Today will be wasted in measuring one set of blunders against another. Could 9-11 have been prevented? Probably. Have we done everything right in Iraq? Of course not. For the past few days, the media has been consumed by the left’s political hysteria over the historical accuracy of a television drama that would — but for the Clintonistas’ whining — never be viewed on any screen capable of showing NFL football. Variety says ABC’s The Path to 9-11 is “scattered and a little plodding.” Well, so was the Clinton White House, and so is the way the Bush administration has fought this war for half a decade. Every ounce of energy squandered on recriminations would be better used to steer the path from the fifth anniversary of 9-11 to the tenth.
History will judge, eventually, whether we should have disarmed Iran before dealing with Iraq and whether democracy is even possible for people who chose Shari’a law. History can tell us how and why we are in this war. But history is predictive, not determinative. It shapes choices but does not make them. People and nations are empowered to make choices and responsible — to history — for those they make.
Year by year we have to make choices that will move us closer to victory in the next five years. “Closer” is not “to” in the preceding sentence because, unless something unforeseeable happens, we will neither win nor lose this war before September 11, 2011. Islamofascists fight like Stakhanovites work, so perhaps we should have a Five Year Plan for this war. But five years is an eternity in war. The best we can do is to summon up a clear view of the choices that we and our allies will have to make.
The 2006 congressional election will decide whether the Bush presidency will wind down over two years or grind to a sudden halt. It’s possible, but increasingly unlikely, that Republicans will lose control of the House this fall. If Republicans lose the House, America will turn inward, losing any focus on what we should do to win the war. Things will not be much better if they win, but the president will, at least, have more options to deal with the enemy. The other choice of 2006 will be the successor to Kofi Annan. That choice is not in our hands. The foregone conclusion is that Annan’s successor will be more like him than not. Republican presidents are supposed to be capable of action not certified by the UN. That choice exists, though it is foolishly disfavored in the White House.
Next year will not be the year that the UN stops Iran’s nuclear weapons program or that Iraqi democracy succeeds. But 2007 will be the year that Tony Blair steps down, and it may be the year Iraq fails. Blair’s departure will mean the British defection from the war against terror-sponsoring nations. It is too late to divert Britain, which means we have lost a key ally that could have helped shape the path to 2011. Britain will be ruled by its equivalent of Hillary Clinton and will likely withdraw its troops from Iraq before our 2008 election. If the British quit the coalition, their action will sharpen and limit our political choices in 2007 and 2008. British action could become a rallying point for Western Democracy or be just another milestone in its demise.
The odds of Iraqi democracy surviving are less than 50-50 because it cannot be stable or secure while its neighbors are fully engaged in preventing that outcome. And we’ve still not made the tough decisions necessary to take the battle to the enemy’s centers of gravity, so Iraq’s situation cannot improve significantly in 2007. The president remains reliant on the UN regarding Iran, and the UN is doing what it always does, perpetrating endless diplomacy for diplomacy’s sake. No decisions or action will be taken in the UN, and the emboldened Iran will take some action intended to provoke another war it can fight and win by surviving, just like the Hizballah-Israel war. Reliable reports say that Iran has leased enough oil supertankers to store about 40 million barrels of oil — half the world’s supply for a day — which could mean military action coupled with oil price manipulation. The next Iranian military adventure will pose the most important choice. We will either act decisively to topple the Ahmadinejad regime or allow it to achieve nuclear weapons. We may still be able to do the former by helping the Iranian people do it themselves. By the end of 2007, that choice may no longer be available if the ayatollahs get much closer to achieving nuclear arms.
The choices of 2008 won’t be any more attractive than those of 2007. Every enemy will try to influence our presidential election. If Hizballah doesn’t attack Israel in 2007, it will in 2008. If Iraq survives 2007, Syria and Iran will do everything they can to bring it down in 2008 to prove the Bush policy a failure and prevent his successor from being tempted to continue. Most importantly for us and the world, we may not be presented with a choice of a presidential candidate who — regardless of Iraq — has a plan or a clue of how to prosecute this war.
Some Iraqis, like Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, understand that if a Democrat is elected president in 2008, America will withdraw from Iraq in 2009. In an interview on August 25, Mr. Salih — carefully avoiding comment on American politics — told me, “We understand that the debate is reaching a critical stage in the United States, and the American people need to understand what is at stake in Iraq. We need to demonstrate progress more and I think you will be seeing a lot of political progress as we go along.” Such political progress here would be even more important than in Iraq.
We must always remember what happened five years ago today, and since. But any politician who wants to be taken seriously must explain how he will study history, not rewrite it, and use what he learns to steer America toward 9-11-11.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here).