Last night a reader asked me for a repeat of the reasons why I think the US should stay in Iraq. I gave him not just a repeat, but an expansion of my original thoughts. I have now decided to share these thoughts with everyone. There may be others among you who will find that this clarifies issues.
I refer first to a very relevant Caroline Glick column from October 27, called “Postcards from Saigon.” It is at:
Glick makes the extremely critical point that the public impression — fueled by the media — that the US military is losing in Iraq does not mean that this is so. She says this is what happened with Vietnam: it is not that the US military objectively lost, but that the public perceived it as having lost.
“US forces in Iraq are far from helpless. They have won nearly every engagement they have fought with insurgent forces in Iraq. And their capabilities get better all the time. [emphasis added]
“Today, the public debate in the US revolves around one question: When are we leaving Iraq? The conventional wisdom has become that US operations in Iraq are futile. Due in large part to politically driven press coverage, Americans have received the impression that the US cannot succeed in Iraq and that consequently, their leaders ought to be concentrating their efforts on building an exit strategy. [Emphasis added] Comparisons between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War are legion…
“During the Tet offensive, the North Vietnamese attacked 40 South Vietnamese villages simultaneously with a massive force of 84,000 troops. The offensive failed utterly. 45,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed, no ground was taken. Yet, when then US president Lyndon Johnson declared victory, the American people didn’t believe him.
“Walter Cronkite, the all-powerful anchorman of the CBS Evening News had told them that the US had lost the offensive. Who was the president to argue with Cronkite? In March 1968 Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.
“So when the media wonder if one can compare the battles in Iraq today to the Tet offensive, what they really want to know is if they have successfully convinced the American public that its military has lost the war in Iraq.”
My own broad perspective is this:
In 2000 p.m. Barak pulled the IDF out of S. Lebanon because there was the perception that our boys there were taking a beating for no good reason. (Not incidentally, the press was down on Barak and there was public pressure brought to bear.) The logic of those demanding a pullout was that Hezbollah was fighting us because they resented the invasion — the Israeli presence on Lebanese soil, and once we were gone from Lebanese soil everything would be quiet.
But when we did pull out — working with the UN, which confirmed that we had moved back to the international border — Hezbollah used the pretext of our being occupiers in Shabaa farms (on the Golan, which is NOT Lebanese) as a reason to keep attacking us. In addition, as we all know full well at this point, they spent the next six years arming themselves and digging bunkers to hide their rockets — something that was easier to do because we were no longer present. It turned out that Hezbollah was NOT just defending Lebanese soil, their goal was, and is, to destroy us.
What is more — and perhaps worse — the pullout weakened Israel’s deterrence power: The radical Islamic world had the (not erroneous) impression that we had cut and run in Lebanon, and that therefore we were vulnerable enough to hit in other ways — there was no fear that we would retaliate significantly. There are many (and I am among them) who feel that the stepped up terrorism that subsequently ensued was brought on in part by this perception of our weakness.
It has to be said and said and said again. The Arabs/Muslims respect power and strength. Voluntary withdrawals, conciliatory gestures, etc. are seen as weakness and motivate further violence. It is a stupendous error to judge their motivation by our standards.
And so last year we came to PM Sharon’s proposal for a unilateral pullout from Gaza. Those of us who objected to it (and I was among them) thought it a bad idea for many reasons. One of the concerns was a conviction that the same thing would ensue in Gaza as did in Lebanon. But, once again, there was public distress that our soldiers were sometimes killed in Gaza, and the left here in Israel was arguing that it was time to keep our soldiers safe; there would be more peaceful conditions, they claimed, if we weren’t “in the face” of the Palestinians. We would give them Gaza, pull out our forces, let them develop and do their own peaceful thing. Right?
So we pulled out, and they crowed that this proved that their terrorism worked and that they were even stronger now, while we were getting weaker. Our pullout had the unintended effect of fueling a determination on their part to greatly increase terrorism. (Unintended, certainly, but not unpredictable.) They are stockpiling huge quantities of sophisticated weapons in the area we turned over to them. Gaza has become a stronghold for terrorist forces — including Al-Qaida — that have snuck in since we left. Hamas is no longer a rag tag force but a real army. An unmitigated disaster in my opinion. Something we could have prevented and have yet to properly contend with.
And now we come to US forces in Iraq. The parallel here is breathtaking. The US (and I bless Bush for this) has taken on the forces of terrorism/radical Islam, while most of the world has its head in the sand or is eager to appease. The US is engaged in an existential war against these forces and anyone who doesn’t see this is kidding him/herself. But now there are those on the left in the US who argue that the US presence in Iraq is offensive to some Iraqis and that the terrorism will abate if the US will get out of the way; they argue that it is pointless for US soldiers to be dying as they are there.
But terrorism will not abate if the US pulls out. What will happen is just a shifting — an expansion and intensifying — of focus. Iraq, which is not yet stable, instead of being a battleground in the fight against radicals, will become a stronghold for those Islamist forces. Iran is likely to move in, and there will be a strong Al-Qaida presence. Just as in Gaza, but worse. From that stronghold they will reach out with their terrorism to much of the Middle East. Israel will be at increased risk, but so will places like Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The terrorists will crow this time that the US is no longer invincible and can be defeated. We have this from the words of terrorists themselves, for heaven’s sake. Ultimately this battle will spread even to the US — where Iran and others already maintain sleeper cells that can be activated. (The learning from 9/11 should have been sustained, but, unfortunately, it has largely dissipated.)
President Bush has said all of this in recent days. This is how Glick, in her article cited above, described what Bush said:
“… he explained that the US is at war and described the nature of the war. Iran, he said stands at the helm of enemy forces. Iran’s senior role was made clear he said, through its sponsorship of this summer’s Hizbullah and Palestinian war against Israel. One of Iran’s central goals – shared with Syria and its terrorist proxies – is to destroy the forces of moderation and democracy in the Middle East.
“… Bush asserted that Iraq is a vital front in this war. In his view, the only way the US can lose that war is if it leaves, ‘letting things fall into chaos and letting al-Qaida have a safe haven.’ Bush argued that if the US leaves Iraq, Iraq will come to the US, to Iraq’s neighbors and indeed to the entire world.” [emphasis added]
I totally agree. No one wants young people in uniform to die. It’s painful. But there are times when an army must take a stand. The losses that would be incurred later if the US were to pull out of Iraq would likely make the currently losses — painful as they are — seem minimal by comparison. (And, believe me, I don’t say this to make light of the presence losses!)
There is simply no running away from the forces that the democratic western world is fighting in this existential war. I’ve learned that quite clearly here.
One of the points Bush made — and Glick talks about this — is the need for the American people to support him in this war. If there is constantly clambering for pullout, it becomes an impossible situation. What I suggest is that the American people have to understand this broad perspective and the stakes involved in the fight. They have to understand, as well, that the popular perception that America is losing has been fueled by a left-wing media and is not accurate.
I am not a military expert and I certainly do not intend to discuss questions such as whether the US troops are properly trained. But if the US populace switches its focus and begins to ask: “Do we need to train our troops better for success?” or “Are changes in our approach in Iraq necessary so that we can win?” instead of: “When do we leave?” it will bolster the US position and help to make a success of this critically important venture. Not only does the president need this public support to continue, I assure you that the terrorist groups monitor US public opinion. This is part of how modern wars are fought — via media and public opinion, which can make or break things.
I want to emphasize that what Israel is contending with and what the US is contending with are all part of the same war. As I’ve said before, we are the canary in the mine for the western world. Make no mistake about it, all of the terrorist forces are connected, cooperate, learn from each other, with Iran, more than not these days, pulling the strings.
The Islamists, which are after world domination and defeat of the west, see Israel as an outpost of the US. As they are after us, so is it their intention to go after the US. Weakening us is perceived as a step towards weakening the US. It is absolutely in the best interests of the US to keep us strong.
I cite Caroline Glick extensively here and would like to note for the record the superb reputation she has for accurate and reliable information. American-born, she works as an Israeli journalist today but has maintained important American connections. She is Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. She was imbedded with the US army during the Iraqi war and has excellent military/security contacts.
see my website: www.arlenefromisrael.info