We are in Iraq because our vital national security interests and the fate of the war on terror are at stake. This was the case when the war began in March 2003 and so it remains today.
Nevertheless, American resolve to fight the war in Iraq is reaching a critical tipping point.
A recent Gallup poll found that 59% of Americans now favor some form of troop withdrawal. And only 42% of Americans feel that the war was worth fighting. In another poll, two-thirds believe that our military is bogged down in Iraq while nearly three out of every four respondents view the casualty level as intolerable.
People and democracies are inherently fickle. Accordingly, opinion polls that indicate declining support for the war should be expected more than feared. Only when our leaders begin to express the same war-weary sentiments held by the general public should alarm bells sound. That day has come.
The anti-war movement, once confined to the MoveOn.org and Michael Moore crowd, is now finding sympathy with people who matter. Nearly 50 House Democrats recently convened to form the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, which is committed to putting pressure on the Bush administration to end the war in Iraq. And this nascent movement for withdrawal from Iraq is not limited to the usual suspects.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones has joined with pacifist Rep. Dennis Kucinich to sponsor a resolution that would require the Bush administration to begin withdrawing troops no later than Oct. 1, 2006—which by coincidence is one month before the midterm elections. The previously hawkish Mr. Jones, who is most famous for giving America “freedom fries” during the rush to war, believes that “after 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent,” it is time to begin discussing withdrawal.
Other war skeptics are emerging. Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, has become the Senate’s Chicken Little statesman. His behavior resembles that of John Kerry—without the militaristic posturing. A potential presidential candidate in 2008, Mr. Hagel now claims that “the reality is that we’re losing in Iraq.”
There is no surer recipe for failure in Iraq than the suicidal, self-fulfilling prophecy of defeatism. The successful Iraqi elections earlier this year prove Mr. Hagel’s assessment wrong, but a lack of will on the part of our nation’s leadership can still reverse our great victories on the battlefield.
In another era, prominent cold warrior James Burnham was one of the first to observe the symptoms of Vietnam war-weariness. In his article “Let Us Stand Firm In Vietnam,” Burnham noted that “spokesmen for a new brand of isolationism have lately joined with perennial sentimentalists, appeasers and defeatists to call for immediate negotiations with Communists, withdrawal of our forces, and ‘neutralization of Southeast Asia.’”
With prophetic eyes, Burnham predicted the disastrous results of the American withdrawal—“Defeat means, for the Vietnamese people, a bloodletting on a genocidal scale, a massacre of innocents not only in South Vietnam but in the other Southeast Asian countries that will be taken over in turn.”
History proved Burnham right. America’s withdrawal in 1975 allowed North Vietnamese communist forces to capture Saigon and overrun South Vietnam without facing any resistance. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were executed, starved, imprisoned or forced to flee during this murderous rampage. With America out of the region, next door in Cambodia, Pol Pot’s communist Khmer Rouge government murdered approximately 2 million Cambodians. American withdrawal and communist advances dealt an immense blow to American prestige, emboldening the Soviet Union to expand its influence throughout the world.
Iraq is no Vietnam. But it can become one with enough effort from our own leaders—if they continue to drink from the poisoned chalice of defeatism.Without a mandatory draft or massive casualties, building a politically viable anti-war movement will remain a challenge. Nevertheless, there is a sizeable and growing contingent in Congress whom have already begun to beat the drum of retreat, withdrawal and defeat.
In the debate over Iraq, discussion has shifted from how to win the war on terror to how to extricate ourselves from a looming quagmire. Discussing “exit strategy” before achieving our objectives presumes and guarantees failure. Ultimately, defeatism is a fatal disease. Once it infects the spirit, it is only a matter of time before it kills the body.
We must eliminate this defeatist mindset from our national psyche before we convince ourselves to accept a massive and humiliating defeat in the war on terror. Withdrawing from Iraq, or even setting a withdrawal deadline, before our mission is accomplished would embolden our enemies, give confidence to insurgents and create the impression that America is a paper tiger.
With Iraq as a base of operation, we currently have the ability to project power on a massive scale throughout the entire Middle East, which is the most strategically vital region in the war on terror. Withdrawing from Iraq would constitute the surrender of a militarily strategic country, create a power vacuum in the region, jeopardize our access to strategic oil reserves and undermine our credibility around the globe.
In an instant, we would lose the initiative in the war on terror. On 9/11 we learned that there is no such thing as peaceful co-existence with terrorists and their state sponsors.
Withdrawal from Iraq would mean falling back into our pre-9/11 defensive posture. Such an act of appeasement would be our Munich.
America occupies a unique position in history. We are the world’s only superpower with an economy and military of unparalleled size and strength. History has conferred upon our nation great rewards, as well as great burdens. While America should not become policeman to the world, our nation’s global interests and preponderance of power require that we act vigorously to defend our interests and maintain international stability. America must not allow war-weariness or defeatism to undermine its will to use its power on the international stage. We must not shy away from conflict, but put on a brave face and act with resolve. If we do not act, another great power like China will act on our behalf and against our interests.
America has at its disposal the material resources, diplomatic alliances and military capability to win the war in Iraq. The war is ours to win—if we have the will. But do we have the human capital necessary for victory? Do we have the resolve to fight the insurgency in Iraq? Do we have the stomach to endure the casualties that will inevitably come with war? Do we have the patience, discipline and moral character to shoulder this war, and the others that are likely to follow, in this protracted conflict? If we lack these qualities, we must cultivate them at once. Our resolve will be the decisive factor in this conflict.
Despite all of his nation’s suffering and sacrifice, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been extremely vocal in opposing American withdrawal. Mr. al-Jaafari recently proclaimed at a news conference in Washington that “this is no time to fall back.” History is seldom generous with second chances. If our leaders cannot recognize our own interests in Iraq, let us take Mr. al-Jaafari’s words to heart by shrugging off the defeatism of those who wish us to fail. Let us stand firm in Iraq.