Walter Russell Mead: Memorial Day: The War in Iraq

Roundup: Talking About History

Walter Russell Mead is the Henry Kissinger senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. He also writes a blog for the American Interest.

...The Americans who served, suffered and died in Iraq — and who still serve there today — changed the world and won a great and a difficult victory.  No account of their service, no commemoration of the dead that ignores or conceals this vital truth is enough.

To celebrate a momentous victory in Iraq is not to acknowledge that President Bush was right to go into Iraq when and how he did; it is not to justify or excuse the years of poor choices and strategic fumbling before the President found the generals who knew how to win.  (One can say the same thing, of course, about President Lincoln.  Like most great leaders, he failed his way to triumph.)  I supported the invasion because I believed Colin Powell’s solemn assurances about weapons of mass destruction; I continued to support the war despite the absence of such weapons and the chaos and incompetence attending the occupation because I believed that vital issues were at stake in Iraq, that defeat was unacceptable, that victory was not nearly as unattainable as the hand wringing, pseudo-smart choruses of despairing ex-hawks so cluelessly and insistently asserted, and that if nothing else we had a duty to the Iraqis and to ourselves not to leave the country without giving it a fair chance to shape the future for itself.

Because of President Bush’s steadfastness, because of the military genius of General Petraeus (or Betray Us as the keen wits and intellects at so memorably called him as, to their frustration and fury, the evidence of victory began to appear) and his associates, because of the professionalism and honor of American officers, and above all because of the dogged courage, patriotism and humanity of the extraordinary men and women who served in the ranks, we won the war.

That victory was much more than a dignified escape from a sticky predicament.  The coalition victory in Iraq was a historical turning point that may well turn out to be comparable to the cannonade of Valmy.  It changed the course of world history.  We have not done justice to those who gave their lives in Iraq until we recognize the full dimensions of their achievement....

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