If anyone asks you why this is a great country, tell them this story.
Yesterday the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, opened its annual conference on international strategy with a speech from the Navy Secretary in a vast hall, followed by a panel on American power composed of three scholars, all of whom had opposed the war in Iraq. Indeed, in the biographical notes that were given out to the audience of officers—men and women wearing their dress whites—one of the scholars stated bluntly that he had written about the “folly of invading Iraq.”
For an hour the panelists gave their reasons for why they believe America will remain the most powerful country in the world well into this century, regardless of the morass in Iraq. There were about ten questions. The last one was from a Navy commander named Cladgett from Syracuse, who rose in the middle of the audience.
“My question to the panel is, What is the path to success in Iraq?”
There was a damburst of laughter in the audience, then the scholars took it on, one by one. The first, Stephen Walt of Harvard, said “This was a huge strategic blunder, there are no attractive plans forward.” The greatest danger—an international conflict in Iraq—would be there no matter when we left. The next man, Robert Art of Brandeis, said, he thought it was extremely important for America’s image in the Arab world not to have permanent bases in Iraq.
The last one to speak was the one who had used the word “folly” in the program: John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. Mearsheimer is 58. He told the audience that when he was a teenager, he had enlisted in the Army. Then he’d spent 1966-1970 at West Point. Then he said this:
But I learned during the Vietnam years when I was a kid at West Point, that there are some things in the world that you just don’t control, and I think that’s where we’re at in Iraq.
The panel was over. For a moment or two there was stunned silence, and then applause—at once polite, sustained and thunderous.