Okay, so for my day job, I spent a good three months putting together this website on George Shultz - a companion to the documentary film, which airs on PBS Monday night. So naturally I want people to visit and explore.
George Shultz is a very interesting man. Is he more interesting than the Dos Equis man? You be the judge.
(See also today's WSJ review of the film by Dorothy Rabinowitz.)
Joshua Trevino lays out a good review of Thomas Ricks's new book, as well as a case for the fact that the Iraq War has largely been won. A sliver:
Iraq today is not the Iraq of the 2006 nadir. American deaths are at their lowest level ever — roughly 16 a month since October — and 2008 saw the number of combat deaths drop to a third of the previous year’s level, and the lowest level since the war began. It is even possible for an oddball Italian tourist to show up unescorted in Fallujah, as one did last month, and live to tell the tale.
I don't imagine that David Petreaus is up for any Nobel peace prize. But perhaps no man on earth has done more to bring more people from terror to normalcy more quickly than he. And he didn't "do it" in the way of the technocrat, exactly. He used as much top down as bottom up.
One question remains: will history forget about the victory in Iraq as the MSM has? Why is no one willing to admit these gains? Report them? It's discusting how ADD the media have become after 6 years of if-it-bleeds-it-leads reporting. Now that victory doesn't match up with their ideologies, they're willing to move on to domestic matters. We the People and They the Soldiers have sacrificed so much to eliminate al Qaeda and to bootstrap stability in that part of the world -- which was, to be fair, the "neocon" agenda at the outset. People like Paul Wolfowitz - and even W. - might have been maligned by the press. A much of it they deserved (particularly on the question of how the war was executed.) But I think history will see them in a better light. Victory has not come without cost. But it has come. Will anyone notice?
According a number of sources, dramatic improvements have been taking place, and - while no one can say definitively whether it was "worth it" (much less blurt out any "mission accomplished" language) - there is much to consider, particularly going forward. As I write here in an open letter to our new President, we must:
First, establish private property rights. It is absolutely essential that Iraqi law ensure that individual titles to property are available to every person holding land or resources currently in the murky form of unwritten public memory. Liberty and property was a requisite of Anglo-Saxon law, of the American Founders and has been the foundation of all other prosperous countries around the world, since. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto says: "[I]nformals who occupy the lands have reached working agreements amongst themselves. If you go and try to expropriate from these people and send in troops to do so, your soldiers will come back in boxes. There is no way to touch these entrepreneurs. They get together and defend their private property with guns. All this indicates that there already is among them a de-facto norm of private property."
Legal institutions make these "informals" formal. And formal property rights mean land is definable, defensible and divestible—that the difference between mine and thine should never again have to come into conflict. In econ-speak it means lowering "transaction costs." Though in the language of the layman it means establishing the foundations of commerce. Ordinary people can suddenly be legitimate entrepreneurs, get a loan, build a business and generally enjoy the fruits of prosperity. Of course, prosperous countries are considerably less bellicose than those in what Thomas P.M. Barnett calls "The Gap".
Second, Iraqi's need political freedoms like speech and suffrage. Already, the population is learning that argument, spin and political zigzag are preferable to violent aggression. Such is not to argue that security is likely to be established without force. It is rather to urge that political speech is the bedrock of civilization. Under such an order, ideas flourish. Some ideas will die. Others will take hold. But at least every idea has an opportunity to be heard, even if that hearing is over a game of chess with a Sunni neighbor. And that's all any society can ask for.
Finally, the institutions of justice must be in place. Is it simple matter for any two parties to resolve a conflict via an impartial arbiter? Are the courts free of corruption? Is the legal system robust enough quickly and easily to recognize a small company under its protective auspices? And is the federalism of Iraq strong enough to sustain the local institutions that will continue to check the powers of Baghdad into the future? The institutions of justice are the interstitial tissue of any society, but they can so quickly be forgotten by global bureaucrats who believe dropping food, cash and technical assistants from airplanes is the solution to all the problems of the world.
Many are speculating about why the MSM is so silent about the gains in Iraq. It could be simply that if it ain't bleeding, it ain't leading. But I think it probably has to do with a subconscious desire not to give that epsilon demi-moron W any credit for any goddamn thing. (And probably also to help Obama's chances at winning the White House). Indeed, the positive war reports should well pick up sometime into Obama's presidency, notwithstanding the fact that the turnaround started in late 2006/early 2007. This will allow the New Administration to lay claim to the reduction in violence, as well as to take credit for the emergence of a more prosperous and secure Iraq. National security-types will then be able to forgive Obama for saying the war was a mistake. (You heard it here first: date stamped and everything).
Let me say that this is not intended as an I-told-you-so piece. Rather it is a call for a continuing, sober conversation about Iraq -- even though we've all grown tired of the war. It has been and may still be a long, grueling adventure on which a lot of blood and treasure has been sacrificed. And Lord knows I hate that our government is dropping that kind of largesse on anything. But "peace through strength" as applied to Iraq may yet be vindicated by history. The US, projecting power in Iraq and elsewhere, could very well offer the region a kind of institutional reboot that will create a lasting peace. If it does, we may have to put aside arguments about the war's original justification and consider the final outcome. Heck, if lasting peace and stability is achieved, I really don't care who takes credit for it.