When a leading liberal pundit and frequent Bush-critic writes that it’s “no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge,” we know that the success of the surge has passed from established fact to conventional wisdom.
Not just that, it says something that distinguishes the outgoing president, that, at least on matters of national security, George W. Bush is a man who learns from his mistakes.Â And the two different stories from Iraq, apparent failure in 2005-06 but success in the two years after that helps us see our nation as the land of second chances.
As I read Ancient and European history, I note how many armies forfeited military advantages through strategic or tactical blunders.Â Occasionally, they recover from their “self-created” setbacks, but more often than not, these mistakes lead to eventual defeat (and sometimes and even dismemberment of nations or empires).
Just over two years ago, it seemed we were losing in Iraq.Â We had won the initial stages of the war, but had not effectively adjusted our strategy to meet the changing circumstances on the ground.Â European moralists (or one of their imitators in American universities, think tanks and on liberal editorial boards and blogs) writing about the war (as many of them did) in 2006 (and into 2007 and even ’08), would have defined our “adventure” in Iraq as a failure caused by an arrogant assumption of a bellicose Administration confident that military might alone were enough to secure success.
Americans, however, believe that we can turn a failure into an opportunity and even success.Â We are, to be sure, not the only ones to believe this, but it is a defining aspect of our character.Â We don’t see one failure as determinant of the final outcome.
Not believing that the deteriorating state of the war ensured defeat, George W. Bush, against great odds and much opposition, shifted course in Iraq, perhaps the boldest move of his Administration.Â As a result, his new strategy, dubbed “the surge,” effected in Charles Krauthammer’s words “the most dramatic change in the fortunes of an American war since the summer of 1864.”
There is a lesson in this.Â And not just for political leaders.Â It applies to our own lives as well.Â It suggests that when we’ve made a mistake or suffered a setback, we too can turn things around just as President Bush and General Petraeus did in Iraq.
We’re Americans.Â We believe in second chances.Â One mistake does not necessarily doom us to failure.Â To paraphrase George Eliot’s maxim “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” it’s as if we believe it’s never too late to succeed where once you have failed.