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William F. Buckley, RIP

The National Review founder was 82. Here's the AP's obituary, here's the Times's, and here's the National Review's.

Conservatives will remember Buckley as one of the prime movers behind the conservatism that dominated American politics for the last half-century. As a liberal, I wish Buckley's movement hadn't been quite so successful. But I also respect his willingness to critically assess Republican and conservative failures--a willingness that's dangerously absent in too many of his ideological compatriots.

Here, for example, is Buckley sizing up the Iraq War in 2006, in a column titled "It Didn't Work":

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren't on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors. And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything is the fault of the Americans....

Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.

He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.

Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

My condolences to Buckley's family and friends.

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