- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009


The news is not that American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities. The news is that American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities in victory — rather than in defeat.

Two years ago at this time, few in the foreign-policy establishment considered that outcome possible. Some did not even see it as desirable. There were those who believed the conflict in Iraq was “unwinnable,” that America had met its match on the dusty streets of 21st- century Mesopotamia. Others thought Americans needed a Vietnam-like refresher course about the futility of the use of U.S. military force anywhere in the world.

The Baker/Hamilton Commission deliberated long and hard and then cobbled together an “exit strategy” intended to make defeat more graceful while spreading bipartisan blame. (Full disclosure: I was one of Baker/Hamilton’s “expert advisers,” but was among a tiny minority of vocal dissenters.)

Two years ago at this time, MoveOn.org mobilized for what it called the “Iraq Summer,” an elaborate campaign to put pressure on members of Congress to cut off funding for the mission in Iraq.

Toward the end of the summer, MoveOn took a full-page ad in the New York Times calling Gen. David H. Petraeus: “Gen. Betray-Us.” I think it’s safe to say MoveOn’s attack on a U.S. combat commander did not make most Americans feel warm and fuzzy about the group.

Taking it on was an informal coalition of veterans and military family groups, pro-defense and conservative think tanks, advocacy organizations and online news services. They worked hard to (1) inform the public about the progress in Iraq, and (2) persuade lawmakers not to surrender in Washington so long as American troops had a chance to prevail against the militant Islamists in Iraq. (More full disclosure: I participated in that effort.)

The mainstream media were astonishingly reluctant to report on the successes of Gen. Petraeus’ troops. Most publications tried to avoid even naming our principal enemies in Iraq — al Qaeda and militias backed by Iran. To do so would have been inconsistent with their narrative that America’s presence in Iraq was responsible for all and any violence, that this violence should be seen only as a civil war, that America’s involvement had been a “fiasco” from the start and nothing could change that.

To this day, many in the media beat this drum. On July Fourth, Anthony Shadid wrote on the front page of The Washington Post that the U.S. invaded Iraq in “a war of its own choosing, buoyed by grand ambitions and perhaps folly.” Iraq, he added, has since “journeyed away from the peaks of invasion, occupation and civil war.” He makes no mention of al Qaeda, its recruitment of foreign jihadis, and its deployment of them as suicide bombers in a systematic effort to inflame sectarian strife in Iraq. He makes no mention of Iran, its role in training, arming and instructing militias that have killed both Iraqis and Americans. Not a word.

In the days ahead, expect what’s left of al Qaeda in Iraq to attempt to slaughter as many Iraqis as possible. Iran’s rulers, though distracted at present, are likely to prompt their proxies to test the mettle of the Iraqi government and its security forces, to find out how much they’ve learned from the “invaders” who have been teaching them self-defense, while also helping them build sewers, schools and clinics.

This fact will remain: American troops have succeeded in their mission. In the midst of a global conflict with militant Islamism, both al Qaeda and Iran have been beaten on a battlefield in the heart of the Middle East.

One might think that would be a major news story. One would be wrong. The mainstream media have other stories to cover, other priorities — Michael Jackson’s death and Sarah Palin stepping down as Alaska’s governor tops among them.

Donald H. Rumsfeld famously said: “You go to war with the army you have.” That underestimated the adaptability and ingenuity of America’s military. Had he said, “You go to war with the media you have,” he would have been spot on.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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