There's a hint of hopelessness in the air, understandable given the shocking images and casualty reports that continue to come out of Iraq. While the neurasthenic natterings of the likes of Maureen Dowd would be of little note, much of the debacle chatter is coming from the decoder-ring wielding members of the right wing conspiracy. It's as if a coterie of conservatives has taken out temporary memberships in the R.W. Apple Jr. quagmire club.
Consider: In a recent Washington Post column, Robert Kagan wrote, "Bush administration officials have no clue what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now." Even the always-circumspect George Will wrote of the administration's policy, "Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in the face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice," in his column "Time for Bush to See the Realities of Iraq."
Mr. Will's admonition that Mr. Bush -- and presumably the rest of us -- should see things as they are in Iraq is an eminently sensible one. While the administration has made errors in its post-war policies, and tragedies and sorrows have followed, the best evidence suggests that it has still made a vast amount of progress. Coalition forces may not have won the fight, but they ain't close to losing it.
One of the most important developments has been the gradual defanging of Muqtada al-Sadar and his Mahdi militia by both Coalition forces and moderate Shi'ites. When the radical cleric rose in revolt, he appeared to have put Coalition forces in an impossible position: If they attacked, they would risk alienating the Iraqi population with casualties and the destruction of holy places; if they failed to attack, they would give him the country. The persistent pressure applied instead appears to be having a pronounced effect. Earlier this week, a joint patrol of U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces entered Fallujah for the first time. While they weren't met by flowers, they weren't met by grenades either. In Najaf and Karbala, Coalition forces have cut down many members of the Mahdi militia and captured or destroyed a number of its arms caches. Last weekend, they captured two of Sadr's top aides. On Monday, Coalition forces blew up one of his two main headquarters in Baghdad.
Part of the reason that Coalition forces have acted so aggressively is that they no longer fear a popular revolt. Last week, a large group of influential Shi'ite leaders told Sadr to leave the holy places and the arms he had stored there. On both Monday and Tuesday, hundreds of individuals marched through Najaf calling for Sadr to depart. Even more are expected to turn out to demand Sadr's expulsion on Friday. They've been called into the streets by senior Shi'ite leader Sadruddin Qubanchi, who is allied with the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. For good reason, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on Tuesday titled, "Iraq Cleric Faces Showdown with Moderate Shiites." They want Sadr to go back to where he came from -- namely an embryonic state -- so that they can get back to the lucrative business of servicing the pilgrims who come to those holy places. It's something they can't do while being held hostage in their own cities, and the numbers of devout travelers have dropped to a trickle.
Some Iraqis have even begun to take up arms against al-Sadr. According to a recent story by Knight Ridder Newspapers, scores of young men from Najaf have organized into an anti-Sadr force called Thul Fiqal al Battar. They target a few gunmen at a time, either scaring them off or shooting them.
Other positive things are happening. Earlier this week, the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred power over the strategic resource of water to the Iraqi controlled Ministry of Water Resources. According to Fox News' Kelly Beaucar Vlahos, the Iraqi scouts -- long repressed by Saddam Hussein -- are starting to stage a comeback (additional signs that civil order is returning can be found at here).
The fights in Iraq appear to be having a positive effect on the War on Terror. Osama bin Laden has had a lot of reasons to hit the bottle of Old Jihad lately. According to a State Department report released last month, terrorism hit its lowest level in 34 years in 2003. While terrorists killed 307 individuals that year, it was still a pronounced improvement from the 725 killed in 2002. There are two likely reasons for that dramatic reduction. Over 3,400 suspected members of al Qaeda have been locked up. Many others have likely gone to Iraq. While being engaged (and being detained, and being killed) by Coalition soldiers, those terrorists are not attacking Western civilians.
Many of Operation Iraqi Freedom's premises have proved false, and its costs and sorrows are undeniable. Yet progress continues to be made, and the potential of a democratic Iraq is unmistakable. With a little perseverance it may still fulfill some of that promise. The quagmire conservatives should be aware of some of the legitimate good news coming from Iraq, or at least listen to the advice of singer Corey Hart in his 80's hit, "Never Surrender," "Just a little more time is all we're asking for/Cause just a little more time could open closing doors/. . ./And when the night is cold and dark you can see you can see light/Cause no one can take away your right/To fight and to never surrender."
Charles Rousseaux is a frequent contributor. An editorial writer for The Washington Times, he recently wrote for TCS about Lab's Labors Lost.