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Will It Be Honored?

In times of economic uncertainty, the American people revert back to a sort of philosophical provincialism. The great questions of war and peace, victory or defeat, give way to more pedestrian calculations like household budgets and necessary expenditures. Butter, in other words, trumps guns. It should come as no surprise, then, that in the midst of our current financial miasma, the endgame in Iraq has receded from the public eye.

Yet there is another, equally important reason for the diminution of Iraq as a hot button issue: the U.S. military has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Two years ago, the prognosis was bleak. “By the spring of 2006,” wrote Marine veteran and esteemed former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West, “the coalition was losing on the two major fronts that accounted for most of the fighting. “In Anbar Province, to the west, the extremist Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq controlled the population; in Baghdad, to the east, death squads drawn from the Shiite militias and the police were driving out the Sunnis, while al-Qaeda’s suicide bombings continued.”1 West further labeled the situation “grim.” Clearly, regrettably, America’s project in Iraq was failing.

By the summer of 2008, however, the situation in Iraq appeared diametrically different than the benighted backwater depicted by West. Violence had declined, American military casualties had dropped precipitously, and the promising if still inchoate makings of civic order and stability had emerged. What happened? In short, a host of interrelated events: Anbaris rejected the excesses of al-Qaeda’s rule; President Bush authorized and dispatched a “surge” of American ground forces to Iraq; General Patreus and others crafted an authentic counterinsurgency strategy and the oft cited “boots on the ground” implemented it flawlessly. Together, these developments retrieved Iraq from the precipice and in the process induced the mainstream media to seek bad news elsewhere and cause the American public to temporarily forget (pre-financial meltdown) all about Iraq.

Americans are understandably concerned about the economy. To the extent that worries about personal financial health may at times overshadow other considerations, let no man cast the first. That said, Americans would do well to ponder what destabilizing effects a failed state in the heart of the Arab world might have had on the present global financial crunch. Thanks to the men and women serving in Iraq, we can avert our collective gaze. But will we one day acknowledge and embrace their achievement, and if we do not, what does that say about us?