Seeing the Job Through
In short, we must stay. What may have been originally a war of choice is now a war of necessity. So we must stop all this destabilizing talk about withdrawal. To withdraw to some timetable divorced from reality on the ground would grant militant Islam a huge victory, and Arabs who want to democratize and modernize would know they could not count on America to stand by its friends. Whatever the cost of our staying may be, the cost of retreat would be much higher. It would hardly persuade Zarqawi and his fellow terrorists to stop pursuing Americans around the globe. For those who think it was a big mistake to go in, it would be a bigger mistake to quit now.
Indeed, a withdrawal would be presented across the Arab world as a defeat of the American infidels by the jihadists who would inflate the glory of victory and attract many new followers. It would also undermine our strategy of hitting terrorists hard abroad, while loyal allies and new friends around the world would find themselves leaderless in the global struggle against Islamist radicalism. A loss of nerve and a humiliating retreat would seriously undermine America's role in the world. Indeed, what a foolish time to talk of getting out, just when we are getting our act together with the accelerated and improved training of Iraqi troops, and just before an election when Shiites and Sunnis are working to form the sort of institutions required to build a nation and quell the low-level civil war. After all, the insurgency is not destined to succeed. They are not fighting for a clear ideology; they lack any great power backing; they lack a positive agenda; they lack a charismatic leader; they have no territory of their own; they lack the support of the Shiites and the Kurds, as well as a significant portion of the Sunni population.
When America has prevailed in foreign ventures, it has been in the places where it stayed--in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, never mind Germany, Japan, and South Korea; in the places where America left too soon--Haiti, Somalia, and Vietnam--the results speak for themselves.
But this raises a question. Is the Democrats' priority for the country to win in Iraq or for the party to win next year's midterm elections? A defeated Iraq is not just a defeat to the Bush administration. It would be a defeat for the entire country. The good news is that many Democrats in Congress agree with the principal elements of the president's strategy for victory, mainly to build up a representative government and the security forces to defend it over the next few months, while gradually shrinking the numbers and duties of U.S. troops. This includes Sens. Joseph Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barak Obama, and especially Lieberman, who had it exactly right when he wrote that the Iraqi people are within reach of a modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood, unless the American military is prematurely withdrawn. As he said, it would be "a colossal mistake" for America "to lose its will and . . . seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory."
The vigor of the president's address last week should give heart to wobbly Republicans and pause to querulous Democrats. But he must now hammer home the theme that he is following a strategy for victory, not a strategy for retreat. In doing so, he is sure to rally a nation that always responds to straight talk and courage.