Thursday, May 27, 2004

Escalation vs. Exit: The Costs Of Both


"Nitwit pundits and Sunday morning television sages, with that faked look of thoughtfulness which is their trademark, talk about an exit strategy as if it were just one more Mapquest printout. But any such exit strategy will lead us only on a short path to hell."

So writes Tony Blankley, editorial editor at the Washington Times, adding, "The essential strategic element in war is to defeat the enemy's will to win, and accepting anything less than triumph in Iraq will catastrophically embolden the terrorists."

Blankley raises valid and grave questions. He is saying that, no matter where one stood on going to war, we went. Now, anyone who thinks we can swiftly exit Iraq without paying a hellish price is a nitwit.

Blankley is right. Should America pull out now, our enemies across the Islamic world will indeed be emboldened. The perception of American defeat could produce a domino effect running down through the sheikdoms of the Gulf into Saudi Arabia and spreading across the region. Iraq could dissolve into chaos and civil war.

All this is possible. Indeed, the possibility that Iraq could become a giant Lebanon for the United States was among the reasons some of us implored the president not to send our Army up the Euphrates Valley to occupy a city that was the seat of the caliphate for 500 years.

But if there are risks to a too-rapid transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, there are risks to escalating this war. Query: When Osama sees Sunnis rising up to fight Americans from Fallujah to Baghdad, and Shiites taking up arms in Karbala and Najaf and marching against America in Beirut in the hundreds of thousands, is he not rejoicing that we took the bait and invaded Iraq? Has not the invasion enlarged the recruiting pool for anti-American terrorism?

In the war on terror, a critical objective was to isolate Osama as a mass murderer who did not represent Islam. Osama's goal was to embed himself in the Arab and Islamic causes of expelling the infidel Americans from the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia and ending what he denounced as our persecution of the oppressed Iraqi people.

Osama sought to conflate his war with the Arab cause. It was in our interest to keep them separate. But the invasion of Iraq, an attack on an Arab country that did not attack us and did not want war with us, united and aroused the Arab world against us, and with bin Laden.

And just as those who argue for an accelerated withdrawal must face up to the risks, those who favor escalation must consider the risks of trying to attain a political objective that appears to be receding before our eyes.

If victory means a pro-Western democracy in Iraq that embraces American values, what is the likelihood of achieving that now, given the raging hostility in the Sunni and Shiite sectors? Are we closer to the goal than we were 13 months ago? Or has the fighting of April-May and the moral squalor of Abu Ghraib pushed our goal even further away?

What will be the final cost in blood and treasure of ultimate victory? How lasting will victory be once our troops depart, as one day they must? Will the American people who read polls where 57 percent of the Iraqis want us out and more than half think killing our soldiers is justified, and every lethal attack on a U.S. vehicle brings out a mob in wild celebration continue to feel Iraqi democracy is worth Americans dying for?

As Washington Times columnist Terry Jeffrey writes, idealists may dream of a democratic, secular and pro-Western Iraq, but traditionalists would settle for an Iraq that has no WMD, does not invade its neighbors and does not collude with terrorists.

I didn't write this piece, but I think it explains the worries most of us have nicely.

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