I remember with disgust on election day in November 2006 when the Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate by decrying the Republican "Culture of Corruption"®, and claiming that we needed to take a new direction in Iraq. Well, the Culture of Corruption was clearly bogus, at least in terms of being exclusively a Republican product. But the "new direction in Iraq" apparently resounded with the president, because on the very next day he accepted the resignation of Secretary of Defense Ronald Rumsfeld, and within mere weeks, General David Petraeus was installed at the head of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, and General Casey was relieved. The complete turn around of the president had me concerned, because it seemed so out of character. It seemed as if he was caving in.
And now here we are 10 months later, with Gen. Petraeus reporting to Congress how things have changed in Iraq, making victory possible if we don’t now shun the fight, but press on. So they’ve changed course in Iraq, but they’re still saying press on. This is not quite what the Democrats had in mind, and they’re clearly irritated and panicked.
Donald Kagan at National Review Online has a long article highlighting the similarities between the current conflict in Iraq and the Civil War. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, but here are some long excerpts.
The results of the recent change in leadership and strategy in Iraq have made it plain that the war there is not lost nor is defeat inevitable. And yet, the war’s opponents, even as the situation improves, have rushed to declare America defeated. They offer no plausible alternative to the current strategy and take no serious notice of the dreadful consequences of swift withdrawal. They seem to be panicked by the possibility of success and eager to bring about withdrawal and defeat before events make it too late.
So it was, too, in the midst of America’s Civil War. As late as 1864, after three years of fearful casualties, victory for the Union forces was not in sight. Lincoln was determined to continue the fight to restore the integrity of the Union and to abolish slavery. Original opponents of the war were joined by great numbers who were simply weary, and others who were ready to seek peace at any price, which was for some the persistence of slavery and for others the dissolution of the Union. One English friend of the Union cause expected such politicians to compromise with the South in order to take it back, slavery and all. Such an event would be shameful, he said, but still "it would leave the question to be settled by a similar process of blood by another generation."
In 1864 Lincoln changed generals, and undertook a more aggressive strategy, but the war continued to drag on. A hostile newspaper, wrote, "that perhaps it is time to agree to a peace without victory." Like Pericles, Lincoln was assailed by attacks on his policies and by personal vituperation. At the Democratic convention in August 1864 a speaker told a crowd in the streets that Lincoln and the Union armies had ‘‘Failed! Failed!! FAILED!!! FAILED!!!!" The loss of life ‘has never been seen since the destruction of Sennacherib by the breath of the Almighty and still the monster usurper wants more men for his slaughter pens."
No one would have predicted that within a matter of months the war would end with a total victory for the Union forces, slavery abolished and the Union restored, but events took an unexpected turn. A series of Union military victories changed the course of the war. The Democrats, having declared or predicted defeat were, as one historian has written: "Tarred as traitors, regardless of their actual positions on the war, Democrats were … roundly thrashed in November. In fact, the stench of treason clung to the Democrats for years; nearly a generation would pass before another Democrat, Grover Cleveland, occupied the White House."
Victory in the war Americans confront today is not certain. If it comes it will arrive only after long and hard effort, but it is well to remember that the United States has lost war only when it has chosen to fight no longer. There are defeatists aplenty among us today, and they too, shout that the war has been lost, that the government that conducts it is stupid and incompetent, that the war is not necessary and that our leaders lied to us in bringing it on, that nothing terrible will ensue if we abandon the fighting. They, too, bewail the casualties incurred in the war and proclaim their support for the troops even as they delay voting a budget to sustain the military.
Such stratagems may work so long as a war goes badly. But what if the current president has found his Grant and a better strategy? Like the Copperheads of the Civil War, today’s defeatists have a huge investment in defeat and live in dread of success in the field, which could turn into disaster at the polls. In this, they would do well to understand that they are at odds with most of the American people, who are tired of the war and deplore the casualties and expense that goes with it. They want peace, but not one that is an illusion and will not last. Nor do they want a peace at any price that will bring fearful consequences and disgrace. If the defeatists have their way that is the kind of peace we will get; the American people will know whom to blame and will not quickly forget.
Well, I couldn't have said it better myself, and I didn't. But this is pretty much what I had in mind when I posted last week about Frederick W. Kagan's article about the likelyhood that the recent successes in Anbar represent the Gettysburg of this war, that we've turned the corner and achieved at least the possibility of victory.