Seeing the Job Through
President Bush arrived a little late with the 7th Cavalry. Until he rode up last week with an arsenal of powerful arguments for fighting on in Iraq, his policy had been dangerously enfiladed by hostile fire, some of it wild but all of it taking a toll on public confidence.
The ambush by Rep. John Murtha was a critical moment, his record as a defender of America in blood and word suddenly legitimizing the argument for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. A new CNN/ USA Today /Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans want the troops withdrawn within the next 12 months. That's strikingly similar to the numbers who wanted America out of Vietnam in the pivotal year of 1970.
Two developments have brought public confidence to this low ebb, and it's important to distinguish between them so that we can confront the central issue. The first is the incontrovertible evidence that sound plans for dealing with post-invasion Iraq were recklessly disregarded. This is by far a more relevant issue than the red herring that Bush lied about the prewar intelligence and misled the nation. Anybody who spoke to him before the invasion, as I did, knows that the president truly believed the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, as did British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former President Bill Clinton, ambassadors at the United Nations, and so many others, as I documented recently.
"Greatest battle." The Big Lie campaign by the Democrats is a cheap cop-out for those who voted for the war. These two strands of criticism about the Iraq venture--flawed intelligence and the execution of the occupation--are important and must be thoroughly examined--but not now. As the president has said, the challenge in Iraq is about whether we win the war on terrorism or quit the field before victory is achieved. Iraq is the central front of the American defense against Islamic terrorism around the world. Osama bin Laden, in whatever cave he's skulking, and Abu Musab Zarqawi, scurrying from hidy-hole to hidy-hole across Iraq like a furtive rat, both know this. We should, too, for there is grave danger for us if we don't.
Zarqawi's aspirations in Iraq could not be more clear. In a letter to bin Laden, he called Iraq the "land of jihad," the new Afghanistan. Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wrote that al Qaeda views Iraq as "the place for the greatest battle" and vowed that control of Iraq would help "extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq," principally Turkey and Jordan.
The consequences of leaving Iraq prematurely could be a radical Islamic regime funded with oil revenues, an unfettered platform for terrorist attacks, destabilizing the Middle East and threatening America itself. Know the enemy. Zarqawi has a long history of terrorist activities. He organized the assassination of Lawrence Foley, a U.S. Agency for International Development official, in Amman in 2002, he planned terrorist attacks in Germany a year later, and he plotted last year to attack Jordan's intelligence service and prime minister's office, as well as the U.S. and Israeli embassies there. Three al Qaeda operators crossed from Iraq into Jordan, smuggling seven Katyusha missiles in the underbelly of an aging Mercedes with a hidden second gas tank. Moreover, Jordanians discovered a warehouse of chemical substances and 20 tons of explosives. The 71 types of chemical substances included nerve gas and substances that cause third-degree burns and asphyxiation. Ultimately, the terrorists were diverted, but this is the kind of mayhem we can expect if al Qaeda is permitted to establish paramountcy in Iraq. This year, of course, it was Zarqawi who masterminded the suicide attacks on the three tourist hotels in Amman in which dozens died.