A reader writes of this post:
But for one line, your analysis of the speech was on the money. I especially enjoyed your first paragraph, which examines the premises of the speech compared to the reality on the ground. But alas, we know only one thing about Iraq. It has failed. But its failure does not mean that anyone who supported different tactics was right. We know only that the tactics used in this particular invasion did not work.
You still steadfastly refuse to examine the views of those who opposed the war from the outset. If you did, you would find that for the most part, they understood that the premises of the war did not match the facts on the ground. In particular, they understood the culture, the people, the economics and the religion(s) of Iraq. They also understood the American people, who will not, perhaps sadly, ultimately support a war that does not end quickly unless national security is a genuine and clear issue. The world today is not the world that Niall Ferguson understands. Until the day comes that you really analyze the views of Juan Cole and others like him, views that were expressed in real time, and respond to their content, your views about who was right and who was wrong are not credible.
I am glad you understand now the significance of the way forward expressed last night, but I hope in the future you will at least have the decency to characterize your views properly. Perhaps additional troops used at an earlier time could have worked, we will never know, but certainly now the escalation proposed by Mr. Bush and the premises underlying that escalation do not fit the facts on the ground. Anything more on your part, a supporter of the war, is overreaching.
I'll ignore the condescension, but the reader is right about one thing. We will never know for sure if a strategy with far more troops back in 2003 and 2004 would have worked. In retrospect, I think we had a window of six months after Saddam's fall to avoid the centrifugal disintegration of Iraq. But I remain unconvinced that this effort, while always extremely difficult, was doomed to fail as badly as it has. I'm sorry if it irritates some that my evolution is not a clean break. But history is rarely a clean break. It is a series of real human choices in real time - and our real time attempt, fallible attempt to understand them.