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News out of Iraq leaves bitter after-taste

By From page A9 | June 22, 2014

The news from Iraq that Islamic terrorists have now taken over cities that American troops liberated during the Iraq war must have left an especially bitter after-taste to Americans who lost a loved one who died taking one of those cities, or to a survivor who came back without an arm or leg, or with other traumas to body or mind.

Surely we need to learn something from a tragedy of this magnitude.

Some say that we should never have gone into Iraq in the first place. Others say we should never have pulled our troops out when we did, leaving behind a weak and irresponsible government in charge.

At a minimum, Iraq should put an end to the notion of “nation-building,” especially nation-building on the cheap, and to the glib and heady talk of “national greatness” interventionists who were prepared to put other people’s lives on the line from the safety of their editorial offices.

Those who are ready to blame President George W. Bush for everything bad that has happened since he left office should at least acknowledge that he was a patriotic American president who did what he did for the good of the country – an assumption that we can no longer safely make about the current occupant of the White House.

If President Bush’s gamble that we could create a thriving democracy in the Middle East – one of the least likely places for a democracy to thrive – had paid off, it could have been the beginning of a world-changing benefit to this generation and to generations yet unborn.

A thriving free society in the Muslim world, and the values and example that such a society could represent, might undermine the whole hate-filled world terrorist movement that is seeking to turn back civilization to a darker world of centuries past.

But creating such a society, if it is possible at all, cannot be done on the cheap, with politicians constantly calling for us to announce to the world – including our enemies – when we are going to leave. The very idea is silly, but everything silly in not funny.

We haven’t yet announced when we are going to pull our troops out of Germany or Japan, and World War II was over more than 60 years ago. Turning those militaristic countries around was one of the great achievements in human history. Their neighboring countries have been able to enjoy a peace and security that they had not known for generations.

Perhaps what was achieved in Germany and Japan made it seem that we might achieve something similar in Iraq. But “the greatest generation” that had fought and survived the horrors of war around the world was under no illusion that trying to turn our defeated enemies around would be easy, quick and cheap.

Creating democracy in Germany and Japan was a goal, but not a fetish. Creating a stable and viable government amid the ruins and rubble of war was the first priority and a major responsibility. You cannot create instant democracy like you are making instant coffee.

There are prerequisites for a free society, and the foundations of democracy cannot be built on chaotic conditions with widespread uncertainty and fear. To hold elections for the sake of holding elections is to abdicate responsibility for the sake of appearances. The biggest danger is that you will create a government that will work at cross purposes to everything you are trying to achieve – a government you cannot rein in, much less repudiate, without destroying your own credibility as representatives of democracy. That has happened in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

By contrast, in both Germany and Japan, power was turned over to elected officials at such times and in such degree as conditions seemed to indicate. Eventually, both countries resumed their roles as sovereign nations. But we didn’t publish a timetable.

Today, with terrorists threatening to at least fragment Iraq, if not take it over, it is a sobering thought that Barack Obama and his key advisers have a track record of having been wrong about Iraq and other foreign policy issues for years, going back before they took office – and no track record of learning from their mistakes.

Thomas Sowell is an author, economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Thomas Sowell

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Discussion | 19 comments

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  • Mike KirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 8:49 am

    Well, there you have it. From the upside-down mind of Tommy Sowell, a truly revisionist fairy tale: George W. Bush was right all along; he invaded Iraq for the good of our country, not to transfer a trillion taxpayer dollars to his corporate backers. Meanwhile, and a year before he took office, evil Obama magically controlled Bush's hand when he signed the agreement to have our troops leave. Why does this paper continue to publish his propaganda? We are all now less astute and more brainwashed having read it.

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  • Mike KirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 8:50 am

    Oh, I forgot to mention, "What a load of Sowell."

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  • Mike KirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 8:58 am

    Also, we are not still in Japan and Germany because we are still trying to help their transitioning into grown-up nations as Tommy apparently believes. We are still there because they are strategic military launch pads.

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  • FDCJune 22, 2014 - 8:59 am

    As one should expect, Mr. Kirchubel's racist-inspired jealousy of Mr. Sowell rears its ugly head again. Mr. Sowell reaches a national audience of millions. Mr. Kirchubel rants for six or seven locals. Jealousy is a terrible motivator, Mike.

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  • CD BrooksJune 22, 2014 - 9:14 am

    FDC, aren't you the least bit concerned about suggesting Mike is racist? That is an absurd accusation without merit. He chastises everyone equally and has never made any comments that suggest such a thing. I am well aware that lying and repeating lies is the Conservative way, but it doesn't play well here.

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  • Mike KirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 9:23 am

    Thanks, CD. Crutchfield, I'm completely comfortable pointing out idiocy coming from any color, gender, or religion. Tommy seems to provide a weekly dose here. By the way, Crutchfield, is there anything specific about my analysis that you disagree with, or is this simply another of your personal attacks?

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  • Dave ShreeveJune 22, 2014 - 10:21 am

    CD wrote in reply to FDC calling Kirchubel "racist" for his typical demeaning attacks on Dr. Sowell: "That is an absurd accusation without merit". Be sure to remember that CD the next time a Republican or other conservative attacks the Obama administration on policy. The race card is getting very tired.

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  • CD BrooksJune 22, 2014 - 11:02 am

    Mr. Shreeve, I have no problem getting after the president or anyone else for that matter on the issues, that is certainly a prerogative. But to consistently drop lies and misinformation is another matter and I will call you on it every time. I agree the race card is played out, but I never go there. And I am offended by FDC's constant snipes at Mike about being racist.

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  • FDCJune 22, 2014 - 11:19 am

    CD, I hope you are offended. Now you know how we feel when even the slightest objection to anything Mr. Obama does is immediately labeled "racist" by you and your sort. It does seem strange, however, that Mr. Kirchube is incessant in his attacks on Thomas Sowell, Star Parker, and Deroy Murdock. I repeat my statement to Mr. Kirchubel: Jealousy is a terrible motivator. Again, I am grateful you are offended; I meant you to be so. PS: "...he chastises everyone equally..." Now that's a good one, CD, a real whopper!! But enough of this.....

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  • CD BrooksJune 22, 2014 - 11:35 am

    FDC, I have never called anyone racist unless they used specific language or innuendo in their comment. Never. To say I have is a lie. And I do not condone the practice. As far as I know, this is another GOP ploy to make everyone SOUND racist because they cannot stand the president. I have ripped on those same folks and others as well. Why? Because they write stupid sh*t and tell lies for crying out loud! You may have difficulty understanding that because you all do the same thing. Move on Sir. And I mean that respectfully...

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  • Mike KirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 12:12 pm

    Crutchfield, I have been attacking Bill James' article this morning too, and he's a white guy. Why not accuse me of hating white people too; there's just as much justification. Your ad hominem attacks are as hopelessly false as they are tasteless. Please stop your little schoolboy remarks, grow up a bit, and attack the actual substance of my remarks, if you can.

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  • Mike KirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 9:14 am

    I guess you're the expert, Crutchfield. I'll take your word for it.

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  • FDCJune 22, 2014 - 1:55 pm

    All the squeals and cries from CD and Mr. Kirchubel prove my point: They are quite accomplished at dishing out hatred and offensive remarks toward others but they are incapable of taking such remarks in return. Mr. Kirchubel challenges me to "...attack the actual substance of [his] remarks...." but, alas, there is little substance there. Mike ,no need to attack, the weight of the sophistry in your rants cause their own collapse.

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  • mike kirchubelJune 22, 2014 - 2:11 pm

    Crutchfield, I think everyone here understands that you can only attack the messenger and haven't the ability to challenge the message. It's fairly obvious.

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  • CD BrooksJune 22, 2014 - 3:02 pm

    Mike Kirchubel, exactly! FDC, I adamantly disagree with your lack of substance comment. It is you and yours that bring issues that have no merit and you bring nothing to substantiate your claims. If we bark we have a bite to back it up. You do not.

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  • rlw895June 22, 2014 - 3:05 pm

    Good thing Sowell is an economist, not a historian. There are so many differences between 1945 Germany and Japan and 21st century Iraq, comparisons are strained beyond all use.

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  • rlw895June 22, 2014 - 3:27 pm

    "Those who are ready to blame President George W. Bush for everything bad that has happened since he left office should at least acknowledge that he was a patriotic American president who did what he did for the good of the country – an assumption that we can no longer safely make about the current occupant of the White House." I'll join Mike on that being a "load of Sowell." How about blaming Bush for at least some of what happened while he was IN office? Most notably that would include invading Iraq on the falsehood that Saddam had WMDs and the capacity to deliver them to the U.S. I'll make the assumption that Bush did "what he did" for the good of the country, if Sowell will acknowledge that intentions don't matter. Bush blew it, only made worse by his failure to admit it. And I'm not willing to assume Obama does not have the country's best interests in mind. I'm not willing to make any such assumption about ANY president. Sowell is being unpatriotic to suggest anybody do that. I need proof based on real evidence, not assumptions, or, more accurately, presumptions.

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  • Mr. SmithJune 22, 2014 - 3:43 pm

    "Falsehood" or "mistaken belief," rlw? Are you now in the "Bush lied" camp?

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  • rlw895June 22, 2014 - 5:01 pm

    No, and in this context, it doesn't matter.

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