"And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the
reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup
which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral
health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in
the olden time."
–Winston Churchill, at the House of Commons following Prime Minister Chamberlain’s signing of the Munich Pact, handing over most of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in 1938.
Winston Churchill understood the cost of a principled stand. As a fierce critic of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in the build up to WWII, Churchill suffered nearly a decade of political isolation. Yet, the prevailing political wisdom was hopelessly naïve, and Churchill, who would l ater lead Europe to victory over fascism, remained singularly focused on awakening war-weary Britain to the gathering storm of terror about to be unleashed.
Churchill came to mind this week as a number of Republicans joined the chorus proclaiming that we have lost in Iraq and must "redeploy" our troops. The timing of the defections was curious, coming as military conditions on the ground are improving and only two months ahead of General Petreaus’s much-anticipated Iraq progress report.
The defections seem absurd until one realizes that seven of the 11 GOP senators who changed their minds about the surge are up for reelection in 2008, and a number may face tough primary challenges. Perhaps the timing of these seven senators can be explained as their placing personal political fortunes ahead of, as Churchill urged, "taking a stand for freedom."
Not so, insists New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, who earlier this week declared: "I have carefully studied the Iraq situation and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward." But has Domenici, or any of the other "endangered Republicans," talked to military experts familiar with conditions on the ground and asked them what would happen if we withdrew now?
If not, they should talk to Major General Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division in Baghdad. Last weekend, when news of more politicians retreating in Washington reached him in Iraq, Lynch said, "Those surge forces are giving us the capability we have now to take the fight to the enemy. If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away." And if the surge were cut off, then, according to Maj. Gen. Lynch, "You’d find the enemy regaining ground, re-establishing the sanctuary, building more IEDs, carrying those IEDs in Baghdad and the violence would escalate. It would be a mess. "
Domenici et. al. may also want to talk to Iraq’s foreign minister, who warns that a precipitous American withdrawal could lead to a full-scale civil war, the collapse of the government and spillover conflicts across the region.
And in case these senators had any question about what’s at stake in Iraq, last week, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s second in command, released another video tape, in which he described the war in Iraq as "a centerpiece of [Al Qaeda’s] anti-American fight" with the ultimate goal of establishing "a caliphate of Islamic rule across the region."
What’s more, while political progress within the Iraqi government has been slow, the military situation appears promising. After only a month at full strength, the troop surge is already working better than expected. There’s been a dramatic decline in the number of sectarian deaths in the last month and a decrease in Shiite death squad activity in Baghdad.
At the same time, Al Qaeda’s grip on Iraq may be slipping as some Sunni tribal leaders have turned against the terrorists, a point which even the liberal media have grudgingly conceded. Consider this quote from a Sunday story in the New York Times: "Now, a pact between local tribal sheiks and American commanders has sent thousands of young Iraqis from Anbar Province into the fight against extremists linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The deal has all but ended the fighting in Ramadi and recast the city as a symbol of hope that the tide of the war may yet be reversed to favor the Americans and their Iraqi allies." It seems strange that the New York Times can perceives progress where some Republican Senators can not.
Instead of giving the surge a chance, some Republican senators have declared their intention to support legislation that would implement the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations, which call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by March 2008, forced negotiations with our enemies, including Iran and Syria, and broad amnesty for insurgents, among other odious provisions.
Amidst such myopic defeatism, a hopeful note from the front: troop morale remains high. In a recent interview with author Ralph Peters, General David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, discussed the source of the troops’ resiliency: "They know they’re engaged in a critical endeavor, one that’s ‘larger than self.’"
Like Winston Churchill, thousands of our men and women in combat understand that, when taking a stand for freedom, principle must precede politics, even, or especially, when it is unpopular. Would that our politicians saw things the same way.