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How Has Iraq Made Us Stronger? Let Us Count The Ways

Former Newt Gingrich spokesman and Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley has a mystifying (to say the least) column out today about whether Iraq was worth it. He makes three basic arguments in favor: 1.) We've killed lots of terrorists over there. 2.) The success of the surge has crimped Al Qaeda recruitment because "people follow the strong horse." 3.) Even if we'd failed militarily, we'd have impressed our enemies with our toughness and made them think twice about screwing with us.

Blankley makes my job easy by rebutting the first two points himself. On 1.) He concedes that, "Of course, most of those 19,000 killed insurgents were not foreign terrorists, but local Iraqis moved to action by our occupation." On 2.) He writes, "Now, it is doubtlessly true that our invasion of Iraq (and Afghanistan) helped al-Qaida's recruitment. I have been told that by U.S. government experts I trust." Uh-huh...

So it only falls to me to rebut point 3.). As evidence, Blankley adduces the following anecdote:

Shortly after the fall of Soviet Communism, I had dinner with a then-recently former senior Red army general. He told me that the Soviets were astounded and impressed by the fact that we were prepared to fight and lose 50,000 men in Vietnam, when the Soviets never thought we even had a strategic interest there. They thus calculated that they'd better be careful with the United States. What might we do, they thought, if our interests really were threatened?

By this logic, the more spectacularly you fail in a strategically marginal engagement, the better.

I see two problems here: One, it contradicts Blankley's previous point that "people follow the strong." More importantly, you don't just look weak after a major strategic disaster. You are weak. You're down thousands (or tens of thousands) of troops and billions of dollars in spent equipment and munitions, and public opinion and civilian leaders have probably turned against military action for the foreseeable future.

One way Blankley could check his intuition would be to ask himself whether we were more or less intimidated by the Soviets after they left Afghanistan. I'm surprised that didn't come up at his dinner.  

--Noam Scheiber