The green alligators in Iraq

Pick a dozen people at random on any street in America and ask them what color alligators are, and odds are excellent that all or nearly all will say alligators are green. Perhaps one or two will say brown. In fact, alligators are black in the water and gray when sunning on a log or dry land. People have seen so many green alligators in cartoons and elsewhere that the falsehood has become accepted as truth.

As independent journalist Michael Yon eloquently reported Aug. 13 in his online magazine, green alligators are crippling problems for those trying to understand the truth about events in Iraq. Two of the most prevalent green alligators are the assertions that “the surge isn’t working” and “there has been no political progress in Iraq.”

The publication in The New York Times earlier this month of the now-famous “a war we might win” op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who are respected analysts at the liberal Brookings Institution, was followed by a series of media appearances in which Gen. David Petraeus shared some advance information from his upcoming report on the status of the surge. Those events seem to have turned the “surge isn’t working” green alligator into something a little closer to dark brown. Even so, the latest and most unbiased information still hasn’t caught up to many in the news media and the political class. Come Sept. 15, when the Petraeus report is delivered to Congress, don’t be surprised that many of these people will still be swearing up and down that alligators are green.

As for the idea that the Iraqis have failed to make any political progress, it is remarkable what short memories and how little perspective are displayed by so many critics. Our ancestors — who were likely better prepared for democracy than any other discrete society in history — required more than seven years to progress from what was effectively a provisional government under the Articles of Confederation to the permanent political settlement embodied in the U.S. Constitution. Even then, only 74 years later the union created by the Constitution was shattered by a civil war and wasn’t fully reconstituted for another 12 years.

By contrast, it’s been barely three years since millions of Iraqis proudly displayed purple thumbs after voting in elections to establish a provisional and then a permanent government. It’s been a hard and often bloody struggle since then, but the reality is that the U.S. military surge is now putting al-Qaida on the road to permanent destruction in Iraq. As a result, the ground is being cleared for the political progress needed to create a stable, democratic and peaceful Arab nation in the heart of the Middle East.

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