The GOP Won in Iraq—the Dems Lost Afghanistan

Jul 1, 10 | 7:51 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Ohmygod, a narrative shift. Of vast and shameless proportions.

We won the Iraq war. Won!

We’re losing in Afghanistan—or, Barack Obama is losing in Afghanistan—but George Bush & Co. won in Iraq.

“Gen. Petraeus won in Iraq because George W. Bush had his back and the people of Iraq, friend as well as foe, knew it,” says Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor and foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and dedicated neocon.

This sentence is a mishmash of characterization and assertion that slips in its real news. The ostensible point is about the status that has attached to Petraeus, to be distinguished from the dubious status of the recently ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and about the obviously better relationship between President Bush and his chosen general than President Obama and his. But the real point is about Iraq.

The neocon-sponsored nightmare—undermining the US reputation throughout the world as well as discrediting the neocon world view at home—is now a victory.

Stephens, along with his other diversionary feints, is making a contrast-gainer point. Iraq is, after seven years and countless lives and almost incalculable investment, looking at this moment better than Afghanistan—which is itself looking as bad as it does, in part, because so many resources and so much focus was shifted off of the original war on terrorism theater and to Iraq. Stephens, and, therefore all the other poking-their-heads-up neocons, are establishing a new baseline: Iraq is something to be aspired to.

These neocons have always been better at media than at war. Indeed, where they’re going with this is pretty smart:

Since Iraq looks better than Afghanistan now (in part because the focus has shifted to Afghanistan—and because, unable to win in Iraq, we simply pulled troops out of the line of fire), they can argue—again—their mission was accomplished, and that the Democrats, who have gotten themselves stuck to the Afghan tar-baby, are screwing theirs up.

The Republicans prevailed in Iraq—because of greater determination, fealty, and military management. The Democrats are sinking in Afghanistan—because they lack grit and heart and proper military rapport.

“Wars are contests of wills,” says Stephens, portentously, and obviously with no idea what he’s talking about. In fact, wars are contests of efficiency and perception. If you spend more lives and more money and more energy than what you accomplish is worth, you’ve lost. Except if, through the finest sophistry and biggest lies, you can appear to have done the opposite, then you’ve won. It’s a hard tactic to fight.

But let’s try: If you see Bret Stephens at a cocktail party, punch him in the nose.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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