TYRRELL: ‘Mission accomplished’

Bold words pronounced years ago ring true today

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We are preparing to vamoose Camp Victory just outside of Baghdad. There were once 505 bases for American troops sprinkled around Iraq at the height of our involvement, from whence an American army went out to pacify the bloodthirsty hordes. Now we are down to some 40 bases, and shortly there will be none at all. Perhaps one or two headquarters will remain for a skeleton force of Americans training Iraqi police or military.

Camp Victory was the biggest of our bases. It was open to 46,000 troops at the height of operations. It had swimming pools and palaces and other improbable amenities for a military base thanks to its former inhabitant, Saddam Hussein. His presence there is shockingly diminished. Yet there remains a gaudy throne, a gift from the deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Actually Saddam is deceased too, but there remains this appalling throne, with the tyrant’s pomade staining its headrest. I wonder how many people he condemned to death from that throne. And more, I wonder how many condemned victims he watched die a grisly death from that throne. That is the kind of sport he enjoyed.

America has taken down a lot of tyrants in the past century or so of our emergence as a world power, but Saddam is about as evil and cruel as any. In fact, I would venture that there is an absolute measurement with regard to tyrants, beyond which one cannot go. One can be a relatively benevolent tyrant, leaving only a few breaches of the law. Or - more likely - one can be a rather hideous tyrant. Panama’s Noriega comes to mind and Italy’s Mussolini. But when a tyrant breaks into the big time, killing and butchering hundreds, thousands, even millions, that is about as evil as it gets. I would put Hitler, Tojo and Saddam in that league. I would also put Stalin, Castro, Pol Pot and dozens of less-famous brutes in that category, but alas, America was not responsible for their deaths. Though, in the case of Castro, there is still time.

We are told that there is now some sort of debate going on between Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and certain senior military officials about how many troops, if any, should stay on in Iraq. Some military leaders say as many as 18,000 should stay in case hostilities break out anew. Mr. Panetta is for 3,000 to 4,000 to serve as trainers on the ground. That is a debate for the experts. I only know that our policy in Iraq came out rather well considering how chaotic the place was four years ago and how eager certain Democrats were to turn Iraq into another Vietnam.

One of the main figures in screwing up Vietnam was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and he was at it again in Iraq. That was apparent in January 2007 when he made a pre-emptive strike against President George W. Bush’s “surge” by introducing legislation to require congressional approval before more troops could be sent. A lonely Mr. Bush went ahead with his surge, which Kennedy, then a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, called “an immense new mistake.” Of course, under Gen. David H. Petraeus, the surge was a success and this war - unlike Vietnam - is ending in success.

Still, other Democrats tried their best to screw it up. There was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in April 2007 famously pronouncing the war “lost,” and then-Rep. David Obey calling for a political and diplomatic compromise. Then, as the surge was working and bringing peace to the country, Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in February 2008 told Wolf Blitzer on CNN, “There haven’t been gains, Wolf. … This is a failure. This is a failure.” Finally some Democrats could see that the Bush policy was working in Iraq. Candidate Barack Obama thought he would play it safe on July 13, 2008, when he quietly expunged his website of “The surge is not working,” and replaced it with a notice of the “improved security situation” of the country, but still no salute for Mr. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or Gen. Petraeus. Well, I salute them, and our magnificent military that can sing out “mission accomplished.”

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is author of “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

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