Brush With Greatness: Fouad Ajami, 1945-2014

Fouad AjamiMy favorite professor passed away this week.

Fouad Ajami — Iranian by heritage, Lebanese by birth, American by choice — was an assistant professor of politics at Princeton in the late 1970s, and I took his International Relations course freshman year. He didn’t get tenure there — bad call, Princeton — and left in 1980 to become director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins, where he thrived for 30 years.

He was a bit of an imp at Princeton, and I mean that in a nice way.  You can see it in his picture — I remember the same grin, framed in a darker beard.  When I was casting about for a major after realizing that I wasn’t cut out for [shudder] physics, my enjoyment of his course was part of why I chose Politics.  I wish I could say I remembered some profound insight he shared that shaped my political development, but I can’t. I probably got a B in the course, because that’s how I rolled.  In classes I liked.

Here’s what I remember: he quoted Lyndon Johnson’s characterization of Vietnam as “a raggedy-assed, third-rate country,” and said some American leaders dismissed a wide variety of countries in that way.  As he made his pedagogical point, he just seemed delighted by the fact that he was saying a bad word in front of a classroom at a prestigious school and he could get away with it because we were nominal adults.  He grinned that grin.

He became my favorite professor retroactively three decades later, when I discovered that my emerging world view was finding eloquent expression in his commentary in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. I blogged about him here and here and here. Since no one ever follows links on my blog (prove me wrong, I double-dare you), I’ll quote a passage from September 11, 2009, in which he championed the decision to go to war in Iraq:

Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw. He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a lesson was made of him.

Professor Ajami never wavered in his belief that America made the right choice by overthrowing Saddam Hussein.  I wholeheartedly share that viewpoint. Despite the years of mismanagement of the war, the world is a better place today because of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I expect that will continue to be true despite the feckless blunderings of our current commander in chief.

In 2011, Ajami retired from Johns Hopkins and decamped to Stanford, where he was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His colleagues there have performed the invaluable service of compiling a page of links to his “best and recent articles,” the last of which was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 16, less than two weeks before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 68.  It was vintage Ajami, headlined “The Men Who Sealed Iraq’s Disaster With a Handshake.” In case you have any doubt, the men in question are Obama and Nouri al-Maliki.

 (This post is the fourth installment in my Brush with Greatness series.)

On Reflection, I’m Surprisingly OK With Where Obama Is on Syria

When President Obama changed course abruptly on Saturday and announced that instead of attacking Assad’s regime in Syria, he would “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes.  Here we go again, trying to have it both ways.  It’s reminiscent of announcing a surge in Afghanistan, then simultaneously announcing a date certain for beginning to draw down the extra troops.

Conservative pundits whose national security opinions I generally respect jumped on Obama with both feet.  Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz breached the magazine’s normal practice of not publishing new material on the Jewish Sabbath, with a blog post headlined “Obama’s Bizarre Syria Policy.”  The next day, Peter Wehner weighed in with a blander headline, but stated high in his post that “President Obama has handled the Syrian situation with staggering incompetence.” They both make a strong case, which you can read for yourselves.

Other pundits opined that the delay would give Assad time to hide his chemical weapons; that it made Obama look ridiculous to decide we should strike Syria, but delay it until Congress returns from vacation; and asked why does the commander-in-chief think he needs Congressional approval for limited military action in Syria, but did not feel the same way in Libya?

All reasonable arguments.  But then military leaders declared that the delay is not a significant tactical setback.  Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said:

Many of Assad’s assets we’d like to target are “fixed installations” he can’t move; the amount of intelligence and surveillance assets being devoted to the region should make it difficult for him to move matériel out of sight; and Assad’s current position, engulfed in a civil war, means he can’t exactly be moving military units, such as rockets or artillery, as he wishes.

Obama can be criticized for being indecisive, which is not what you want in a commander-in-chief.  But stubborn persistence also can be taken too far.  President George W. Bush — whose decision to overthrow Saddam I supported then and support to this day — has to answer for staying with a failed strategy in Iraq for years after it was clear a change was needed.

I think faster action on Syria might well have been preferable for the immediate tactical situation.  But if Obama succeeds in getting Congressional approval — a big if, but not impossible — it may be worth it in the long run to have an intervention supported by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Despite Obama’s wishful declaration that “this war, like all wars, must end,” the war against Islamic extremism will certainly outlast his presidency — and it may outlive all of us.  Future presidents will also have to wrestle with how to make war against Middle Eastern terrorists and despots, and I’m thankful that Obama is helping to build a bipartisan history of asserting America’s strength.

(Syrian flag from Wikipedia)

Benghazi is the Silver Lining in the Tragedy of Petraeus

When a co-worker told me late Friday about General Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, my immediate reaction was profound sadness.  Petraeus is one of the few public servants I’ve ever admired without reservation.  Now that’s been taken from me.  (Yes, it’s about me.)

Petraeus will still be remembered as one of the greatest generals in American history.  President Lincoln supposedly said of my friend’s great-great-grandfather, “I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”  I have this fantasy of President Obama saying, “I wonder if we could find a hot biographer for some of my other generals?”

But back to me: I’ve followed Petraeus’s career off and on since he was a mere colonel walking around the Princeton campus with a briefcase in the mid-1980s.  That’s the detail I remember from the Princeton Alumni Weekly article about him — hey, there’s this guy who looks like he could be a well-dressed grad student, except he carries a briefcase.  Petraeus got two graduate degrees from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.  (I hope I’m remembering the details correctly — unfortunately, PAW articles from that far back are not available online.)

I’ve written about Petraeus a few times here, most notably in “Dog Bites Man: MoveOn.org Twists the Truth” and ““Barack Obama Better Be All In” on Afghanistan “. I know there are people who despise Petraeus, think he’s created a personality cult around himself, blah blah blah, I don’t care.  Petraeus won the war in Iraq, after taking over while it seemed to many — including a disgraceful Senate majority leader — that the war had been lost.

The silver lining in the Petraeus episode is that the debacle in Benghazi will finally get the attention it deserves.  (Note to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein: If it was appropriate for Gen. Petraeus to testify in your closed-door hearing when he was CIA director, it’s no less appropriate now that he’s a private citizen.)  Here’s VDH with a handy list of questions you should ask:

“We were beginning to sense that the crime of Benghazi (not listening to pre-attack requests for increased security; not sending help immediately from the annex to the besieged consulate; not rushing in additional military forces during the hours-long attack) and the cover-up (inventing the video narrative of a spontaneous demonstration gone wild to support a pre-election administration narrative of an impotent al-Qaeda, a successful Libya, a positive Arab Spring, and a cool, competent Commander in Chief, slayer of bin Laden, and architect of momentous Middle East change) were not the entire story of the 9/11/2012 attack: Why was there a consulate at all in Benghazi, given that most nations have shut down their main embassies in Tripoli? Why was there such a large CIA contingent nearby — what were they doing and why and for whom? Why did the ambassador think he needed more security when so many CIA operatives were stationed just minutes away? What was the exact security relationship between the annex and the consulate, and why the apparent quiet about it? Who exactly were the terrorist hit-teams, and did they have a particular agenda, and, if so, what and for whom? All these questions had not been answered and probably would have been raised during the scheduled Petraeus testimony — which is apparently now canceled, but why that is so, no one quite knows.”

Regardless of whether the Petraeus testimony gets uncanceled, now the media is in the hunt. The Obama-supporting mainstream media had no stomach for Benghazi when they thought it might hurt their guy’s election chances.  Even after the election, until the Petraeus revelation, the media could think it would be potentially embarrassing (to the media) to dig into Benghazi too much, let’s move along, maybe there’s nothing there anyway.

But now? The CIA director admits to banging his biographer just days before he’s supposed to testify (behind closed doors) to a Congressional committee? I can practically hear some top editor at the New York Times: “HOLY CRAP!  Flood the zone! I want a reporter on every aspect of this story, we can’t let the National Enquirer scoop us like they did on John Edward’s love child! What’s the Congressional hearing about? Ben-whozi? Whatever, get someone on that too.”

I’m having some fun with this topic, but let me be clear (to borrow a phrase from my favorite currently-serving American president): Adultery is wrong.  He shouldn’t have done it.  I don’t know whether he initiated it or she did, but it doesn’t matter.  Even if she instigated the affair as relentlessly as Monica Lewinsky did, Petraeus still had a duty to resist (as did Bill Clinton).

But while what Petraeus did may be inexcusable, it’s not unforgivable. I forgive him for the minor transgression of tarnishing one of my heroes.  I hope his wife will forgive him for his far-worse offense against her. My faith tells me God will forgive him.  And unless something far worse emerges out of the coming feeding frenzy, I have no doubt history will forgive him, too.

Never Forget

I’ve published this every September 11 since I began blogging in 2008.  It’s dedicated to the men and women of the United States armed forces, and to every firefighter who has ever run into a burning building — 343 of them in particular.

Some day soon I need to write more extensively about the name of this blog. It comes from something that English statesman Edmund Burke apparently did not actually say, so I’ve felt free to modernize the language:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Regardless of who said it first, that sentence is the purest possible distillation of my worldview, and September 11 is a powerful annual reminder of why I regard it as an enduring truth.

The events of 9/11 were the legacy of more than two decades of doing nothing, or next to nothing, in response to attacks from fascists in Islamic guise.

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

Only after 9/11 did America, led by a President who despite his substantial flaws was resolute enough to call evil by its name, finally mount a sustained response and take the battle to the enemy. And no, Saddam was not behind the 9/11 attacks — but liberating Iraq and planting a (still-fragile) democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East is an essential part of the broader war.

All of this is why, despite profound disagreements with the Republican Party on social issues, despite voting for Bill Clinton three times (including 2000), I can no longer vote for Democrats for President. Not until the party has a standard-bearer who understands the cost of meekness in the face of fascism, and who is prepared to stay on the offensive against people for whom “death to America” is not a metaphor.

2012 update: Obama has turned out to be more willing to use force than I expected when I wrote the last paragraph above during the 2008 campaign.  The takedown of Osama bin Laden was a genuine triumph.  But at the end of the day, economic strength is also a national security issue, and I’ll feel (somewhat) safer on that front with Republicans in charge.

RIMPAC! Or, Here’s Why It’s Dangerous Even to JOKE About Yelling “Fire” in a Crowded Theater

Don't blame me, blame the NavyNo matter how far Left someone is, or how anti-war, or even anti-American, I think we all could agree that one should not publish the sailing time of troop ships during a war.  A no-brainer, right?  But what if the publisher is the U.S. Navy itself?

It happens all the time.  Case in point, the photo accompanying this blog post (if you’re reading this on RSS, click through to the damn blog to see the photo.  And while you’re there, would it kill ya to actually click on a friggin’ ad once in a while?  I’m just sayin’.)

Onward!  “Sailing time of troop ships” is kind of an archaic phrase — modern ships don’t “sail,” and there is no longer a class of ships OFFICIALLY referred to as “troop ships.” But those are quibbles, and modern equivalents exist.  If you ever find yourself in possession of the knowledge that your government is about to launch a daring nighttime raid to take down Public Enemy No. 1 inside the borders of a semi-hostile ally… just to pick a wild hypothetical… if you ever have that knowledge, in the name of sweet Jesus or Loki or whoever, DON’T TWEET ABOUT IT IN ADVANCE!

Where was I?  The photo.  Below in its entirety is the caption that the U.S. Navy wrote, within the past week, describing the location of thousands of U.S. and allied sailors right now, through the day after tomorrow:

120727-N-VD564-015 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) Ships and submarines participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012 are in formation in the waters around the Hawaiian islands. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney/Released)

Who told the enemy about RIMPAC?  String ‘em up! (Cue the visual of Jon Stewart touching his ear and pretending the control booth is setting him straight.)

My point, and I do have one, is not to make fun of Op-Sec rules.  One of those thousands of sailors is my son, and I’d be savagely pissed off if someone disclosed his whereabouts in a way that endangered him.  My point is the danger of “zero-tolerance” laws.

“Zero-tolerance” would mean that I’d be in trouble for this blog post even though the Navy itself provided the potentially most dangerous information.  But now I’ve increased that miniscule danger by a a hyper-miniscule amount by mentioning my son.

Think I’m kidding?  Note that the Navy did not disclose the names of any of the ships in the exercise.  But you can glance at my blog and learn my son is on the Nimitz.  The Nimitz is that big boat in the foreground of the picture, unless there’s another aircraft carrier at RIMPAC.  My son’s a second-class Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, which is one of three ratings responsible for launching and recovering fighter jets in the Arabian Sea and other war zones, and his two tours thus far have taken him to exotic places including Japan and …

Still think I’m kidding?  Ask the loved ones of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney how comfortable they are with that caption. There’s nothing in my prior paragraph that hasn’t ALREADY been on my blog, and even if the blog never existed, there’s nothing dangerous in the graf that Osama bin-Soggy couldn’t piece together with very modest effort.  But if any jerk of a prosecutor ever wants an excuse to make my life a living hell, that paragraph could provide it.  I’d be scared to publish it if not for the fact that my life is a target-rich environment.

Be safe, son. I love you.

(Hat tip: Mom)

Iraq: Mission Accomplished!

Quick reaction on my lunch break: We won.

Yes, there are pitfalls and concerns on the road ahead, but it’s one heck of a lot more appropriate now to declare the war “won” than it was for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to declare in 2007 that “this war is lost.”

Obviously it was Bush who (eventually) found the winning strategy, but Obama deserves props for staying the course.

Why Libya But Not Syria? For That Matter, Why Iraq But Not Libya?

Gaddafi-Assad

Pick your poison

Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria has been stepping up the violence in response to waves of protest  across the country.   As the Washington Post stated in an editorial:

According to Syrian human rights groups, more than 220 people had been killed by Friday. And Friday may have been the worst day yet: According to Western news organizations, which mostly have had to gather information from outside the country, at least 75 people were gunned down in places that included the suburbs of Damascus, the city of Homs and a village near the southern town of Daraa, where the protests began.

The Post editorial is titled “Shameful U.S. Inaction on Syria’s Massacres,” which made me think the Post was advocating armed intervention in that country — which would be War Number Four.  But no, the Post has a more nuanced response in mind: it thinks the Obama Administration should recall its ambassador to Damascus.  That’ll fix ‘em!

For what it’s worth, I agree that we should recall our ambassador.  I just don’t think we should pretend that would constitute “taking action.”

The oddest thing about the Post editorial is that its 591 words do not include the word “Libya.”  But of course, Obama’s rush to war in Libya creates a context that complicates dealings with other  Muslim nations.

Even after a month to get used to the idea, I’m still astonished by the intervention in Libya.  It makes no sense, coming from a president who won his party’s nomination in part because he was the only contender who had opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning.  My basic take is that the intervention may or may not have been a bad idea — but now that we’re at war with Gadhafi, we damn well better beat him.

But how do we justify allowing Assad to kill his own people after taking up arms against Gadhafi for doing the same thing?  Syria — with its ties to Iran, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and its recent history of shuttling terrorists into Iraq to kill Americans — is if anything a more odious and important enemy than Libya.

I’m conscious of the fact that this line of reasoning can circle around to bite me.  Asking “Why Libya but not Syria” begs the question, “why Iraq but not Libya?”  One answer is that in Iraq, the Bush Administration — like the Clinton Administration before it, and like every major intelligence agency in the Western world — believed that Saddam still had stockpiles of the chemical weapons he had used against his own people, believed that he was pursuing nuclear capabilities, and believed it was only a matter of time until he began providing terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

But I think the better answer to “why Iraq but not Libya” is, “not Libya, because of Iraq.”  I’ve never wavered in my support for the war in Iraq, but I’m also not blind to the lives, dollars and opportunities that war has cost.  A war-weary America, with its military and its finances stretched thin, should think long and hard about starting additional wars of choice.

 

Astonishment at Obama’s War-Making Overwhelms Consideration of the Merits of It

Illustration by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff

I keep waiting for my opinion about the intervention in Libya to snap into place.  For? Against?  Too soon?  Too late? But every time I try to pin it down, my mind flies off on a different tangent, enthralled by the bizarreness of it all.

It was nearly three years ago that Senator Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, in part on the strength of having the purest “surrender-at-any-cost” position on Iraq.  Who then could have predicted the following headline: “Nobel Peace Prize Winner Enters Third War“?

I blogged too quickly the other day about “Libya, Where the French Lead the Way” — although France fired the first shot, it quickly became a U.S.-led operation.  Obama has pledged to hand over leadership of the mission “in a matter of days, not weeks” — but hand it over to whom?

Here’s another great, ironic headline: “Gadhafi is Facing a Coalition of the Unwilling.”

The US government, wary of getting stuck in another war in a Muslim country, would like to hand control of the mission over to NATO, but the alliance is divided. At a meeting on Monday, NATO ambassadors failed to agree on whether the alliance should take control of the mission. NATO involvement would require approval by all 28 members. …

Britain and Italy want the alliance to be in charge of the operation, however. Rome has threatened to restrict access to its air bases, which are crucial to the mission, if NATO does not take over control. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that Britain or France could also take control of the mission, but some NATO officials doubt if either country could handle the operation by itself, according to Reuters.

And what precisely is the mission that would be handed over?  Regime change, protecting Libyan citizens, degrading Gaddafi’s power to attack his people — the mission depends on whom you ask on which day.  Leslie Gelb, who has served in the departments of Defense and State under Democratic presidents, offers this explanation:

The reason why neither President Obama nor his coalition partners in Britain and France can state a coherent goal for Libya is that none of them have any central interest in the outcome there. It is only when a nation has a clear vital interest that it can state a clear objective for war. They’ve all simply been carried away by their own rhetoric.

Obama’s actions may be inconsistent with his prior record, but George Will’s opinions are consistent.  Will is a conservative anti-hawk who opposed the surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Unsurprisingly, he thinks Libya is a bad idea, and I think he may be on more solid ground.

In Libya, mission creep began before the mission did. A no-fly zone would not accomplish what Barack Obama calls “a well-defined goal,” the “protection of civilians.” So the no-fly zone immediately became protection for aircraft conducting combat operations against Gaddafi’s ground forces.

America’s war aim is inseparable from — indeed, obviously is — destruction of that regime. So our purpose is to create a political vacuum, into which we hope — this is the “audacity of hope” as foreign policy — good things will spontaneously flow. But if Gaddafi cannot be beaten by the rebels, are we prepared to supply their military deficiencies? And if the decapitation of his regime produces what the removal of Saddam Hussein did — bloody chaos — what then are our responsibilities regarding the tribal vendettas we may have unleashed? How long are we prepared to police the partitioning of Libya?

I and many others are astounded and concerned by the fact that Obama has launched a military action so quickly.  Jonah Goldberg, another columnist with whom I more often agree than otherwise, argues instead that Obama acted too slowly:

Back in February when the Libyan revolution was fresh and had momentum on its side, even a small intervention by the U.S. — say, blowing up the runways at Moammar Kadafi’s military airbases or quietly bribing senior military officers — might have toppled Kadafi. Members of his government were resigning en masse. Pilots were refusing orders to kill fellow Libyans. Soldiers were defecting to the rebels. Libyan citizens openly defied the regime in Tripoli. Nearly everyone thought the madman’s time was up.

That was the time to seize the moment, to give Kadafi a shove when he was already off-balance. If the dictator had been toppled when the rebels were gaining strength, America’s support would have been written off as incidental, with the Libyans taking credit for their own revolution.

But such an approach would have required America to run down the court alone, out ahead of its allies and the international community. For Obama the multilateralist, that would have been too much unilateral hot-dogging.

So Obama slowed things down to set up the play he wanted rather than the play the moment demanded. As a result, Kadafi regained his balance.

Sorry, Jonah, but as bewildered as I am with how fast Obama has moved, I can’t support the idea that he should have moved even faster.  At least his initial forbearance was consistent with his history as “Obama the multilateralist.”

A friend said to me on Facebook the other day, “So I’m not happy about this third war, but seriously, aren’t you hawkish types in favor of this sort of thing? And if not, why not?”

My difficulty in pinning down how I feel about the Libya intervention stems from being flabbergasted that we’re in the situation at all.  But let me take a shot at it.

I’m obviously not opposed in principle to the use of military force by the United States.  I’ve never stopped supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But we can’t fix every problem everywhere, we’re stretched financially and militarily now, and I think the Libyan intervention was probably a mistake.

But now that we’ve done it, I hope it’s successful. I don’t root for any American president to fail, especially not in his role as commander-in-chief.  “Success” would mean Gadhafi goes quickly and gets replaced by a new tribe that’s at least marginally more democratic, and the U.S. gets disentangled in “weeks, not months,” to use a more realistic version of Obama’s timeline.  It could happen that way, but I’m not optimistic.

Mideast Uprisings Bode Well for Bush’s Freedom Agenda


The Washington Post has a helpful interactive map providing an overview of the ongoing unrest in a dozen countries throughout the Middle East, with tabs for Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Any of these uprisings could end badly of course, but the possibilities are exciting.  Can there be any doubt that these Mideast insurrections are feeding on each other’s energy?  And, would any of them be happening if it were not for the successful toppling of the baddest Mideast despot of them all?

Plenty of commentators have written about vindication for Bush’s “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.  I don’t know that I have much to add to the current situation, but I do want to boast about discussing this more than two years ago.

From “Bush, Reagan, Moral Clarity and the Politics of Evil“:

For better or worse, Bush’s legacy will always be inextricably tied to the war in Iraq. This means, as I’ve written before, there is a chance Bush will be remembered years from now as the man who planted the first stable democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. If some day Islamic fascism joins Soviet communism in the category of defeated ideologies, a President’s clarity about the United States as a bulwark against evil may again be a large part of the reason.

I’m just sayin’…

Obama Fulfills Bush’s Plan for Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq

Operational discipline limited the display of the American flag while serving in Iraq — but these soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade have just crossed the border into Kuwait. Photo: Washington Post

Just over a month into the new Administration, I wrote:

President Obama today announced an Iraq withdrawal plan that George Bush would be proud to call his own. Actually, it IS Bush’s own.

Don’t be fooled by the lawyerly language in his pledge to complete “the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq” by August 2010. He’s leaving up to 50,000 troops in place until the end of 2011, and I guarantee that they’ll have weapons and the capability of responding with more than battalion strength. I’m not sure how he’s defining “combat brigades,” but he must be dancing close to an outright lie — a brigade is only 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, it looks to me like he’s leaving three divisions in place.

Thank God.

Today the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division left Iraq, marking the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Now begins Operation New Dawn, under which

… the United States will have six brigades in Iraq, by far its smallest footprint since the 2003 invasion. Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded “advise and assist brigades.” The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops. Under a bilateral agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

Even though the war isn’t over, this is a milestone worth celebrating.  As a testament to the effectiveness of Bush’s “surge” — which succeeded quickly enough to prevent Obama from surrendering — the 4th Stryker Brigade did not suffer a single combat casualty during the one-year tour that just ended.  On the brigade’s previous tour in 2007-2008, 37 brave soldiers paid the ultimate price.

In their honor, and in honor of all the troops who remain in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is from the Book of Common Prayer:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.