The Corner

American Honor and National Interest

Frederick W. Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post:

A rapid U.S. withdrawal would lead to catastrophe in Iraq. …

Both honor and our vital national interest require establishing conditions in Iraq that will allow the government to consolidate and maintain civil peace and good governance. It doesn’t matter how many “trained and ready” Iraqi soldiers there are, nor how many provinces are nominally under Iraqi control. If America withdraws its forces before setting the conditions for the success of the Iraqi government, we will have failed in our mission and been defeated in the eyes of our enemies. We will have dishonored ourselves.

Our enemies watched the debacle in Somalia and drew conclusions: America is weak, unable to stomach even the smallest level of casualties and willing to lose rather than fight. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq changed the equation. Al-Qaeda leaders did not expect us to attack, and they regarded their unanticipated defeat as a catastrophe. Iran’s leaders and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il saw the invasion of Iraq as the first phase of an attack on the “axis of evil” and were fearful. But the protracted insurgency and the apparent weakening of U.S. will are emboldening them once again.

In 1991 the United States encouraged rebellions against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned to his inhuman vengeance the Kurds and Shiites who answered the call. That abandonment, still fresh in the minds of many Iraqis, is one reason for the suspicion with which the United States was greeted in 2003. What will happen if we abandon the progressive forces of Iraq once again with the hypocritical declaration that the resultant failure is their own fault? What reasonable moderate in the Muslim world — or anywhere — will ever again rely on America?

The comparison is often made between Iraq and Vietnam. One implication is that just as it was possible to lose Vietnam and still win the Cold War, so it is acceptable to lose Iraq. But in the Cold War, Vietnam was a sideshow. Iraq is in the heart of the Muslim world and at the center of the struggle against radical Islamism.

It is also worth keeping in mind that as indirect consequences of America’s defeat in Vietnam, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Sandinistas seized power in Nicaragua and Ayatollah Khomeini seized Tehran and American hostages. The “decent interval” between our withdrawal and the collapse of South Vietnam didn’t help. Neither will the implausible deniability the Pentagon is now trying to establish in Iraq.

Those who have criticized the administration for failing to send enough troops to fight the war, failing to plan adequately for the postwar crisis and failing to react properly when it came are right. But Democrats should not be so quick to embrace these attacks unless they are willing to accept the corollary: Just because Bush did the wrong thing in 2003 doesn’t mean that we can do the wrong thing now.

Worth reading the whole op-ed which is here.

Clifford D. May — Clifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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