In Opposition to the Opposition
Having a respectful and patriotic opposition can be valuable during wartime as much as during peacetime, helping to ensure that ineffective policies are changed and that excesses are not allowed. Still, the constant signals of a willingness to abandon Iraq prematurely — which factions in the United States have been sending around the world for years now — have made victory more difficult, first, by undermining, rather than honing, wartime policies and, second, by giving our enemies a concrete goal that is much easier to achieve than military success and giving our allies a reason not to risk putting all of their wagons in our caravan.
As Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman wrote in rebuke to Hillary Clinton:
“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia,” Edelman wrote.
He added that “such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.”
It is hardly fanciful to see increasing zeal for some sort of forced withdrawal plans beginning in the fall as being related to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s promise of a “hot summer.” Perhaps one can give anti-war forces in the government the benefit of the doubt that they are only being cynical, rather than traitorous, in their posturing, as John Podhoretz writes:
Even more cynically, [Harry Reid] was able to stage the all-night session precisely because he knew Republicans wouldn’t let the proposal come to a vote. The 120-day proposal isn’t a serious effort to end the war: It’s just a feel-good, symbolic gesture. Democrats don’t have to take any responsibility for it because it will never get beyond the gesture stage.
Podhoretz’s thought on responsibility is in some respects an answer Jeff Jacoby’s observation that, “for all the clamor to quit Iraq, there is little serious discussion of just what quitting will mean.” If political leaders don’t believe that their feints will actually be permitted to make contact, they needn’t worry about the results of “success” as they manipulate the nostalgic hysteria and romantic ignorance of what Jacoby terms “the surrender lobby”:
If US troops leave prematurely, the Iraqi government is likely to collapse, which could trigger violence on a far deadlier scale than Iraq is experiencing now. Iran’s malignant influence will intensify, and with it the likelihood of intensified Sunni-Shiite conflict, and even a nuclear arms race, across the Middle East. Anti-American terrorists and fanatics worldwide will be emboldened. Iraq would emerge, in Senator John McCain’s words, “as a Wild West for terrorists, similar to Afghanistan before 9/11.” Once again — as in Vietnam, in Lebanon, in Somalia — the United States would have proven the weaker horse, unwilling to see a fight through to the finish.
Yet none of this seems to trouble the surrender lobby, which either doesn’t think about the consequences of abandoning Iraq, or is convinced a US departure will actually make things better. “If everyone knows we’re leaving, it will put the fear of God into them,” Voinovich declares. Sure it will. Nothing scares Al Qaeda like seeing Americans in retreat.
Three decades ago, similar arguments were made in support of abandoning Southeast Asia to the communists. To President Ford’s warning in March 1975 that “the horror and the tragedy that we see on television” would only grow worse if the United States cut off aid to the beleaguered government in Cambodia, then-Representative Christopher Dodd of Connecticut retorted: “The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now.” So Washington ended military aid, and Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, which proceeded to exterminate nearly 2 million Cambodians in one of the ghastliest genocides of modern times.
When it comes to blame, Podhoretz may prove incorrect if the Democrats have brought their jabs too perilously close to the precipice at which they will plummet, missiles with their own momentum. As the political theater riles its audience, in turn requiring ever greater histrionics on the part of the players, eventually, the violence will spill out into the streets, as it were. The buffoon who goads the mob into action cannot avoid responsibility, because he has no excuse for ignoring those horrific outcomes that are, at the very least, sufficiently plausible to merit consideration.
And as the blogger at Ace of Spades argues, those horrific outcomes will not be limited to a cleansing domestic genocide or two in Iraq:
Who wins in a genocide? Who wins in an all-against-all civil war?
Well, who, exactly, has been trying to push the country towards exactly that? Al Qaeda and the Sadrist jihadi militias, and their Iranian backers. Once the country descends into civil war, the entire population will be forced to support the only armies capable of protecting them. Which, absent the US military, is only Al Qaeda (and the Sunni insurgent groups which will be compelled by circumstances to rejoin with them) and the Iranian-backed Sadrist militias. …
The likely winner in an Al Qaeda vs. Iran/Sadr battle will be both. Not Al Qaeda, not Iran and their toady Sadr. Both. Just like Hitler and Stalin could agree to take half of Poland each, Al Qaeda and Sadr will be more than willing to take over half of Iraq each. It gets them what they want — power, and a base from which to attack America. There will be a few flare-ups as Sadr ethnically cleanses the Sunnis from Baghdad and other Shiite-controlled areas, but once that easily-achieved ethnic cleansing/genocide is over, the two joint rulers of Iraq can put aside their differences and focus on the real enemy — America.
If the anti-war movement succeeds in forcing a premature withdrawal, America (and the rest of the West along with it) will certainly face bolder attacks by terrorists, as well as established national entities. Moreover, the United States will have no choice but to conduct future defensive wars in a more vicious fashion in order to convince the enemy of the day that we’re serious. The bloodshed will be all around and compounding. Genocide in Iraq. Terrorism in the West. And ultimately, World War II–degree military actions in multiple directions.
As Charles Krauthammer explores in an NRO piece, however, the possibility of sectarian balance can be a component in a script of American victory, as well as defeat:
[Shiite lawmaker and close Maliki adviser Hassan al-Suneid’s] coalition would not or could not disarm the militias. So [General] Petraeus has taken on the two extremes: (a) the Shiite militias and their Iranian Revolutionary Guard enablers, and (b) al Qaeda, with the help of local Sunnis.
For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution — for Maliki’s Shiite-Kurdish coalition to reach out to the Sunnis. The Petraeus-Crocker plan is the 20 percent solution: peel the Sunnis away from the insurgency by giving them the security and weaponry to fight the new common enemy — al Qaeda in Iraq.
Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.
In either case, that will be Iraq’s problem after we leave. For now, our problem is al Qaeda on the Sunni side and the extremist militias on the Shiite side. And we are making enough headway to worry people like Suneid. The Democrats might listen to him to understand how profoundly the situation is changing on the ground — and think twice before they pull the plug on this complicated, ruthless, hopeful “purely American vision.”
Forcing and guiding the creation of such strategy shifts for victory is how political opposition ought to work. It may be, however, that too many Americans (let alone Westerners) are too infatuated with the promise of political and cultural victory against their own domestic enemies to tolerate, much less promote, innovative and persistent attempts to secure a victor’s peace.