Veterans Day 2007: Victory in Iraq?

It has become obligatory for both pro- and anti-war commentators never to mention the possibility of victory in Iraq. The most that anti-war people will admit is that the surge has gained a temporary military advantage in a war that cannot be won militarily. The most pro-war commentators will claim is that they see the possibility of success, perhaps, maybe, someday, somehow.

But as of Veterans Day 2007, I think one can claim a very real expectation that next year, the world may see a genuine, old-fashioned victory in the Iraq war. In five years, we will have overturned Saddam Hussein’s government, killed, captured or driven out almost all al-Qaida terrorists, suppressed the violent Shiite militias, induced the Sunni tribal leaders and their people to shun resistance and send their sons into the army and police and seek peaceful resolution of disputes — and we will have stood up a multisectarian, tribally inclusive army capable of maintaining the peace that our troops established.

The reports coming out of Iraq the past month suggest we are not yet there — but almost.

As The Washington Times summarized this week: "The Associated Press reported: ‘Twilight brings traffic jams to the main shopping district of this once-affluent corner of Baghdad, and hundreds of people stroll past well-stocked vegetable stands, bakeries and butcher shops. To many in Amariyah, it seems little short of a miracle.’" According to The Washington Post: "The number of attacks against U.S. soldiers has fallen to levels not seen since before the February 2006 bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra that touched off waves of sectarian killing. … The death toll for American troops in October fell to 39, the lowest level since March 2006." And on Thursday, The New York Times noted:
"American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood in Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the ‘surge’ to depart as planned." Investor’s Business Daily assessed: "Many military analysts — including some who don’t support the war — have concluded that the U.S. and its allies are on the verge of winning."

Last weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said violence between Sunnis and Shiites has nearly disappeared from Baghdad, with terrorist bombings down 77 percent. This was confirmed by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces south of the capital: "If we didn’t have so many Iraqi people coming forward to help, I’d think this is a flash in the pan. But that’s just not the case."

All of this is the result of the most underreported successful military operation since the invention of the telegraph. For a detailed account of Gens. Petraeus and Odierno’s counterinsurgency campaign, see Kimberly Kagan’s meticulous article in The Weekly Standard. But the point to take away from the surge is that, though a brilliant military operation, it was never just a military operation. Rather it developed a political, economic and communications infrastructure that is permitting local-level reconciliation. We are creating representative governance from the bottom up — not from the Green Zone down.
Despite a frail and inept national government, the people in the towns and provinces (under the tutelage of the U.S. military) seem to be forming order out of the chaos.
The victory will not have come cheap. According to The Associated Press, 3,861 American troops have been killed in Iraq.

Last Sunday, I attended a Veterans Day commemoration at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. My only role there was as husband of the keynote speaker. After the formal ceremonies, as we were talking with people, I had a conversation with a former Marine. He was there with his 8-year-old son. He explained that his 21-year-old — the oldest of his four sons — had been killed in combat in Iraq just a couple of months ago. He showed us a picture of his fallen son. He was a good-looking, open-faced kid with a winning grin leaning out of his armored vehicle. He died leading his men to the sound of the guns. He is now buried there in that central Texas veterans cemetery, where last Sunday, a hard wind blew, snapping the many Old Glories that stood sentry for our fallen warriors. And the 8-year-old, who idolized his fallen big brother, can hardly wait to be old enough to join up to finish his brother’s job. (Of course, we know that in this world, that job of warrior will never be done — as the postwar period ever glides seamlessly into the new prewar period.)

Standing there surrounded by thousands of veterans’ gravestones and looking into the faces of the bereaved, I think of these young heroes today who are doing in Iraq what Ronald Reagan said to the men who climbed the cliffs at Normandy’s Pointe du Hoc (quoting Stephen Spender): "You are men who in your lives fought for life — and left the vivid air signed with your honor."