Thursday, March 22, 2007
On this day:

The Democratic Deadline for Defeat

Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that would force the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Iraq by September 1, 2008. In the heading of one of my recent posts, I implied that this deadline for withdrawal would amount to little more than a "deadline for defeat." Apparently, at least one blogger thought that was a little too harsh. I think it was about right. Here's why:

1) It would be very unwise to tell our adversaries and potential adversaries the specific date that our troops will be leaving Iraq. The clear message that such a statement would send is: you only need to wait us out another year and a half and we'll be gone; make your plans now. As House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote in an op-ed that appeared in today's Washington Examiner:

Back in February on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” I warned that Democrats’ non-binding resolution was merely a first step towards mandating failure in Iraq. Now they’re taking the next step. It’s been called the “slow-bleed” strategy — an attempt to micromanage the war and choke off resources for American troops in harm’s way.

Their plan consists of a series of constitutionally-suspect, politically-charged deadlines and conditions that purposely undermine our generals on the ground and telegraph a timeline for withdrawal to our enemy. ...

Our troops themselves are appealing to Congress not to pull the rug out from under them. On, American soldiers are asking Congress “to fully support our mission in Iraq and halt any calls for retreat.”

Four years ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed that fighting in Iraq was a worthy cause. As current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said at the time: “The risk of inaction today in my opinion poses previously unfathomable dangers for tomorrow.”

Today, Democrats are almost unanimous in their desire to abandon Iraq to al-Qaida, but the consequences of doing so are staggering. Our enemies understand the stakes — do Democrats?

2) Some have said that strict deadlines and timetables are necessary in order to pressure the Iraqi government to get its house in order. I wish that were the case, but in all likelihood, the results of such a strategy would be exactly the opposite. The current Iraqi government is a fractious entity that is struggling to work out the political compromises that are essential to securing peace and stability. The continued deployment of U.S. forces is absolutely critical to allowing these diplomatic efforts to succeed. If the various sectarian and tribal leaders believe that we will leave the country before the Iraqi government is capable of defending them on its own, they will be less inclined to settle their differences through peaceful negotiation, not more.

3) Early withdrawal will leave behind a power vacuum that will inevitably be filled by local militia groups and by Iraq's neighbors - principally the Saudis and Iranians. Iran is already providing financial and military support to various Shiite groups inside Iraq, and there's every reason to believe that they will increase that support in the event of an early U.S. withdrawal. As for the Saudis, they have restrained themselves thus far, but they have indicated that they will not stand idly by while Sunni Arabs in Iraq are slaughtered at the hands of Iranian-backed Shiite militias. In the worst case, this could disintegrate into a broader Sunni vs. Shiite conflict that embroils the whole Muslim world - an unappealing scenario in any event, but even more so in an era when the proliferation of nuclear weapons is such a pressing concern.

4) The Machiavellians among us might say, "So what? Let's get out of Iraq and let 'em fight it out. As long as they are fighting each other, they're not fighting us." As we are reminded every time we fill up at the gas station, however, things just aren't that simple. A widespread Sunni-Shiite war (or an Arab-Persian war, for that matter) would be a disaster for everyone - one that would likely require a coordinated Western response that would make the Iraq War look like a game of cowboys and Indians. Even if nuclear weapons were not so easily obtainable, the prospect of Muslim armies facing off in a hot war is not something we should welcome.

5) A convincing case can be made that we should not have invaded Iraq to begin with. Ten years from now, maybe I'll have an opinion one way or another on that subject, but right now, when there's no way to know how things will turn out, it's too soon for me to form a judgment. In any event, we're there now, whether we like it or not, and the duty of American politicians and military men is to defend American interests. That means we have to finish the job. General Petraus and the troops under his command deserve our support. Al Qaeda will not be withdrawing its forces from Iraq anytime soon, and neither should we. We have to persevere; there's too much at stake not to.