Having the guts to stay the course

By Melanie Phillips

In a superb article a week ago in the Wall Street Journal (subscription only) about the situation in Iraq, the distinguished analyst Fouad Ajami wrote about Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha, the Sunni leader who turned against al Qaeda and reached an accommodation with America — and who was killed three days later in a roadside bomb. But the story Ajami related was much bigger than this sheikh, vital and charismatic though he had been. It was the story of how the Anbar province had been transformed from a theatre of insurgency against America to a bulwark against al Qaeda. This is what the sheikh said:

    ‘We fought with our own weapons. I myself fought al Qaeda with my own funds. The Americans were slow to understand our sahwa, our awakening. But they have come around of late. The Americans are innocent; they don’t know Iraq. But all this is in the past, and now the Americans have a wise and able military commander on the scene, and the people of the Anbar have found their way. In the Anbar, they now know that the menace comes from Iran, not from the Americans.’

This is what President Nouri al Maliki told Ajami in Baghdad:

    ‘We may differ with our American friends about tactics, I might not see eye to eye with them on all matters. But my message to them is one of appreciation and gratitude,’ he said. ‘To them I say, you have liberated a people, brought them into the modern world. They used to live in fear and now they live in liberty. Iraqis were cut off from the modern world, and thanks to American intervention we now belong to the world around us. We used to be decimated and killed like locusts in Saddam’s endless wars, and we have now come into the light. A teacher used to work for $2 a month, now there is a living wage, and indeed in some sectors of our economy, we are suffering from labor shortages… Grant us time, and you will be proud of what you have helped bring forth here.’

This is what Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi told him:

    ‘Historically we are winning… We came from under the ashes, and now the new order, this new Iraq, is taking hold. If we were losing, why would the insurgents be joining us?’ He had nothing but praise for the effort that had secured the peace of Baghdad: ‘Petraeus can defend the surge,’ he said. ‘He can show the “red zones” of conflict receding, and the spread of the “blue zones” of peace. Six months ago, you could not venture into the Anbar, now you can walk its streets in peace. There is a Sunni problem in the country which requires a Shiite initiative. The Sunni problem is power, plain and simple. Sunni society grew addicted to power, and now it has to make this painful adjustment.

    … ‘Little more than two decades ago, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and the Lebanon War of 1982, the American position in this region was exposed and endangered. Look around you today: Everyone seeks American protection and patronage. The line was held in Iraq; perhaps America was overly sanguine about the course of things in Iraq. But that initial optimism now behind us, the war has been an American victory. All in the region are romancing the Americans, even Syria and Iran in their own way.’

These men are looking beyond the grief of Iraq and telling a story which is simply unrecognisable from the defeatist counsel of despair which passes for commentary about Iraq in the British media. They are saying that yes, there is a terrible war, but things are changing dramatically and they can see that given time and the steadfastness of the Americans — which they need — Iraq can become again a free and prosperous society. What amazing courage; what a moving and humbling message; what an antidote to the poison of the British media narrative; and what a rebuke to the lily-livered British military scuttle from this epic war to defend civilisation. And look too at what they are saying about the balance of power in the region:

    All in the region are romancing the Americans, even Syria and Iran in their own way.

So much for all those who wrote America off four years ago and predicted its humiliation in Iraq, even before the fall of Saddam. This is what Fouad Ajami told US broadcaster, Charlie Rose of PBS, after President Bush’s speech last Thursday:

    The Sunnis have been defeated. They’ve lost the war for Baghdad. That’s the most fundamental truth about Iraq today. And they’ve turned away from al Qaeda. So on that issue, I think the landscape has been transformed. And in the Shia world, the authority of Maliki holds. We should not underestimate Nouri al-Maliki. And he has turned away from Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army. And the Mahdi army has been pretty much abandoned by many of the Shia in the middle Euphrates . And every discussion I had with every Iraqi leader, with every Iraqi cleric, Sunni, Shia, you name it — there is completely – it’s not so much that we’re out of the woods, but I think the landscape is different. And I think that the center holds…

    But I’ll tell you what now has been delivered to the American public by the president and I think also by Crocker and by General Petraeus. What has been delivered to them is we are in Iraq to stay. Here, in doing the Iraqi-U.S. relations, we are in Iraq for a long time. We’ve acquired this American imperial position in Iraq . We intend to use it against Iran . We’re going to be there. We will be there with 130,000 or 100,000, but the president said, beyond my presidency, there will be this enduring U.S. presence in Iraq and all Iraqi leaders, the principal leaders, Maliki and this coalition that came together, every one of them told me, every one of the leading Iraqi leaders, basically said we’re there, we want the Americans here to stay. And that is what — beyond this week, beyond this debate between this congressman and that congressman. That’s the message, is the acceptance of the burden of being in Iraq , and of the privileges that come with being in Iraq …

    What’s happened in Anbar is extremely important. It’s very interesting: The critics of the war used to point to the Anbar as a killing field. When we turned Anbar around, all of a sudden, it became, oh, Anbar is not mixed and so on. I mean, the idea of the people who don’t know the country, who don’t know the language, can tell us what exactly is the popular opinion in Iraq – I’ll tell you what, we bought the Iraqis this chance. We bought them this chance. It’s been a cruel chance, but it’s a chance. And this liberty we have given them, it’s been this gift. It’s gift. It’s a mixed gift….

    …one woman in Iraq said, ‘Under Saddam, we lived in a big prison. Now we live in the wilderness. I prefer this wilderness.’ It is a wilderness in many ways, but it’s better than what they had, and it’s the best chance they have had. And I think a free country is being formed there…

    The American people don’t like this war, but I’ll tell you one thing which works in Bush’s favor. There’s one thing the American people dislike more than the war – it’s defeat. It’s people who have no solution, it’s people who just (inaudible) condemn Bush. At least Bush, Petraeus, Crocker, everyone, even the Maliki government, even Talabani and everybody, they are trying to make this thing work and they are trying to make this thing succeed. And if the Democrats don’t read this, if they do not understand the unease of the American public with the message of total defeat — I mean, we’ve done this mission in Iraq . We’ve done this war in Iraq , and this war in Iraq has underpinned our position in the region as a whole… But luckily, this country and this government now — for now is being not governed from liberal opinion; it`s governed from the heartland and from the South. And the values there are very different. And the people who are prosecuting this war have the guts to stay with it and not to declare defeat. That’s all.

Now that’s what I call realism.

Of course, we don’t read or hear anything like that in Britain, and hardly in the US media either. If you want to know why not, read this blog post and this article by Jonathan Foreman who concludes:

    The willingness of so many experienced Western reporters to be guided and gulled by the most anti-coalition and anti-democratic elements of Iraqi society is hard to forgive. In conjunction with other institutional failings, it may have influenced the progress of a war in which perceptions and morale are the key to victory and defeat.

Unforgiveable indeed—and a disgusting and treacherous betrayal of the cause of truth, life and liberty everywhere.

September 17, 2007 | Comments Off on Having the guts to stay the course

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