The answer isn’t so simple. It’s a commonplace that the war in Iraq will be Bush’s legacy, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the man himself so believes. Don Rumsfeld has been criticized since (at least) 2003 for his long-term vision of transforming the US military into a slimmer, sleeker version of itself.
I’ve often wondered myself how the average observer of this war can possibly take a longer view. One suggestion I heard from an Islamic historian at the height of the sectarian violence that broke out after the bombing of the Golden Mosque was this: the centuries-old Sunni-Shia rivalry in Mesopotamia has yet to produce a full-blown sectarian war. Though what worries me now is the resources at stake, the ambitions to redraw the political geography of the region, that this could be the impetus that history has hitherto lacked.
There is much “contemporary history” being written on the current struggle in Iraq, from Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack to fascinating official US government histories of the war and reconstruction effort in all their phases. Now comes the rather authoritative-looking analysis by Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times and General Bernard E. Trainor (ret.), Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Commentary has published a review of the book by the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson, an ancient historian by training and author of The Western Way of War, is a military historian who moonlights as a something of a conservative populist pundit, provocateur and intellectual. In this review, he sounds some of the same themes I heard in his speech to the University of California-Berkeley ROTC a few months ago; that 9/11 and the prosecution of the War on Terrorism ought to be viewed against the backdrop of ca. 2800 years of military history (taking things back to the “hoplite revolution”). Do military historians have the answers – or at least the perspective – we need? Hanson complains that the authors of Cobra II write
“as if going 7,000 miles into the heart of the ancient caliphate, taking out a mass murderer in three weeks, and then birthing three elections at the cost of 2,300 American fatalities might not be considered successful in the long and tragic annals of military history.”