Why We Can't Leave
Our hyperactive president's walkabouts, radio talks, interviews, conferences on energy, the economy, and obesity-and his recent State of the Union address-find him looking well and speaking well, but rather in the manner of the Wizard of Oz. When the curtain is drawn back on the big flashing pronouncements, the Wizard is revealed not as a powerful magician but someone who can't even dispossess a wicked witch of her broomstick without the help of a young girl, her little dog, a scarecrow, a toothless lion, and a tin man. (Cast those characters yourself!) The only thing that is melting before the wizard's eyes is not the wicked witch but the wizard's own support in the country, in the Congress, and within his own party.
George W. Bush bet his presidency on Iraq. And now he's betting his party's future on it. If the new troop "surge" fails, it will destroy the Republicans' reputation on national security for at least a generation.
The president said, "Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq." He's right. Abandoning Iraq would plunge the country we went to war to save into a grim horror movie. The Iraqi government cannot stop sectarian killing when it is able to call on the world's most powerful military. Who can expect it to do so if the Americans leave? Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi professionals-physicians, academics, and the like-have divined the answer and fled to other countries.
Unbelievable horrors. Of course, most Americans believe the nightmare in Iraq simply cannot get much worse. Wrong-it most certainly could. Advocates of a "phased" withdrawal of our troops must reckon with the certainty of a serial disaster: a full-blown civil war spreading a contagion of violence across the region, with Iran virtually uncontainable. Our enemies, as the president said, would emerge with new safe havens, new recruits, and new resources. The head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, put it starkly: "An al Qaeda victory in Iraq would mean a fundamentalist state that shelters jihadists and serves as a launching pad for terrorist operations throughout the region and against our own homeland." A premature pullout would condemn Iraq and the region to unbelievable horrors. It would be a historic victory for our Islamic enemies. If America is defeated in Iraq, a victory in the broader war on terror will be impossible. And unlike what happened after Vietnam, the enemy will undoubtedly follow America home.
How the president must rue his idealized concept of the war, and his obstinacy in persisting with the "too little, too late" way it was conducted. The desire for democracy in Iraq is a noble one, but democracy is not achieved by a single election. It was exhilarating to see so many Iraqis proudly raising their inky voting fingers in the face of threats, but installing democracy is different from organizing an election. Democracy requires security. It requires civil institutions, of which Iraq had none, except for the mosque where Islamists organized to the detriment of dreams of a secular state. It requires respect for the rule of law, for which the Shiite and Sunni extremists have only contempt. It requires tolerance for minorities, but in Iraq today people are murdered daily because of their name or the street where they live. Indeed, those elections had counterintuitive consequences for they divided the country into three sectarian communities and hardened the differences among them.