Friday, May 4, 2007

One Iraq Option Only: Victory

By Michael Johns

Disturbingly, there is an emerging consensus among the Democrat-led United States Congressional leadership that the war in Iraq is "lost." The most recent example that this thesis has worked its way into official party talking points was offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, who pointedly stated last month that "...this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything...."

Setting the obvious contrarian politics aside, could there be a more defeatist, demoralizing and undermining statement at this time?

With approximately 3,000 lives--some of America's finest men and women--now having been sacrificed for the purpose of this mission in Iraq and another quarter million currently deployed there in harm's way, calling the Iraq War "lost" is about the greatest disservice a public official can offer both those fighting today and the legacy of the 3,000 fallen. Does this Congress really need to be reminded: Their mission is a hugely laudable one, not a lost cause.

Make no mistake: the Iraq War has become the epicenter in the global war against terrorism, and the outcome in Iraq will ultimately be a key factor in determining whether September 11, 2001 was the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda, or whether, conversely, it was just the beginning of an era of global terror that grows in both scope and duration.

This fact may be lost on the Democratic leadership now conceding defeat and seeking the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but it is not lost on al-Qaeda itself. Last weekend, on May 5th, Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command, essentially echoed Reid's sentiment, observing that the Democrat-led legislative effort to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq “reflects American failure and frustration.”

To those Americans who have not yet grasped the extent of al-Qaeda's stake in the outcome of the Iraq War, and why the Iraq War is a large part of the war on terror, ask yourself why Zawahiri is commenting on Congressional acts in Iraq, not in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The point should be self-evident: al-Qaeda wishes nothing more than to see Iraq left in a state of chaos, in which they can maintain a presence following an American withdrawal that would surely demonstrate that it is al-Qaeda, not the U.S. or democratic political systems, that own the future of the Persian Gulf region. It's this simple: a win in Iraq is a significant defeat for al-Qaeda, establishing a secure, peaceful and democratic nation in the heart of the Persian Gulf. A defeat in Iraq is a significant win for them, al-Qaeda, likely creating another nation in chaos and ripe, as the Taliban regime once was in Afghanistan, for large levels of al-Qaeda presence and training.

Clearly, one hopes that is not a message Congressional Democrats want to be sending al-Qaeda and America's enemies in the region at this juncture, and I think it would be unfair to assign any member of Congress such malicious motives. But it's already becoming very clear that driving the Republicans from the White House will first mean ensuring no 2008 Republican candidate can run on the coattails of a Bush-led victory in that nation. Putting politics ahead of national security, this nation's Democratic leadership knows all too well what the prolonged nature of the Iraq War has done to President Bush's national popularity. It has set the table for the Democrats to reclaim the Presidency in a mere 20 months.

If it is not politics that is driving the Democratic inclination to label the Iraq War "lost," then Senator Reid's course of action should be clear: He owes this nation, its deployed troops and their families an apology because this conflict has been anything but "lost."

Reflect for a moment on the accomplishments of U.S. forces so far in the Iraq War: the U.S. engaged Saddam Hussein diplomatically, only to find him utterly uncompromising to reasonable expectations of the U.S. and the world community. Given ample time to accommodate those expectations, the U.S. reluctantly was drawn into conflict, driving Saddam (who had governed Iraq since 1979) from power in a mere three weeks. Eight months later, in December 2003, U.S. forces captured the former Iraqi dictator--the "most wanted Iraqi"--in an underground mud shack on a ad-Dawr-based sheep farm.

Then, as opposed to ending Saddam's life there, the former dictator was properly tried under Iraq's established legal system. While he was technically charged with just one, fairly clearly established crime--the murder of 148 Iraqi Shiites and the illegal torture and incarceration of 399 others--the charges really reflected just a sampling of Saddam's brutal, 28-year reign. He was properly convicted and sentenced.

In Iraq, while critics of the war alleged that the war was really driven by U.S. aspirations for Iraqi oil, the U.S. sought quickly to transfer governing authority to the Iraqi people and did that in 2004. Since then, a constitution has been written and elections have been held, suggesting the promise of an emerging Iraqi democracy.

Critics respond that these victories aside, insurgents are winning the war. Wrong again. Today, most of Iraq, thanks to U.S. and allied intervention, is secure from terrorist attacks, and some of the most historically active insurgent areas--Fallujah, Mosul, Najaf and others--have become more secure.

These are not the accomplishments of a war that can be easily labeled "lost," and this President deserves credit for continuing to see through the ultimate and achievable objective of establishing a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq. Can any objective onlooker really believe such a mammoth mission would be accomplished without its trials and tribulations? The entire concept of democracy functioning in the Persian Gulf was once an inconceivable concept; this President, these capable American men and women of our armed forces, combined with many brave Iraqis, are close to making it a reality. A "lost" war?

But, in fairness, the criticism is not exclusively a partisan one. This nation does run the risk of forgetting that warm, sunny morning of September 11, 2001, at least in part because some components of our modern culture seem to want us to forget. How telling, for instance, that American television networks, seemingly all of them, have adopted policies refusing to air the attacks on the World Trade Center because it was unsettling to some Americans. Message to networks: We should be unsettled. We need to be unsettled.

Nor is the criticism exclusively aimed at Democrats and our television media, who seem to be running from the call to action. President George W. Bush has handled this war on terror with extraordinary resolve, and one can only imagine the sense of responsibility that this President must carry as a decent man attempting to bring about a successful conclusion to this war. But even in this administration, the dead seriousness of al-Qaeda seems periodically lost. Take, for instance, the comment of a "senior administration figure" earlier this week, who reportedly found it "stunning" that Zawahiri was following the U.S. Congress so closely to be able to comment on the Democrat-led timetable legislation. Stunning?

There's nothing at all stunning about this observation by Zawahiri. In fact, if one looks at America's war on terror with some historical perspective, even 30 years worth, the one common denominator in America's engagement in foreign conflicts is that our enemies have closely monitored our metal and tested our political will. In this freest of nations, it's well known that American policy is driven by political temperament. That temperament has sometimes led us to war. That temperament has sometimes ended war. But the temperament of Americans does still guide the vast majority of this nation's foreign policies, and especially those that involve the loss of American life.

It shouldn't be surprising that this fact is not lost on our enemies. Anyone with any political sophistication--and one has to count the Senate Majority Leader among this group--understands that when you undermine American political will by advancing the thesis that what we have, in exchange for the loss of these 3,000 American heroes, is a war we are "losing," you have taken the first step to making that "loss" a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This recognition did not start with al-Qaeda. It was, for instance, well recognized by North Vietnam, whose leadership saw the U.S. anti-war movement of the early 1970s as a key component to eradicating American political will to sustain our important and warranted engagement in defending our important Asian ally, South Vietnam, in the midst of the Cold War. It also was recognized by the Kremlin, who saw U.S. and European-based "peace" movements as the quickest way to undermine former President Ronald Reagan's plan to appropriately counter Soviet global aggression through both a strengthening of American defenses and support for resistance movements opposing Soviet-supported regimes.

In contemporary America, memories can be short, even among those who have lived this history. Take this example: Speaking to a former White House-level Clinton administration official about a year ago--someone I would call a friend, despite our differing partisan alignments--this former Clinton official told me with a straight face that the world was becoming more complex and was not as simple as it was during the Cold War when, this Clinton official told me, "everything was so black and white."

That's interesting, I replied, because every time, during the Cold War, that conservatives like myself made the argument that we needed to be vigorous in opposing Soviet aggression, that the Soviet Union was in fact an "evil empire" and that "winning" the Cold War was both an achievable and laudable geopolitical goal, we were lectured by American liberals that the world was not so black and white, that neither the Soviet Union nor the U.S. could depict themselves as forces for good in the world, and--in their most extreme responses--that we were risking nuclear conflict, maybe even the very end of the world, in our insistence to engage, counter and defeat Soviet aggression abroad.

In fact, to the best of my memory, I cannot recall any liberals or Democrats who described the Cold War era as "black and white" in the heat of those battles. Every Congressional vote over former President Reagan's initiatives--the deployment of space-based defense to guard the nation from nuclear attack (known as the Strategic Defense Initiative), the effort to aid anti-communist resistance movements in Angola, Nicaragua and other nations (known as the Reagan Doctrine), and the initiative to strengthen NATO's defense capabilities (which Reagan correctly labeled "peace through strength")--were opposed every step of the way by some of the same people who now label that time a simple, "black and white" era where, they now contend, we "all" wanted to prevail. But it can never be forgotten that it was resiliency in the face of liberal opposition to Reagan's initiatives that won the Cold War. With due respect to American liberals, whose patriotism I do not question, the Cold War was won over their dead bodies.

In the midst of this 2007 political battle--with American liberals again trying to lead America's retreat, and this principled President appropriately and bravely standing his ground--can anyone doubt that, ten years from now, the war on terror will similarly be viewed as a "black and white" struggle between good and evil? Surely, it will be. But any liberal who intends to take that position cannot now be advocating a cut and run policy in Iraq.

There also is a lesson in this Cold War history that applies to Iraq today, where again--this time as it relates to their historical views on Saddam--American liberals seem to possess a selective memory. During my stint as a White House aide to former President George H. W. Bush, I can well remember periodically leaving the Washington, D.C. area on various weekends, sometimes returning to the hometown of my youth in Pennsylvania. I would arrive proud of the efforts at the time--and most especially the extraordinary, successful effort by former President George H. W. Bush to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

The successful liberation of Kuwait was widely welcomed by the American people, and former President Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed into the low 90s; no President since has come close to enjoying such widespread support from the American people. But in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, there was a different tone than that which existed inside the Bush White House. Beneath the popularity ratings and support for Kuwait's liberation, there was a lingering disappointment by many Americans--conservatives, moderates and liberals--that Bush, after driving Saddam's forces from Kuwait, did not push on to Baghdad and remove Saddam from power completely.

For those of us up close at the time, it was an absurd idea. Saddam was a brutal dictator in a world filled with brutal dictators. Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm were hugely successful because they defined a clear objective and then pursued it relentlessly, strategically and precisely. What sort of chaos would follow Saddam, in a nation so characterized by bitter conflict between Saddam's Baath party, the opposition Shia (which opposed Saddam's decision not to implement traditional Islamic law, known as the Sharia), the Kurdish opposition, and other factions?

To the great credit of former President Bush, Operation Desert Shield and then Operation Desert Storm were both clearly defined missions whose every initiative was consistent with these clearly-defined objectives, starting with Marlin Fitzwater's brilliant and inspirational February 17, 1991 comment that "the liberation of Kuwait has begun" (a statement of raw genius, both reflecting absolute confidence in the outcome of a battle not yet fought, combined with a rigid definition of what we sought to do), and continuing through the air war and the culmination of the ground war, which ended on February 27, 1991 with Kuwait's absolute liberation.

Contrary to some conventional wisdom at the time, there was nothing cowardly about former President Bush's decision not to drive Saddam from power in 1991. Nor did his decision not to do so in any way condone Saddam's obvious disregard for human rights, which ultimately and properly earned him entry into President George W. Bush's "axis of evil."

Rather, Operation Desert Storm was guided by a number of historical lessons, perhaps most prominent being that regime change can be a dangerous business and the U.S. can never seek to initiate, or even encourage, such change without some clear recognition of what follows a government's collapse. This astute geopolitical recognition justified former President Bush's February 1991 decision not to liberate Iraq from Saddam's autocratic reign, even though such an effort would have enjoyed initial support.

Over ten years later and following the September 11, 2001 attacks, regime change became an imperative in Afghanistan and then, ultimately, in Iraq. They question this war now, but it was not in question in 2002, with liberal Senators Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and many other current critics of the war voting to authorize the use of force against Saddam.

To be sure, as some of these leading Democrats now conveniently begin to express their opposition to the Iraq War, they will contend, as most of them have already, that they authorized the use of force only because the Bush administration misled them as it related to Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

But this criticism too is unfair, since the intelligence that led the Bush administration to that conclusion had been widely accepted not just by President Bush, but by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, too. In fact, in justifying former President Clinton's December 1998 air attacks on Baghdad, Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor at the time, remarked that "(Saddam) will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983." Then Vice President Gore also recognized the fact that Saddam was harboring WMDs, noting: "We know that (Saddam) has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

What absolute audacity for Democrats to now forget these remarks and instead allege that this administration misled them into supporting a war they otherwise would have opposed. American intelligence under both Clinton and Bush indicated that WMDs were in Saddam's possession. It's quite clear that Saddam did historically use WMDs in his war against the Kurds and in the Iraqi-Iranian War. And, shocking as it may be to today's opponents of the Iraq War, it is not entirely inconceivable that Saddam was, in fact, possessing WMDs, just as both the Clinton and Bush administrations believed, when the use of force was authorized. It's certainly an extremely reasonable conclusion that Saddam's political maneuvering around United Nations-ordered inspections, which ultimately invited this war, were not designed to hide nothing.

The issue of WMDs is now ancient history. Whether they did or did not exist, it is now very clear that the Iraq War has become a central front in the war on terrorism. This global war has many fronts, and Iraq is one of them, which is why a dangerous man like Zawahiri is paying such close attention. For Al-Qaeda, much is at stake in Iraq's outcome.

Things will not likely get easier as the November 4, 2008 Presidential election, now 18 months away, nears. Iraq will take on a greater and greater domestic political dimension. So be it.

President Bush's legacy, should he succeed in stabilizing a democratic and peaceful Iraq, will be substantially better appreciated years from now than it is today in the heat of this battle. And should this administration remain engaged and succeed in prevailing in Iraq, the Republican candidate in 2008 will be within bounds in asking an important "what if" question: Where would we be now in this global war on terror if we had accepted Senator Reid and the Democratic party's April 2007 declaration that the Iraq War was "lost?"

Calling this war "lost" may now be hugely politically expedient for some, coming as it does at the height of uncertainty in this critical conflict.

But at such a critical moment, Americans should be comforted by this President, reminded that we have been here before. We well know these dark and freightening paths of uncertainty because we have walked them before, not just cursing their darkness but pointing the way to light. Valley Forge, 1777. Normandy, 1944. The Cuban missile crisis, 1962. The Pershing II deployment, 1981. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," 1987. "The liberation of Kuwait has begun," 1991.

Mr. Reid: The common denominators of over 200 years of American greatness may be alien to you, but they are not rooted in your defeatism.

Yes, we know these paths too well. Facing down terror in Iraq, 2007, in a global conflict that safely may be labeled "World War III," our next step could not be more self-evident: America must prevail.

Bookmark and Share