leaders.

Imagine what Iraq might have looked like if these policies had been put in place 14 months ago. Iraq policy has been wrested from the Pentagon and is now being directed by Robert Blackwill, a diplomat on the National Security Council. Blackwill is a smart, aggressive, effective problem-solver who has little time for ideology or ideologues. Because he had no previous history or baggage on Iraq, he has been trying to focus on getting it right rather than proving that his original theories about it were right.


Over the past few weeks we have seen a number of despondent editorial commentaries by the most fervent supporters of the war. Having cheered this error-ridden occupation for 13 months they have now turned on it. They despair that Ahmed Chalabi will not be handed the keys to the country, that we are not crushing the insurgency with massive force, that we are sharing power with the United Nations, that Brahimi has been given so much power. This is a good omen. It means the grownups have taken control. It might not solve the many problems in Iraq. But it does mark the return of sanity to America’s Iraq policy.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    Astounding. Yes, we’ve had 14 months of bungling, but this time, this time we really know what we’re doing. Even if true, it’s an amazing record of incompetence.

  2. Notice how Zakaria calls tactical shifts “policy reversals.”

  3. McGehee says:

    An amazing “record of incompetence” would be trying to prop up an increasingly unpopular dictator, and then when he falls trying to appease the new dictator, thus persuading him that American embassy personnel can be taken hostage with impunity — which was in fact correct, but only until noon Eastern, on 20 January 1981.

    An “amazing record of incompetence” would be giving Osama bin Laden the idea that he can judge American resolve on the basis of what our then-President did in Mogadishu after the “Blackhawk Down” incident.

    But that’s just my informed opinion, as opposed to, say, Hal’s.