Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ten More Years in Iraq?

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice recently appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to assure Americans that progress is being made in Iraq and that there is a plan for victory. However, when she was asked whether U.S. soldiers might still be in Iraq in five years, or even ten years, she refused to answer, saying she couldn’t speculate and that we would stay until victory was achieved. When Senator John Kerry asked Secretary Rice to define victory, she gave an answer that set new standards for vagueness and uncertainty. She said victory means “laying the foundation for an Iraqi government that is clearly moving along its political path…a permanent government that has begun to really deal with its sectarian differences..”.

It has already been two and a half years since U.S. forces entered Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein from power. Before the war, the Bush administration reassured us that victory would be speedy and relatively painless. No one talked about troops being stationed in Iraq indefinitely and it is hard to believe Americans would have supported a war that called for our troops to police the country for two years, let alone ten.

Two and a half years later, the time for empty promises and vague pronouncements has passed. It is absolutely unacceptable to consider the possibility that U.S. troops might stay in Iraq until 2015 or later. It is equally unacceptable to believe that Secretary Rice’s standard for victory has any more solidity than a cloud in the sky. U.S. troops are going to stay in Iraq until the country makes real progress on its sectarian differences? If history is any guide, that could take decades, if it ever happens. Imagine if Richard Nixon had sent U.S. troops to the West Bank of the Jordan River in 1973, declaring they would stay there until sectarian differences were ironed out. Our soldiers might still be there; the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis still continues, 30 years later, despite an ongoing Israeli troop presence. Or what if the United States had sent troops to Northern Ireland in 1969, announcing the same benchmark for victory? We might have welcomed our troops home twenty nine years later, when the Good Friday agreement was concluded.

It is irrational to ask Americans to put their heads down and wait for Secretary Rice’s nebulous vision of victory to be realized. And it is simply not worth the price. Following Secretary Rice’s “plan” might mean ten or twenty more years of U.S. troop presence in Iraq, billions of dollars, and, most unacceptably, thousands of deaths.

Leaving Iraq does not mean giving up the war on terror. To the contrary, it would create an opportunity for America to re-focus its energies on fighting that war. This war cannot be won by occupying countries; insurgents will hold out for years, as they have already done in Iraq and Afghanistan. That does not mean we are letting the terrorists win. It means we will use our military intelligence, in cooperation with allies, to hunt down terrorists wherever they are and to thwart their plans. Victory in this war means, first and foremost, preventing terrorist attacks. Despite what the Bush administration insists, keeping American troops in Iraq does not prevent Al Qaeda from striking outside Iraq. If that logic were true, the attacks in Madrid and London (not to mention others in Bali, Eqypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere) would not have occurred.

Fighting the war on terror also means asking the military to hunt down Al Qaeda members, not by indefinitely occupying countries where they are located (if that was the strategy, the United States would have to send our troops to a host of countries across the globe), but by performing clearly defined missions. For instance, when intelligence locates a Qaeda training camp in the mountains of Afghanistan, troops would be sent in to root them out. These troops would not spend their down time presenting easy targets for insurgents; rather, they would act as rapid response forces, quickly responding to threats, performing their jobs, and returning home.

Our soldiers have done everything that we have asked of them. Their families have done everything asked of them. Too many soldiers have died, been maimed, and been psychologically scarred. Too many families have lost loved ones. It is time to bring our troops home and re-focus our energies on a real war against terror, not the mirage the Bush administration has offered us in Iraq.


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