Our View: Democrat Plan for Early Retreat Would Mean Certain Defeat

“Most Americans want two things in Iraq,” President Bush said this week at the U.S. Naval Academy. “They want to see our troops win, and they want to see our troops come home as soon as possible. And those are my goals as well. I will settle for nothing less than complete victory.”

The President was throwing down a gauntlet at Democrats who are clamoring for a date-certain withdrawal from Iraq. In effect, he was saying to them: Do you have a plan for victory, or only for retreat followed by defeat?

Moral Responsibility

Many Democrats who voted to authorize the war—and thus have a personal moral and patriotic responsibility to see it through to the best possible outcome both for our nation and for Iraqis—appear to have given up on the possibility that a stable, benign regime can be established in Baghdad with U.S assistance. Either that, or they are cynically posturing for partisan advantage on a matter of gravest consequence, demonstrating a willingness to gamble national security on the chance of picking up a few congressional seats in next year’s elections.

Either way, they are wrong. To follow their lead would be disastrous, bringing long-term dangers that could eventually cost more lives than finishing the job we started when large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, after months of vigorous national debate, voted to authorize the war.

“Setting an artificial deadline for withdrawal would send a message across the world that America is a weak and an unreliable ally,” said Bush. “Setting an artificial deadline would send a signal to our enemies that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends. And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorists’ tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder, and invite new attacks on America.

“To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge,” Bush told the cheering throng of Midshipmen, “America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins as long as I am your commander-in-chief.”

In conjunction with Bush’s speech, the White House released a document titled, “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” It should have been released long ago. But now that the document is out, administration officials should publicly stress its key points over and over.

In listing the dangers of withdrawing from Iraq before a stable government is established, the document notes we would leave behind:

  • “A safe haven for terrorists as Afghanistan once was, only this time in some of the world’s most strategic territory, with vast natural resources to exploit and to use to fund future attacks.”
  • “A failed state and source of instability for the entire Middle East, with all the attendant risks and incalculable costs for American security and prosperity.”

The document also notes the moral jeopardy we would face if we precipitously departed, leaving Iraq’s people to the brutal ministrations of whatever regime murders its way to power in the wake of our withdrawal.
Most importantly, the paper makes clear that the administration understands that the key to U.S. success in Iraq is as much—if not more—a political process as a military one. Just as President Bush did in his Annapolis speech, the paper defines three different enemies in Iraq and three different ways of dealing with them.

The first is Zarqawi and his terrorists. “Terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda make up the smallest enemy group,” it says. “This group cannot be won over and must be defeated—killed or captured—through sustained counterterrorism operations.”

The second is unreconstructed Saddamists. “We judge that few from this group can be won over to support a democratic Iraq, but that this group can be marginalized to the point where it can and will be defeated by Iraqi forces,” the White House paper says.

Finally, there are Sunni Arab “rejectionists,” unwilling thus far to accommodate a new Iraqi order. “Rejectionists are the largest group,” says the strategy document. “Most of these rejectionists opposed the new constitution, but many in their ranks are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests.

“We judge,” the paper concludes, “that over time many in this group will increasingly support a democratic Iraq, provided that the federal government protects minority rights and the legitimate interests of all communities.”

Security Nightmare

So far, the paper notes, post-Saddam Iraq has hit all its political marks despite the ongoing insurgency. It has elected an interim government. It has approved a constitution. It is readying for national elections December 15 to pick its first-ever truly constitutional government.

Protected by U.S. forces and a growing, indigenous U.S.-trained army, this new government, influenced by a Bush Administration that follows through on its stated strategy, will have an opportunity to bring disaffected Sunnis into the political fold, isolate al Qaeda terrorists and Saddamists, and establish peace and stability in its own country.

Or, if leading Democrats get their way, the U.S. can retreat now, leaving behind a security nightmare that will haunt us for decades to come.