It was a memorable moment in modern American foreign policy.
The smoke had hardly cleared from the 500-pound bombs that made a martyr of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. U.S. and Iraqi forces were arresting or killing hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists. President Bush was in Baghdad meeting with Iraq’s first constitutionally elected prime minister and his coalition cabinet of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
A glimmer of light was finally beginning to shine from the other end of a long, dark Iraq tunnel.
Meanwhile, back in the United States leading Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and John Kerry (Mass.), squinting into that light, seized on the same word to describe their reaction.
"Quagmire," they said.
Before we look at the particulars of Kerry’s and Schumer’s rather oddly timed declarations, let’s review some of the military and political milestones Iraq has passed since March 2003:
- March 19, 2003: U.S. invades Iraq.April 9, 2003: U.S. forces take Baghdad.
- Dec. 13, 2003: U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein in a “spider hole.”
- Dec. 19, 2003: As a result of negotiations with the U.S. and British that began about the time the U.S. and British invaded Iraq, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi agrees to give up his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs.
- June 28, 2004: U.S. returns sovereignty to an appointed interim Iraqi government.
- Jan. 30, 2005: Despite a Sunni boycott and suicide bombers, eight million Iraqis turn out to vote for a national assembly that will write Iraq’s constitution.
- Feb. 17, 2005: An Iraqi electoral commission announces the election results for the 275-seat assembly. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance wins 140 seats. The Kurdistan Alliance wins 75 seats. The Iraqi List, a secular alliance of Shiites and Sunnis, wins 40 seats.
- June 16, 2005: Iraq’s elected leadership allows a Sunni delegation to participate in the committee drafting a permanent constitution despite the Sunni boycott of the January election.
- Oct. 15, 2005: Almost 10 million Iraqis turn out to vote in a referendum on the country’s permanent constitution. It wins 78.6% nationwide. The constitution would have been defeated if two-thirds of the voters in any three of Iraq’s 18 provinces had voted against it. Only two Sunni provinces (Anbar and Salahuddin) opposed it to that degree.
- Dec. 15, 2005: Iraqi Sunnis, no longer boycotting elections, turn out in large numbers for the first parliamentary elections under the new constitution. Sunni parties win 58 seats, the second biggest bloc in the parliament.
- April 22, 2006: The Iraqi parliament selects Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance party, as prime minister. Maliki has 30 days to form a cabinet.
- May 20, 2006: Maliki’s cabinet of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis is sworn in, but it lacks three key ministers: defense, interior and national security.
- June 8, 2006: The Iraqi parliament completes Iraq’s first constitutionally elected coalition government by approving ministers of defense, interior and national security. The new defense minister, Gen. Abdul Jassim, is a Sunni. He will be responsible for directing Iraq’s military against the Sunni insurgency.
- June 8, 2006: U.S. forces kill al Qaeda leader Zarqawi and his “spiritual adviser” Sheikh Al Rahman, then simultaneously raid 17 sites associated with al Qaeda in and around Baghdad, capturing a “treasure trove” of intelligence.
- June 8-June 15, 2006: U.S. and Iraqi forces carry out 452 raids, killing 104 terrorists and arresting 759. Only 54 of these raids are carried out by U.S. forces acting alone. Another 255 are joint operations, and 143 are carried out by Iraqi forces on their own.
This brings us back to Schumer’s and Kerry’s conclusion that the war in Iraq is a "quagmire."
When President Bush was in Baghdad last week, Schumer called a press conference to attack presidential adviser Karl Rove. Questions, naturally, turned to the death of Zarqawi and the President’s trip. "Maybe he’ll come out finally with a plan that will show us a way out of this quagmire," said Schumer.
Meanwhile, Kerry was at the Washington Hilton addressing a conference sponsored by the left-wing Campaign for America’s Future. He reminded the audience of his notorious 1971 testimony in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (although he did not remind them he had used that testimony to accuse U.S. forces in Vietnam of war crimes). "Today the Bushes and the Cheneys and the armchair warriors whose frontline is an air-conditioned conference room, they are the ones who are leading us down the road to quagmire," said Kerry. "When I testified in 1971, I spoke out not just against the war itself, but against the blindness and the cynicism of political leaders who were sending brave young Americans to be killed or maimed for a strategy that the leaders themselves knew at that time would not accomplish the mission. For a long time, we’ve been told that Iraq and Vietnam were different. But in telling and very tragic ways, they are converging."
Schumer and Kerry, it must be remembered, voted for the war in Iraq. Using the same intelligence as President Bush, and their own constitutional authority, they committed the U.S. to an invasion designed to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Once they committed our nation to that course, there was no turning back until we had established a stable government in Baghdad that would not threaten us or its neighbors.
Now with the endgame perhaps coming into sight — if still somewhat down the road — all they do is shout "quagmire." As long as there is an anti-war left to pander to, these politicians wouldn’t see progress in Iraq if it hit them with a 500-pound bomb.