Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lincoln and Iraq

A fantastic article in The New Republic of all places comparing the War in Iraq to the Civil War. A must read. Here are some quotes (emphasis added):

Today our forces and Iraqis are fighting together and, slowly, winning a good and noble war that holds the hope of bringing to millions a measure of freedom they never knew before. And yet today, America seems ready, even eager, to concede defeat and withdraw: a sad twist on the famous George Aiken formula for extricating American soldiers from Vietnam. It sounds bizarre--why would anyone want to throw away the chance of such a great victory, when victory seems within reach? But it isn't bizarre. On the contrary, it has happened before.

... In 1863 ... New York saw the worst rioting in our nation's history. The rioters' cause was ending the draft on which Lincoln's war depended. A year later Lincoln seemed headed for electoral defeat, even as Grant's and Sherman's armies seemed headed for decisive military victories. Victory often seems most elusive to civilians when it is most nearly within soldiers' grasp. And noble causes often do not sound noble to the nation whose sons must fight for them. ... In many American towns and cities, then as now, the cause of freedom for others did not seem a cause worth fighting and dying for.

But it is, partly because--as Lincoln saw better than anyone--others' freedom helps to guarantee our own. ... Lincoln had it right: Either democracy and freedom would go on to new heights or they might well "perish from the earth." So too today. A world full of Islamic autocrats is a world full of little bin Ladens eager to give their lives to kill Americans. A world full of Islamic democracies gives young Muslim men different outlets for their passions. That obviously means better lives for them. But it also means better and safer lives for us.

None of this excuses the bungling and bad management that have plagued the Iraq war. The administration has made some terrible mistakes that have cost precious lives, ... But bungling and bad management were far more evident in Lincoln's war than they have been in Bush's. Most wars are bungled ... Sometimes, error gives rise to larger truths; nations can stumble unawares onto great opportunities. So it was in the 1860s. So it is today in the Middle East.

Two-and-a-half years ago, our armed forces set out to fight a small war with a small objective. Today we find ourselves in a larger war with a larger and vastly better purpose. It would be one of history's sadder ironies were we to turn away because that better purpose is not the one we set out to achieve. Either we fight the fight our enemies have chosen until they are defeated or (better still) dead, or millions of Muslim men and women may lose their "last, best hope"--and we may face a mushroom cloud over Manhattan, the work of one of the many Mohamed Attas that Middle Eastern autocracies have bred over the last generation. The choice belongs not to the president alone, but to all of us. Here's hoping we choose as wisely as Lincoln's generation did.

Here's hoping.

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